Is this a shop or a party?

Townhouse shopping, courtesy of Ralph Lauren

Recently I gained a glimpse into the life of the elite shopper.   One of Net-a-Porter’s Extremely Important Persons (EIPs) invited me to join her at one of NAP’s private viewings in a suite in a luxurious London hotel.  For a shopper more accustomed to rummaging for my goods in car boot sales or vintage fairs, this was a new experience but not a totally unknown quantity.  Recently, the Financial Times’ How to Spend It magazine featured Les Suites in Paris that works on a similar principle, offering high end fashion in what feels more like a beautiful home than a shop and offering a limited and highly curated selection of goods to a clientele that feels more like a social clique than a census category. It enables the seller to get closer to the customer (especially an online one) but is it satisfying to the customer?  The answer, as ever, depends on what you are looking for.

Entering the hotel from the London rain we were escorted to the suite, wading through carpets waist-deep, breathing air heady with scented candles and bowls of roses.   On arrival we were greeted like guests to a party –  coats taken, ensconced on sofas and coffee brought as my EIP’s personal shopper talked and then walked us through the treasures on offer.

First, fine jewellery: exclusive, unusual pieces that may never see the light of the website, reserved for clients by private appointment.  I was interested to note that some of the most sought-after pieces by females were the watches – many of them large and masculine in look. 

Then there were the racks of clothes.  Not an excessive amount – perhaps six or seven rails of 10 pieces each with a broad range of labels represented to offer a range to satisfy all tastes and styles, from lavishly embellished Gucci and Balmain, to minimalist knitwear from Khaite or The Row and even the conceptual with a truly extraordinary trenchcoat by Junya Watanabe for Comme des Garcons (of which more later). There were no basics, no ‘athleisure’, no simple white shirts.  This was not a practical, capsule wardrobe, these pieces were stars in their own right and displayed for their individual tactile and visual appeal.

Each piece was present as a single item which meant that trying on was fruitless unless it happened to be your size.  This I found highly frustrating.  When I’ve attended shopping parties in vintage boutiques the whole enjoyment is that it is the ultimate dressing up box: a playpen for the fashion follower.  The selling opportunity works as people bond over trying the clothes and styling each other, customers helping to sell the stock.  By comparison, this felt oddly sanitised and staid. 

That said, I’ve always been an emotional and romantic shopper – the pieces that catch my eye echo stories, hollywood glamour, half-forgotten dreams that tap directly into a vein of desire.  This is not how everyone shops.  My EIP was in her element.  As a confirmed internet shopper, this was an enhancement of her experience, the perfect complement to the online browse.

This form of selling will appeal to a certain kind of shopper, especially those already acquainted with the range of labels on offer and those short of time who may need professional help in finding clothes for specific need.  If you are a browser and a rummager like me, delighting in the hunt for the rare and unusual, it is less satisfying – the work has been done, the prizes presented, the answers are at the bottom of the page.

Was I tempted?   The Junya Watanabe trench caught my eye on the rack and, though it was too big, was still something I could try on.  It was a genius piece of design, the back a swirl of sunray pleats (welcome irony in a trenchcoat) and it was reversible with a zingy lime green interior.  It was a ‘forever’ piece and an item of pure joy to pull out on the dreariest of days.

Would I go again?  Undoubtedly.

Fixing my knitting: the cowl strikes back

My first attempt at knitting a cowl went horribly wrong.  It was a lumpen monster unworthy of the alpaca that had supplied it.  I felt bad about this and bound to make amends. 

Now I have fixed it but what gave me particular satisfaction was finding a way to make its oddities part of the design concept. I had failed to follow (even a simple) pattern and had been forced to correct an inadvertent expansion to 104 stitches in width. I decreased too steeply and ended up with some gently undulating rows. Some of these remained in the section I salvaged but I found that they provided a frill that hides the seam, making the cowl reversible and adding texture (and extra warmth). Unorthodox perhaps but its mine and I rather like it.

The greatest relief to me is that it works as a garment – it hugs my neck and is beautifully warm and soft. It has gone from zero to hero and I appreciate it even more for that reason.

Best of all, it leaves me with a reclaimed ball of angora wool and the scope for another, matching project.  A pair of wrist-warmers perhaps?

