On hearing that my latest venture included a foray into millinery, my lovely friend Galen Yeo (CEO of The Moving Visuals Company) sent me a link to one of my favourite scenes in any movie, Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle at the Ascot Races in My Fair Lady (https://youtu.be/8uozGujfdS0). In this clip she is of course wearing one of the most splendid hats ever seen on the silver screen. With all Miss Hepburns dazzling costumes and hats for the movie created by the inimicable Cecil Beaton, it is small wonder that this film continues to be mentioned at the top of any hataholics list as an all time favourite.
And of course Audrey herself was the perfect muse for all milliners, with her natural cool elegance and elfin features. Sporting an array of spectacular tiles, she and Jackie Kennedy Onassis were a tour de force, keeping the designer hat business afloat throughout the sixties.
But clearly the romance between screen sirens and movie millinery did not begin and end with La Hepburn. From the birth of the industry via silent movies in the twenties through to the introduction of the first ‘talkies’ in the thirties, movies stars like Norma Sheara, Alice Day and Mae West dazzled and smouldered in their picture hats, turbans and cloches.
As we moved into the forties the effects of wartime austerity on the fashion industry was reflected in the more modest millinery shown in the movies. Film stars like Lauren Bacall, Gene Tierney and Dorothy Lamour wore hats that were smaller and less flambouyant than their Hollywood predecessors, with the trilby and beret leading the fashion field on the runway.
As we’ve already seen, costume designers in the fifties and sixties were dying to break free from the shackles of austerity spawning a whole new era of outrageous millinery that only became slightly diluted by the dawn of the age of Aquarius in the form of the hippie movement. Among the starlets who lead the pack as milliner’s muses during the fifties and sixties were of course Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Lauren and Grace Kelly.
The seventies and eighties were not great eras for contemporary movie millinery but they did spawn a number of interesting television costume dramas like Upstairs Downstairs, Dallas and the Onedin Line where hats did occaisionally upstage the actors.
And finally we come to contemporary movies and their influence on hat designers like Philip Treacy and Pip Hackett. With films like The Red Hat, Titanic, The Duchess and The Great Gatsby plus television series like Downton Abbey movie millinery continues to thrill and inspire.
My own nod to the sirens of the silver screen are a Passion for Peonies, Invitation to the Abbey and Silver Screen Siren all of which are available to purchase or hire from my Etsy shop https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/HatCoutureCreations
Where do I gain inspiration for my up-cycled and original gems? Whilst I enjoy exploring my own creative ideas, there is of course no substitute for research and learning from some of the brightest stars in the millinery constellation. However when it comes to asking a hataholic to name their favourite designer, there will always be conflict. Some of us enjoy the whimsical floral artisty of Pip Hackett, while others crave the more abstract vibe of Philip Treacy or Stephen Jones. Then there’s the new kids on the hat block including Dawn Guibert and the theatrical De De Valentine. For the great unwashed (or as yet untainted) here’s the first in a series of pieces that will provide a quick race through some of the current maestros of millinery and a lexicon of great ideas.
Milliner William Chambers started hat making in 2007 – the same year Roisin Murphy wore his creations on tour! He set up his studio in Glasgow city center and now makes custom-designed hats for clients by appointment only plus his own stunning contemporary designs.
Brought up in North Lanarkshire, Chambers gained a First Class Hons degree in Textile Design at the Scottish College of Textiles before studying millinery at Glasgow’s Metropolitan University. He worked for luxury haberdashery VV Rouleaux before setting up William Chambers Millinery in 2008 after winning the VICE UK Creative 30 competition. He has won Accessory Designer of the Year three times at the Scottish Fashion Awards.
He exhibits his collections twice a year at London Fashion Week,and his hats are stocked in Harrods, Fenwick and Fortnum & Mason in London, Samuel’s Hats New York and on LoveHats.com. He opened his own hat shop in Glasgow city centre in 2014.
Celebrities who have worn his hats include Kelis, Suzi Perry, Joan Jett, Ana Matronic (Scissor Sisters), Roisin Murphy, Livia Firth, Anna Della Russo and Judy Murray, who commissioned a Chambers hat for her son Andy’s wedding – photos of which appeared in every UK newspaper the next day.
