Hats off to a new generation of milliners

Where is the hat shop without events? When Europe started shutting down last March, it left fancy hat makers in a state of flux. In the UK, Royal Ascot took place without guests and the Henley Royal Regatta was canceled; marriages were either postponed or reduced.

Even without the pandemic, hat making is a difficult landscape to master. Stephen Jones, who created hats for the catwalks at Dior, Balenciaga and Givenchy, launched the British Hat Guild in 2019 to represent British milliners. In an interview with the FT last year, Jones said the hats were among the first orders to be canceled by wholesalers and department stores in the event of a crisis.

But the headgear looks a little less gloomy as Royal Ascot returns this week and from June 21 weddings in England will be allowed as many guests as the venue can accommodate with social distancing. MatchesFashion shoppers say they’ve noticed a recent upturn in sales of hats, especially straw styles; Stephen Jones continues to be the site’s bestseller in the second-hand clothing category.

Despite the lingering uncertainty, a new generation of British creatives are entering the business, leveraging collaborations, lower prices, personalization and everyday use to energize their businesses.

James rose studio

James rushfirth

Casual sailor hats crafted in satin, military-style berets in velvet and leopard-print faux fur and gingham mesh sun hats in mint green and brown tones: James Rushfirth’s designs are both camp, contemporary and commercial, which is exactly how he likes it.

“I think hats should be affordable, but they also have to be sturdy,” says the 27-year-old Leeds-based Central Saint Martins graduate of his designs, which range in price from £ 120 for one. beret at £ 175 for a bob made of sequins or wool. “I want someone to wear one of my hats at the pub, in the stores, or even at a wedding, but I don’t want it to be outside of their personal style.”

Rushfirth launched his unisex hat brand in September, quickly building a profile thanks to Harry Styles, who wore his berets, and lively collaborations with eco-responsible fashion label Chopova Lowena, menswear designer Reuben Selby. and stylist Harry Lambert. All of Rushfirth’s creations are handmade and he can produce one per day. He sources his dead tissue from factories in Yorkshire and suppliers in London, including the Silk Society.

James Pink Studio fall / winter 2020

James Pink Studio Fall / Winter 2020 © William Scarborough

Like many millennial business owners, Rushfirth owed much of its early successes to social media, where the majority of its US and Japan-based clients found out. “In Japan there are some small communities of clothing enthusiasts influencing each other and me too. They really appreciate lesser-known international brands, and style is an integral part of their lifestyle and identity, ”he says.

For those unfamiliar with hats, Rushfirth’s advice is simple: try them on. “You have to see them on the face, but most of all, you have to feel the quality of the fabric. There is a huge difference between a bob in a department store and a shapely hat.

Philippe Cardoso

Philippe Cardoso

Philippe Cardoso

Filipa Cardoso has an ironic approach to design. She’s created a deconstructed boater that looks like it rolls in mid-air, little hats with ribbons that seem to float in the breeze, and wide-brimmed styles with graphic scribbles embroidered with black thread (her hats are priced £ 250).

A recent graduate, Cardoso has felt the pressures of starting a business keenly during a pandemic. Brexit also drastically increased the prices of its materials. “My designs can take three to four days to complete when targeted, and the materials are incredibly expensive because they are all natural fibers,” she explains.

Cardoso sources straw from suppliers in the UK, who in turn source materials from the Philippines; his felt comes mainly from Portugal.

Black and white Beat hat by Filipa Cardoso, £ 850

Black and white Beat hat by Filipa Cardoso, £ 850 © Tomila Katsman

Filipa Cardoso Contrasting Sonata Headband, £ 550

Contrasting Sonata Headband by Filipa Cardoso, £ 550 © Tomila Katsman

Cardoso is hopeful for the future of hat making: “There is a feeling and a need, it seems, to dress up now. People want to stand out and feel special after being home for so long.

Lucie Brice

Lucie Brice

Lucie Brice

“When I was little, I would run away from my parents at John Lewis, and they would always find me trying on hats,” says Lucy Brice, 28, fascinated by hatmaking ever since. When she was 18 she met a milliner at a country fair who agreed to teach her the trade, so Brice traveled to Scotland for a week and spent hours sewing, sewing and fashioning hats. “It gave me the basic understanding, and after that I just didn’t stop,” she says.

While studying rural land management at Cirencester University, Brice spent her student maintenance loan not on parties, but on wooden hats. “I just did it for fun for myself and for my friends, then I started getting questions and requests because people had seen [my designs] on my social networks, ”says Brice.

Lucy Brice Louisa in Orange Spot Hat, £ 155

Lucy Brice Louisa in Orange Spot Hat, £ 155

Josie by Lucy Brice in a turquoise hat, £ 125

Josie by Lucy Brice in a turquoise hat, £ 125

Demand for hats tends to be seasonal; Brice relies heavily on events such as Ascot, Cheltenham and fairs for orders, and so she juggles marketing work with her direct-to-consumer hat business.

Lockdown gave Brice the chance to create his first full collection of button-shaped hats, rendered in pops of orange, yellow and pink and adorned with feathers and netting. “It’s all about personalization. The hat should match the face and I’m always happy to create custom colors, ”says Brice, whose prices start at £ 105 for colorful button-up hats to £ 295 for larger styles with wide angled brims.

Line graph of retail sales value by country / region (2015 = 100) showing that the hat market is expected to recover, but sales are still well below pre-pandemic levels

Over the past year, Brice has had to be thrifty and created tweed baker’s hats (priced at £ 150) to glean extra income. But customers are asking for formal hats again as the lockdown softens.

“I would love to devote myself full time to hat making,” she says. “I just bought a shed for my garden so that I could settle in and make a studio that is not my living room.

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