What I learned from failing with my first knitting project

It is painful to write this post but I feel I must.  Part confessional; part advisory, this is what I got horribly wrong in my first knitting project. I bare all and there are pictures too.  Health warning over, here’s the deal.

My first project was a cowl: 55 stitches wide and 60cm long.  It called for alternate rows of knitted and purled stitches. Simple stuff but for the beginner, wrought with hazard. I produced a monster that is over a metre long and varies in width from 55 to 104 stitches, including holes and lumps at variable points.  It is horrible but it taught me a lot so this is why I swallow my pride and share this horror.

Here are the pitfalls that I tumbled into, some of them technical and some of them emotional or circumstantial.  At any rate, I hope they prove useful to other beginners.

1.  Twisting the yarn – I did this again and again: you forget whether you are knitting or purling and you twist the yarn the wrong way over the needle.  It results in a tight twisted knot of a stitch that you don’t always notice until you come back to it a row later.  Solution: concentrate and think about what you are doing and which stitch you are on. If you think you’ve gone wrong unravel the stitch and do it again.

2.  Yarn over – classic newbie problem – so angst-ridden about dropping a stitch, if you forget where you are mid-row you might try to knit an extra stitch between two by looping the yarn back and knitting through it.  I did this many times and it resulted in holes and extra stitches that inadvertently ‘increased’ the piece.  In fact I managed to double the width of my cowl by doing this.  Solution: focus on each stitch, notice how it completes and relax about dropping stitches.  If you find a loop that is not a stitch in a subsequent row, don’t try to make it into a stitch, just loop it onto the right needle and carry on.

3. Dropped stitch – horror of horrors: you DID IT. Breathe. Solution: Can you get the loop back onto the needle? If not, use a crochet hook or a stitch fixer to pull it back up in the next row. Correct this one as soon as you can because the more rows that you knit before fixing it, the harder it gets.

4. Knotting – only one vowel’s difference but a world away in concept.  Do not be tempted to tie up holes or use knots to fix things: THEY WILL COME UNDONE.  Solution: for dropped stitches see above; for finishing things off, leave a long tail of yarn and weave it back through the previous stitches.  That will be much more secure and (almost) invisible.

5. Casting off with blithe abandon – I failed to cast off the first time I tried so I had to add another row to try again, meaning less yarn for the final sewing together. Solution: allow more left over yarn than you think you need.

6. Leaving your brain somewhere else – knitting can be relaxing but sometimes it needs concentration and if it does, your brain needs to be present.  My worst mistakes happened when I was preoccupied with other things, too stressed, had had a glass (or two) of wine or was simply in the wrong frame of mind.  Solution: approach your project ready to focus and think about what you are doing so you get the best out of it, both for the project and your own mental and emotional benefit.

7. Complacency – early on (at least after 30cm or so) I realised things were not going well: I’d increased width from 55 to 104 stitches, incorporated holes, lumps and at least one knot.  I should have called time and unravelled the lot and started again but I carried on.  Mistake: it won’t get any better.  Solution: Just step away from the disaster zone and start again.  Good yarn deserves better. 

There, I’ve done it and shared my shame.  Cowl Mk I bites the dust but cowl Mk II will be better and it will deserve that anonymous alpaca’s turquoise locks if its the last thing I do.

The coat off his back: why I love Wool Week

It is Wool Week and it seems an appropriate moment to celebrate the artisans and the animals that give us beautiful natural yarn for knitting and weaving.  The fact is, this is the thing above all that enticed me to try knitting: seeing how the animal’s fleece goes from farm to garment and beauty of the natural processes involved in that transformation.  One of the many attractions of knitting is the direct connection between making and wearing a garment.  I certainly feel a sense of pride in wearing anything I’ve made that far outweighs the (secret) knowledge I have of the imperfections in it.  Imagine, though, the pride you might feel in mastering the whole production process yourself. 

This summer, on holiday on Dartmoor, I was lucky enough to witness our neighbouring farmer penning her angora goats for shearing. The little flock of goats live a charmed life on Dartmoor, farmed solely for their mohair. As you would expect, their hair is rather special – their ivory corkscrew curls are super-soft and produce a beautifully soft yarn that Susan, their owner dyes and spins herself.