His hats have appeared in Vogue, Elle, Evening Standard, Style.com, Tatler, New York Post, The Telegraph, The Sun, Metro, Grazia, Red, Glamour, Conde Nast Brides, Wallpaper, Travel & Leisure, Nylon, The Herald, Harpers Bazaar, Paper, Sunday Herald and The Scotsman, and he features in the hardback book Couture Hats.
Chambers seeks to modernise millinery with a fresh look at how we dress the head today. Chambers’ taste for the avant-garde mixed with his knowledge of the retail sector results in designs that are at once both exquisite and wearable. He mixes traditional materials such as felt and sinamay with contemporary materials like latex, plastic and metallic leather, creating headwear that is both progressive and desirable. He takes his inspiration from many sources, but the biggest influence on his designs is his own flower-filled back garden: he is as keen a gardener as he is a milliner.
For my part I love his use of flowers and organic materials in his work and you can clearly see his influence in some of my own originals. The image on the left shows a William Chambers original from his bridal collection (£495) whilst the image on the right shows The Diva Bride (£180) from my own Hat Couture collection available from http://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/HatCoutureCreations
An interesting question surfaced yesterday, what was the first hat you ever made? It is no suprise that the answer seemed to generate a great deal of sniggering since not many people know that the term ‘wimple’ refers to a medieval headress (not as some of my more wagish friends surmised a pimple on a women’s head sported mainly by nuns… that was the least offensive suggestion offered). When I was at art college (and yes that was before anyone used computers), I did a number of assignments involving theatrical costume design. As the visiting lecturer was in fact the wadrobe mistress with the Royal Opera House, these projects leaned towards historical period pieces with a heavy Italian influence. So with great confidence I launched into producing my first hat, a rather grand double horned wimple in the style of the medieval Italian Court. Bearing in mind that I had no prior experience and my starting point was a poorly reproduced book reference as seen below, I had no idea how to tackle this project.
The tutor suggested that I should first produce my own felt to block into a cap so after raiding the textile departments stash of fleece, I laboriously produced a half yard square of felt which I then dyed what I thought was a majestic green. I then blocked the felt to form a sturdy caplet base for my creation. The next step was I thought a bit off piste, as I fashioned the horns from chicken wire. It turns out that this was in fact pretty close to the way in which these projectiles were orignally created using either wicker basketry or metal wire cage structures to generate height without increasing weight. I covered the chicken wire in linen soaked in size (natural animal based fabric stiffener), before dying some old cotton velvet curtains which I cut into strips before winding around the horns. I then covered the seams with lace crocheted from a gold spun thread and draped the finished hat with a silk scarf (which I also dyed pale eau de nil. My poor sister (which is where this conversation started) then kindly offered to model this beomoth for my portfolio, gamely balancing the whole contraption on her tiny frame. Unfortunately the original photo has long since been lost but here is a close approximation of the finished article.
What’s a wimple?
So for those of you who have expressed an interest, here is the real answer to the question, ‘What is a wimple?’ A wimple is an ancient form of female headdress, composed of a large piece of cloth worn around the neck and chin, and covering the top of the head. This cloth was often supported with elaborate constructions designed to add height and importance to demonstrate status. Its use developed in early medieval Europe. At many stages of medieval Christian culture it was unseemly for a married woman to show her hair. A wimple might be elaborately starched, and creased and folded in prescribed ways, and later elaborated versions were supported on wire or wicker framing, such as the cornette.
Italian women abandoned their head cloths in the 15th century, or replaced them with transparent gauze, and showed their elaborate braids. Both elaborate braiding and elaborately laundered clothes demonstrated status, in that such grooming was being performed by others. Today the wimple is worn by certain nuns who retain a traditional habit.
The wimple has flirted with fashion revivals briefly in the 1930’s and 1950’s with scarfed headgear made popular by screen sirens like Lauren Bacall and then later Grace Kelly and Jackie Onassis. Modern designers still sometimes incorporate scarves into their designs to appeal to customers who like to be served a large portion of modesty with their haut couture. Similarly some of the Middle Eastern airlines incorporate a wimple concept into their uniforms. Maybe I will try some experiments blending my collection of vintage designer silk scares from Hermes, Gucci and Versace with the humble pill box. Could produce some interesting results.
