Recently I’ve been reading about the celebrated Parisian milliner, Madame Paulette, supplier of headwear to golden age Hollywood and inspiration to Stephen Jones. She invented and popularised the wearing of turbans in the 1940s. Initially intended as a practical option during wartime shortages and to help women protect their hair when cycling, they became a strong fashion trend and one of her most distinctive products.
In the 1930s and 40s, hats were often the kind of aspirational accessory that the handbag has become today. If she was feeling optimistic or successful a woman might treat herself to a new hat. These days, buying a hat is often more about practical need – either for weather protection or for formal occasion wear.
How refreshing, then to come upon a hat shop that offers a bit more than this and in a slightly unexpected location: Aix-en-Provence. Chapellerie Berenice (6, rue Aude, Aix-en-Provence, with branches in Arles, Nimes and Motpellier) sells more or less most things you might dream of placing on your head. From a basic panama or beret to a majestic topper, you can find it there. Initially attracted in by an eye-catching black trilby with a scarlet hat band, my eye was then drawn to a rather exceptional fedora in oxblood felt, its crown overlaid with black lace. This beautiful specimen turned out to be a Borsalino, a venerable brand not afraid to take a few design risks.
Trying on a hat of this kind, one can understand completely how hats were, and still can be, central to styling. There was even a time when the term ‘milliner’ was synonymous with ‘stylist’ – Chanel and Madame Lanvin both moved seamlessly between millinery, fashion and haute couture. This fedora has the power to lift the most basic outfit, transforming the mundane into the modiste and it does so with impressive ease. We are all far too busy to spend time agonising over what to wear each morning – what could be easier on those days when inspiration is lacking than to reach for a transformative topper to add some interest to an otherwise simple outfit?
So, thanks to Chapellerie Berenice for broadening my styling horizons, and for a rather stunning piece of headgear. Time to move on from the ‘it-bag’ and embrace a boader range of accessories.