I was fascinated to see that she uses a traditional spindle – the kind that I remember from fairytale books – and even more delighted to be given the opportunity to try spinning myself.

It is harder than it looks and requires a level of physical co-ordination that you might expect from drumming: each arm and one leg all employed in different motions. The right hand feeds the fleece through thumb and forefinger into the left hand that holds spun yarn taught, while the right foot pedals at a constant speed to keep the spinning wheel in regular motion. As the yarn is produced, it winds onto a bobbin.

The way it works is that the spinning wheel creates energy that is transmitted to the yarn.  Whichever direction the wheel spins will determine the natural lean of the yarn, so in order to avoid that translating into a wonky garment, you can combine yarns with opposite ‘leans’ to give a single straight strand which then becomes a ply yarn. 

The real skill though lies in creating colour combinations in the yarn itself.  Susan showed me how she builds different colours into the yarn, using lighter colours or metallics to lift the darker ones.  It was clear to see her enthusiasm for this and her joy in the colour combinations. 

The final stage is creating the product – a woven rug, a knitted cushion cover or hat.  These products are very special: a unique and  hand-made product that has been created from inception to completion by a single artisan.  From caring for the lush fleece of her goats to creating the hat that will protect your own locks from winter weather, Susan has the process covered.

 I couldn’t resist buying one of her beautiful hats, especially having met the ladies and gents who had generously donated their luscious locks, and I wove the thread that I had spun myself through it as a reminder of a really fascinating and eye-opening afternoon.

You can find out more and commission work from Susan at and if you live near Dartmoor you may see her at local markets or National Trust events, though perhaps not with her caprine suppliers…..   

Failing that, you can check out Wool Week online at including their super-cute gallery of sheep photos which is nearly as good as seeing the real thing.

Yarn Therapy II

Four weeks and four classes after my initiation to knitting at Tribe Yarns in Richmond I have completed my first finished garment.  It is a simple woolly hat but I feel immensely proud of it.  I know it intimately, as only the maker can.  I know the stitch where I encountered a fluff ball of unspun yarn, the moss stitch that was actually supposed to be ribbing, the concealed thread that finished the top and bottom, even the moment when Amazon rang the doorbell and my stitch-marker fell out.

I knitted it in the course of a week while listening to an audiobook version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Originally chosen as a suitably seasonal entertainment and a book I’d always meant to read, as the chapters progressed it got me thinking about the relationship between creator and their creation.  Though Frankenstein is ultimately consumed by his obsession, he can never escape his fundamental connection to it, nor his subliminal pride and sympathy with it. My hat is highly unlikely to inflict a similar fate on me but I did experience a powerful attachment and driving force to make the necessary progress over the week, then a boost of elation and pride in seeing my creation come into existence.

Like Frankenstein’s creation it is somewhat primitive and rough round the edges but like the creature too, it has the right instincts.

So this is my Frankenstein hat but, unlike Frankenstein, I suspect I shall be making another.

The Most Beautiful Umbrellas in the World

It can take M Heurtault more than 300 hours to make one of his umbrellas or parasols, depending on the style and detailing, which could include antique lace, ostrich feathers, embroidery, jade or horn.

These umbrellas bear no resemblance to those that you might pick up in a convenience store during an unexpected shower. These are hand-crafted accessories, carefully calibrated to bathe the holder in a flattering glow and to sit beautifully balanced in the grip whether sheathed or open.

The silk twill is sourced from the same suppliers as the top fashion labels and treated to be fully waterproof and the whole umbrella is intended to be a life-long artefact not a disposable commodity. The mechanism is firm and sturdy in the hand: these umbrellas are built to stand wind and rain as well as to look stunning.

M Heurtault has been awarded France’s highest honour of artisanship: the Master of Arts, his workshop a Grand Atelier and you have probably seen his work in films and TV.

He sells his beautiful constructions at Galerie Fayet, a jewel of a shop in the picturesque Passage Jouffroy, only a few steps but a world away from the neon of the Boulevard Montmartre. Here in the shop, you enter a world in which a walking cane can hide an epee or a stiletto, or perhaps hold a minature picnic kit.

I found a wonderful umbrella here. It was a simple monochrome striped silk twill, sleek and light as a quill but with a steel frame strong as an exoskeleton. It was an accessory straight out of Cecil Beaton’s conjuring of Ascot races for My Fair Lady.