After many months of research and playing around with ideas, I am pleased to say that I finally got my act together to launch my new shop on Etsy, Hat Couture Creations www.hatcouturecreations.com
Here you can find the creations that are a result of my scouring of charity shops for designer millinery that deserves to be upcycled. After going through the process of a complete refurbishment (and in some cases a bit more than minor cosmetic surgery), my ‘enfants de la mode’ are ready to debut once again on the runway as ‘Millinery Reimagined’. Not only do I therefore feel good about rescuing these little gems from the textile recycling bin (whilst making what in some cases is a sizeable donation to charity to cover their purchase) but I also intend to donate 10% of the proceeds from all sales on my site to charities that support women and children at risk.
The first few projects off the stocks show my passion for all things vintage and glamorous with dramatic downturned brims and tumbling silk roses in a profusion of colours but leaning more towards the neutral palette with the odd splash of voluptuous lipstick red (just to feed the inner siren). The first products are available from stock as custom originals but I am able to recreate some items to order in a range of colours and designs. Custom designed pieces are also in the pipeline with a whole host of weddings and big events to look forward to in 2018.
The hats I have in stock are available to purchase online from my Etsy shop or you can make an appointment to come and try on a few over a glass of wine at my small showroom in rural Buckinghamshire (just down the road from Bicester Village so why not make a day of it and find the perfect bargain outfit for your big event too!), I am also happy to donate original pieces for auction to charity events aligned with my philanthropic objectives, If you would like to contact me to discuss your next big event or project, please do give me a call on +44 7804424930.
While you’re here why not check out my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/hatcouturecreations where I not only promote this page but also talk about all things hat related:)
So I have to admit to a dirty little secret. I have harboured a lifelong obsession that can no longer be repressed… millinery! And not just any ‘vieux chapeaux mes amis’ but the really expensive and eccentric tiles as sported on the runways of Paris, Milan and New York (don’t you just love rolling those names around the tongue). So how do I start to expand my modest collection of designer hats to feed my habit? Well a blog seemed like a good place to begin, until my teenage daughter pointed out that you need to have about a million followers before you start to be given tons of cool designer stuff. With this in mind I decided to research some of the contemporary fashion gurus and style mavens whilst looking at options for designing and making my own couture millinery.
So first up I guess that I have to acknowledge the origins of ‘hat couture’ and why we started covering our heads with increasingly exotic style statements. The term “millinery” was first used in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when Hatters in Milan started to make fine felt, fabric and straw hats known as ‘Milayne bonnets’. When the fashion spread to London, the makers of these haut couture hats became known as ‘Millianers’. The Anglo-Saxon word for hat, Haet or haett appears to have signified the shape resembling the petasus; meaning, with crown, wide brim and easily removed from the head. Until the sixteenth century, any hat other than the ‘hood’ was a ‘cap’ in English, or a ‘bonnet’ in French.
A brief look at hats through the ages reveals that they don’t always consist of a crown and brim. In the second half of the fifteenth century, feathers appeared for the first time as an ornament on European headgear. First fashion dictated a single, long, upstanding feather secured in a golden socket or held by a jeweled brooch. Feathers were expensive and by the end of the fifteenth century, a dazzling display of plumage was considered ‘des rigueure’ to demonstrate wealth and status. The plumage of rare Oriental birds were imported and ostrich and peacock were considered the high of good taste and elegance.
Even the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans included metallic headdresses and also ribbon entwined in elaborate wigs and coiffures, so over the centuries, it is apparent that there has not been much in the line of head wear that hasn’t already been fashionable at some stage.
As you work through the centuries of the history of millinery, many different hat styles appear, and in many cases the places in which they originated, or prominent people, such as kings and noblemen started trends, thus the introduction of named styles such as the ‘Homburg’ or the ‘Monte Cristi’.
The large felt cocked hat worn be Colonel Theodore Roosevelt’s troop of Rough Riders was named the ‘rough rider’ hat, and the ‘Buffalo Bill’ was named after the famous American guide, scout and showman William J Cody (1846-1917) who was always photographed wearing the wide-brimmed hat.
Stay tuned for featured designers, ‘hats up’ reports from the fashion capitals of the world and progress on my own hat projects and featured hats from both my own modest collection and those of (equally obsessed) friends… you know who you are!
An evolution of the “Ghirlanda” in a beautiful portrait of Saint Cecilia in the mannerist style by Domenichino (1581-1641) . The Ghirlanda was a kind of headdress decorated with silk, trims (here in gold threads), pearls.