Natalie Keane

Natalie Keane is a stylist, costumier, milliner, food stylist and florist. She lives in a cottage in Whangateau with her two children. What was your first job?

Making hundreds of silk flowers for an Alison Hutton wedding dress. It was the late eighties and the wedding dresses were huge. Alison introduced me to her friend David Perkin, a man of impeccable taste, who ran the Sheraton’s flower shop. I learned on the job – David showed me a bouquet and said ‘can you make something like that?’, so I did. The Sheraton had left behind those awful carnation pyramids of the early eighties and soon I was making enormous arrangements with tulips from Holland and orchids from Singapore. I spent my first proper wage – the whole lot – on a black Dolly Varden hat, which I still have in a trunk somewhere.

Where did you go from there?

I was in my early twenties – a time of gathering experiences. I trained as a nanny, worked in restaurants, and did a couple of millinery courses (I also still have the first hat I made myself). I was living in a warehouse in Hobson Street in Auckland, above Doyle’s Army Surplus and having a very good time for a while. It was pretty wild! But it all crashed and burned eventually. I packed up and went to Queenstown till I saved up enough to go to London.

How did London work out for you?

I talked my way into a cooking job at a massive Italian restaurant in Covent Garden, thinking sous chef meant just cutting up a few things in the kitchen. I was given the job of making a sabayon sauce with 36 eggs and a whisk for tiramisu. I was terrified. I remember watching the tickets for orders on the first night pour out of the machine and trying to convince myself the grill was just a BBQ. It was an all-male kitchen too… I realised I was in way over my head, but I learnt fast.

How did you end up back in NZ?

A broken heart in London saw me walking a thousand kilometres on my own on the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. It was fantastic; it certainly cleared my head! I decided I wanted to do interior design at Christchurch Polytech. Once I’d finished that I was lucky enough to get a few great jobs in a row: Aalto Country Colours in Newmarket, which honed my eye for colour;  ECC Lighting in Newton and the Boiler Room with its amazing industrial furniture.

What would you say have been turning points?

Well, one was the death of my younger brother in a car accident. He was 21. I learned from this that life is fragile, be kind to one another.

Growing small people is definitely life-changing. When I had babies I was managing a home on my own. I joined the messy cult of Playcentre, which was fantastically supportive.

Then there was the house fire. We were living in Grey Lynn. I’d been visiting my mum and was on my way home when a friend rang and said “brace yourself.” It was awful at the time – we lost so much and I was very, very sad – but in the end it was a blessing in disguise. I bought a camper van and took the kids round the South Island for a month. Not long after that I came up to see this place and had an epiphany. I remember thinking, “This is my home.” That was four years ago.

What was your first ‘in’ to film and TV?

Doing costume for Go Girls (a NZ comedy that started around 2009). I started as a costume assistant and worked mainly on set. It was a lot of fun… but it almost always is. Even working on Mahana and dressing the extras was fun. We had to turn up at three in the morning, work in a tent inside a warehouse – no dressing rooms. You’d take a quick look at who was coming in: a rough size for clothes and shoes, decide fast what sort of look they’d suit. Then put them into 1950s costumes – over a hundred of them. Ladies in gloves, hats, pointy glasses, hand knits. They were filming in muddy paddocks in Pukekohe, so we’d be cleaning shoes for hours. We murdered some exceptional retro shoes on that shoot, such a shame. But it was a beautiful colour palette, and a fantastic costume team. We laughed a lot.

Favourite pieces of work?

The remake of Katherine Mansfield’s Bliss in 2011 was really good for hats. We found a family who did bird taxidermy, they supplied the whole pelts. I made this over-the-top Edwardian hat using a whole peacock pelt. Then there was the dreamy week when I was commissioned to make botanical head-dresses – a magical mix of floristry and millinery. And there’s been some very satisfying food styling in ads along the way.

I’ve just finished making a hat for the remake of Goodbye Pork Pie, an emerald green felt cloche, which I’m really looking forward to seeing on screen. I have plans in the pipeline for my own range of hats and hopefully lots more fantastic styling along the way. It’s very good for the soul.

Natalie’s workroom is full of hat blocks, fabrics and feathers but she’s also hugely preoccupied with providing healthy food for her growing kids. There are homemade preserves, bread stuffed with seeds and nuts and a lively brew of kefir (“more probiotics than any capsule!”) on the kitchen bench. It’s a warm, wholesome place full to the brim with creativity. And there’s plenty more where that came from. T: 027 290 5049