Now, equipped with my brolly and a rather natty Maison Michel black fedora, I’m ready for whatever weather the English autumn throws at me.

The Cocooning Power of a Good Coat

Rhapsody in Red, illustration by Gordon Conway (1894-1956) for Britannia and Eve magazine, December 1929, from the Fashion and Textile Museum London’s current Jazz Age exhibition

What does a good coat do for you? The coat in the Gordon Conway 1929 illustration above ticks most of the boxes: the wool fabric delivers warmth, weatherproofing and comfort; the lavish collar looks glamourous and wonderfully cocooning; the colour gives an instant shot of pzzazz to cheer up the dreariest winter day; and the silhouette is svelte and elegant. For an expensive purchase like a coat it is essential to know what suits your shape and your needs – long and voluminous can be great on the tall but overwhelming on the petite; the camel coat is a classic but there are thousands of colour variations that will flatter (or not) different skin tones; luxury fabrics can be delicious to wear but may not withstand the worst winter conditions. Choose wisely and you’ll have a friend for life: in my own case it’s an ancient single-breasted Burberry heavy tweed overcoat, so old even the tweed is wearing thin, but it still keeps me warm and dry and still attracts compliments. I won’t ditch it until it actually falls into shreds.

The development of the overcoat has been strongly influenced by military uniforms, so its no conincidence that around this time of fashion-at-the-frontyear the fashion magazines will be running their annual features showing military-style greatcoats against dramatic landscapes. We can all conjure the image of Napoleon on campaign in Russia, or more recent images from Grace Coddington’s stunning work for Vogue setting rugged tweeds against highland heathers. Masculine styles worn with a feminine touch are a perennial classic and most of the masculine styles referenced by designers today have evolved from nineteenth and early twentieth century military and sports tailoring. Most famously of all, Burberry and Aquascutum developed trenchcoats to protect soldiers fighting in the trenches in the First World War. The style evolved from the nineteenth century military greatcoat but with additional, practical details – shoulder straps to hold epaulettes and D-rings to attach maps.


Country sports also played their part, giving us the shooting jacket, a multi-pocketed, belted tweed; the redingote – a long fitted coat deriving from “riding coat”; the frock coat – a waisted and flared-skirted coat, deriving from the frock coat with tails used in dressage or without tails as used in show jumping and hunting; and the polo coat is a double-breasted over coat with a half belt at the back, popularised in Jazz Age America and since then by classic labels like Ralph Lauren. There were also variations on the basic styles: the Ulster coat has a short cape over the shoulders for extra rain protection (think Sherlock Holmes); the Chesterfield is a Victorian double breasted style that has become a modern classic of city-wear.

Thejazz-age-opera-coats twentieth century has seen much greater diversity of design in women’s coats. As fashion design emerged as an industry in its own right, coat design became more trend-led, designed to complement the entire outfit. So in the 1920s coats became low-waisted and bat-winged to sit comfortably over low-waisted dresses with fringing or draping.

In the 1930s Jean Patou introduced a more womanly, curvaceous line closer to the body. It is a silhouette that is already emerging in the 1929 Gordon Conway illustration at the top of this post and is highly reminiscent of the look adopted by Hollywood screen sirens.


wartime-utility-coatsThe 1940s brought rationing and Utility. In response to shortages, the government commissioned fashion designers to produce clothing designs for mass production that used fabric with maximum efficiency. People were encouraged to re-use and re-purpose existing clothing and so female coats became more fitted to the body, shorter and in some cases closely referencing masculine styles – especially when an absent husband’s wardrobe was available to be raided.

Was this where the fashion pendulum started to swing, as each succeeding trend reacts violently against its predecessor? Christian Dior’s 1947 ‘New Look’ turned the tables on 40s austerity with circle skirts and a tiny-waisted profile that brought back some longed-for glamour. So as the 1940s became the 1950s, coats had to accommodate this return to volume with swing styles, flaring out from a narrow shoulder.

It was only a matter of time before fashion reacted again and the 1960s brought minimalist, space-age designs. Balenciaga, star couturier of the 1950s led the way with rounded, cocoon-style coats and Paris picked up the baton as Paco Rabanne, Courreges and Yves Saint Laurent delivered neat coats in the high-waisted princess line. Think YSL’s iconic designs for Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour, Givenchy’s beautiful orange coat for Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Oleg Cassini’s neat ivory coloured coat for Jackie Kennedy to wear at her husband’s Presidential inauguration. These coats were the perfect complement to the pared down miniskirts and slim trousers of the decade.

The 1970s brought a certain nostalgia to coat design, from YSL’s 40s-style fox fur chubbies from the notorious 1971 collection to full length capes and great coats to balance bell-bottoms or maxi dresses that emerged in the middle of the decade. Perhaps in reaction to the ‘soft-focus’ style of the 70s, the 1980s came in with a harder edge and a sharp shoulder as designers like Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana worked on an inverted triangle profile


Where do you go to escape the constant cycle of trend reversal? The 1990s brought us deconstruction and the rise of the avant garde Belgian designers* and the Japanese designers, Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garcons. In Martin Marigela’s hands the classic camel coat was subverted, the collar attached inside out. The result is a piece that looks as if it should be familiar but unsettles the eye (see above).

Today? Globalisation has brought an “anything goes” attitude. So draw from the best of the past, work out what suits you but beware of adopting any look too literally. Find your style and personalise it, have fun and experiment.


*NOTE: The ‘Antwerp Six’ were Walter van Beirendonck; Anne Demeulemeester; Dries van Noten; Dirk van Saene; Dirk Bikkembergs; and Marina Yee. Though not strictly speaking one of the Antwerp Six, Martin Margiela had graduated from the same fashion school but, rather than show under his own name in London as the Six did, he instead moved to Paris to work for Jean Paul Gaultier.

Is HRH the Prince of Wales the UK’s best-dressed Prince of all time?


Benson & Clegg, displaying the Prince of Wales feathers proudly in the window of their picturesque Piccadilly Arcade shop


 GQ Magazine posed this question in a wonderful piece in July 2012 paying tribute to the Prince of Wales’s unique style blend of the traditional, the flamboyant and the slightly eccentric.  The Prince is not the first of the Windsors to be noted for his style.  His great uncle, also Prince of Wales and later Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor, was famous for his flamboyant style, sporting plus fours, Oxford bags and daringly fat-knotted ties (the ‘Windsor’ knot has something of a racy reputation in certain circles). The Prince’s father, George VI displayed a rather more traditional approach though in every photograph, comes across looking at ease with his style.

Prince Charles’s own style seems to meld influences from both his forbears, as well perhaps as his own grandmother, the Queen Mother.  This is not at outlandish as it might sound.  The Queen Mother was closely associated with pastel colours – a style she evolved over time but especially during the Second World War.  Dark colours could have seemed too sombre at a time when keeping national spirits up was a priority and death and destruction a daily occurrence and pastel colours also made her visible when out and about in public.  The Prince today frequently combines traditional tailoring, often in the pale grey Prince of Wales check, with pastel colours in shirt, handkerchief, tie and socks.

He also occasionally uses his dress to express his great interest in ethnic culture, religion and society.  This can be close to home, for example he launched the Campaign For Wool in 2008 and champions the use of native British tweeds and tartans.  In an episode of the British Sunday evening slice of rural life, Countryfile, HRH was interviewed against a backdrop of hedge maintenance at Highgrove, wearing the ancient field jacket he uses for this work.  It had been patched so extensively that it was almost impossible to discern its original lines.  Clarence House later revealed the original manufacturer to have been John Partridge, a Staffordshire firm and that the jacket itself had been bought around 15 years previously.

The Prince’s taste for the unique also embraces global influences. In 2014, London’s Garden Museum hosted an exhibition of fashion inspired by gardens.  Though it boasted a couture Valentino gown, it was the Prince’s gardening coat that stole the show.  Strictly speaking it is a Chitrali, a full-length robe worn in the mountains of Pakistan.  To the Western eye it resembles a rather grand dressing gown but the genius of this garment is its combination of practicality with statement style.  Sufficient on its own to signal the wearer’s individuality, it makes it the easiest garment to wear and endlessly adaptable whether it is layered over shirt and suit trousers, casual clothing, sportswear – anything.

 Though we may never know who made the coveted gardening robe, thanks to the royal 20160805_175659warrant system we do know who makes the majority of the Prince’s wardrobe.  Warrant holders may display the words “By Appointment to HRH The Prince of Wales” and distinctive three feathers badge.  The companies must fulfil strict criteria to qualify and, in the Prince’s case, an additional requirement to meet a code of good environmental practice. Scroll to the end for the list of warrant holders to the Prince for clothing and accessories as of August 2016.  It is an impressive showcase of British manufacturing and artisanship. The list of warrant holders changes every so often and can be found at

James Lock & Co, supply hats and caps, from formal styles like regimental headwear and top hats to leisurewear like tweed caps.

Lobb 20160805_175918remains a family business tracing its St James boot-making history back four generations.  The Prince has been a customer since 1971.  Tricker’s of Jermyn Street also hold a warrant from the Prince for shoes and as the proud owner of a pair of decade-old Tricker’s brogues myself I can attest to their indestructible qualities and utter comfort.  I’m currently eyeing up a pair of their black ghillies for my next purchase.20160805_180258

Anderson & Sheppard is the Saville Row tailor that makes the Prince’s familiar double-breasted suits, including those in his signature ‘Prince of Wales’ check.  They also made him a double-breasted herringbone tweed overcoat that is still a familiar fixture in the Prince’s winter wardrobe, almost thirty years after it was made.

Turnbull20160805_180531 & Asser of Jermyn Street hold the Prince’s Royal Warrant for shirt-making

List of the Prince of Wales royal warrant holders for clothing and accessories as at August 2016: Anderson & Sheppard Ltd (Tailors), Saville Row; Benson & Clegg Ltd (Buttons, badges, military neckwear), Jermyn St; Burberry Ltd (Outfitters), London; Corgi Hosiery Ltd (Knitwear and hosiery), Carmarthenshire, S Wales; Daks Ltd (Outfitters), Old Bond St; Dents Ltd (gloves) Wiltshire; Ede & Ravenscroft Ltd (robe makers), Chancery Lane; Frank Hall Tailoring (Tailored sports clothes), Leicestershire; G. Ettinger Ltd (Leathergoods), Putney Bridge road, London; Gieves & Hawkes Ltd (Tailors & outfitters), Saville Row; J Barbour & sons Ltd (Waterproof & protective clothing), Tyne & Wear; James Lock & Co Ltd (hatters), St James St; John Lobb Ltd (bootmakers), St James St; Johnstons of Elgin (Estate tweeds and woollen fabrics), Morayshire; Kinloch Anderson Ltd (tailors & kiltmakers), Edinburgh; Malcolm Plews (Military tailor), Bexhill-on-sea; R.E. Tricker Ltd (shoemaker), Northamptonshire; Turnbull & Asser Ltd (shirtmakers), Jermyn St; Wendy Keith Designs (Shooting and kilt hosiery), Cornwall.

Making a royal hat? Here’s what you need to know


Hats are one of the most distinctive things that the Queen wears and, though she may never have sought to distinguish herself with choices at the more avant garde end of the spectrum, the Queen’s hats play an important functional and decorative part in her wardrobe.  As part of its 90th birthday tribute to the Queen, London’s Fashion and Textile Museum hosted a talk by curator and historian, Beatrice Behlen about the evolution of the Queen’s style in headwear. Beatrice is Senior Curator of Fashion and Decorative Arts at the Museum of London but has also curated collections at Kensington Palace.  Beatrice also revealed the important considerations for any milliner in working for the Queen.

From her earliest childhood, the Queen has been surrounded by hats.  Her grandmother, Queen Mary favoured the toque – larger than a pillbox with a turned-back brim.  In photographs she presents a picture of lavish Edwardian style – draped layers of lace, strings of pearls and veiling.  The Queen Mother seems much more to have been influenced by changing fashions.  Her cloches of the 1920s were succeeded by capelines in the 1930s and then caps or berets with a more military feel in the 1940s.  As time went on she also developed the feminine touches that came to define her style in her later years – veiling, feathers, pastel colours and flowers.

The talk also revealed some of the functional considerations for the royal milliner.  The hat has to work as part of an ensemble, so the milliner must work with the designer and perhaps with other accessory  makers too – Norman Hartnell, one of the most famous couturiers to the Queen often worked with the milliner Claude Saint-Cyr and shoemaker Rayne.  There are certain codes to observe: for example, the Queen rarely wears black, except for Remembrance Day, funerals and for meeting the Pope. Hats must also serve the functional purpose of ensuring that the Queen remains highly visible, so lighter colours and smaller-brimmed or brimless hats work best.  Then there are the practicalities we all face – coping with wind and rain.

As she reached maturity and developed her personal style, the Queen favoured a succession of milliners.  One of the earliest, in the 1940s, was Aage Thaarup, a milliner with a flamboyant style who made hats for the Queen Mother as well as for films.  Notable commissions for the Queen included the feather-trimmed tricorn she wore for her first Trooping of the Colour in 1951.  Throughout the 1950s and 60s, the Queen’s hats tended to become smaller, some little more than a headpiece or flowers combined with a veil.  By the 1970s, the Queen was working with a new milliner.  Simone Mirman had worked with Schiaparelli and, unsurprisingly, produced very exuberant designs, often inspired by nature – flowers or even sometimes mushrooms.  There were also intensely elegant designs like the black scarf-style hat worn for the Duke of Windsor’s funeral in 1972.

In the 1980s, Freddie Fox was supplying pillbox styles which gradually evolved into the 1990s to include small brims or incorporate scarf-style elements into the design.  Other milliners working with the Queen in the 1990s were Philip Somerville, Marie O’Regan and Graham Smith, some also working with Princess Diana.  Coming right up to date, today one of the milliners most associated with the Queen is Rachel Trevor-Morgan, who gained her royal warrant in 2014.

The picture that emerged of the Queen’s evolving millinery style is one of practicality, influenced by, but not slave to, fashion.  Her millinery is designed alongside her ensembles to observe royal protocols as well as practical need.  In short, though she may not possess the sheer fashion force of the younger members of the royal family (the Duchess of Cambridge perhaps pre-eminent here), the Queen has always displayed a style that is entirely her own, never appearing to be overwhelmed or upstaged by an outfit.  Perhaps she is the perfect milliner’s client.

New Millinery talent in London


London seems to be going millinery-mad at present and its a wonderful thing to observe.  Recently, I met a young milliner, Marie Coignus who has just started to sell her work at Atelier Millinery in London’s Soho.  Marie has been a milliner for 6 years, after studying millinery at Paris’s Chambre Syndicale and then at London’s Kensington & Chelsea College.  20160525_185843She currently works with Stephen Jones and has just produced her first hat for sale under her own name – a highly versatile turban on a blocked felt base, currently available at Atelier Millinery in Soho and pictured here.  I loved it and if you do too, get down to the Soho shop or the website to snap one up before turbans become the essential hat for the coming season (and essential equipment for the perennial bad hair day).

Marie urged me to go to Kensington & Chelsea college to see the end-of-year show by this year’s millinery cohort and I was simply blown away by the creativity on show.  Here’s a rundown of some of London’s brightest milliners.

Jennifer Rowley – her collection is theatrically-inspired and specifically focused on the stage magician.  An endlessly adaptable crystal embellished 20160609_182607neoprene wide brim captured my heart on sight.  I have never seen something like this before.

Millou Millinery – pictured left, Anne Stoffels’s looks are romantic and dramatic.  I loved the extreme and embellished veil on the hat pictured above.

Eun Young Lee Millinery – a young Korean milliner who fuses eastern and western influences – think cherry blossom embellishment on a seriously glamorous black base.

Daisy McBurney Millinery – this is English eccentricity at its absolute best – blowsy blooms, straw and snaking twigs and vegetation – a celebration of the English countryside.

Kewei Chen – sculptural, dramatic, tactile, these hats really make a statement and, interestingly are portrayed on male figures in some of the publicity shots.

Jordana Millinery – this will appeal to vintage goddesses and Downton addicts – gorgeous headpieces, helpfully segmented by style/decade and by occasion (wedding guest, mother of the bride etc)

Charlotte Roseman – Chelsea-based milliner working on a bespoke basis but also selling in Fenwick and delivering classic styles, updated with sculptural touches, also a lovely touch with a turban.

Milly Hudson – beautifully flattering pieces but also some punchy brights that would certainly appeal to an Asia-based clientele.