As a milliner, I always find Royal Ascot Week a tricky social week. It’s like the Oscar Week of the Millinery year and it can be humbling – not to say humiliating – if you find that a ‘client’ whom you thought was wearing one of your hats is actually wearing a hat by one of your rivals.
This can easily happen when people go to Ascot on several days. That is why I always ask clients which ‘day’ they are planning on wearing the hat.
But plans, weather and outfits can change and sometimes you can only laugh (and then cry) when a royal or celebrity client decides to change their mind at the last moment about their outfit. If I ever see an Ascot ‘client’ in the Royal Enclosure or in a tea tent and they are not wearing one of my hats, I usually dart towards the loo or head to another tent.
Thus I was slightly nervous on the first day of Royal Ascot when I saw the Royal Procession of carriages parading on the course in front of the Grandstand. I was standing by the winning post in the Car Park 7 after hosting a picnic with guests who included my brand ambassador actress Georgina Rylance and interior designer Louise Acton (below).
As the last carriage swept by, I was delighted to see that Viscountess Linley was wearing a bespoke hat of mine (an ivory button hat with blossom) that I made for her.
I was also thrilled to see that it went down well with various royal ‘hat-watchers’, fellow milliners – from both Britain and America – and fashion critics. Lady Serena’s wardrobe on the first day was chosen by American milliner Jill Courtemanche as her ‘favourite outfit of the day’ by the website ‘Royal Hats: Following the Bold, Beautiful and Bizarre World of Royal Millinery’.
My royal hat was also selected as one of the top picks of the day by British milliner Katie Vale who said: ‘I love this hat! So modern and fresh yet still completely lady-like. Paired with her jacket it’s gorgeous for spring and really a breath of fresh air. It doesn’t have the harsh angles that a lot of modern designs have. It’s just simple and refined, truly a lovely look with a lot of impact’.
Thank- you Katie. I also made an Ascot hat (a chartreuse green button hat with scrolling pheasant feathers) for my friend Camilla Henderson, daughter of the Queen’s trainer Nicky Henderson.
So I had a pretty good Ascot this year after my 2014 collection hats were stocked exclusively in Fortnum & Mason alongside Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy.
In the week before Royal Ascot, I couldn’t resist sending my husband (below) along incognito to the Piccadilly store. I was pleased to hear that there had definitely been sales. Indeed Fortnum’s asked for repeat orders. I was a featured milliner in Fortnum’s Millinery Fortnight in the Spring which was billed as ‘a celebration of the finest and emerging talent’.
I went twice to Ascot. The opening day is a must for milliners; the other good day is Ladies Day on the Thursday. For all Ascot Week, my husband had been given a new ‘four door’ Bentley Flying Spur to test drive so at least the drive up was super-comfortable. Leaving London at 9.45 am on Thursday we were setting up our picnic (largely the remains of Tuesday’s) by 12 p.m.
Even if you are Philip Treacy or Stephen Jones, Ascot can also be daunting as where you walk one is faced with a sea of hats from one’s rival milliners.
For a milliner, Royal Ascot is much more than just racing – it is part trade show/part fashion parade with the opportunities for joy and/or millinery angst as you see your fashionista friends or strangers wearing (or not wearing) your hats results in an emotional roller coaster.
The sea of hats on display are often a source of creative inspiration; on more than one occasion, I’ve scrawled new designs on the back of Ascot table napkins.
I nearly made it onto TV this year after being asked by stylist and fashion presenter Martha Ward to be interviewed about the day’s hats on Ladies Day (Thursday). Alas, just as I was about to have my microphone clipped on, Stephen Jones walked by and my TV debut was gazumped!
Still, I was delighted to open the Daily Telegraph the next day to see that Lisa Armstong, Fashion Editor of the paper, had selected my hat as worn by fashion IT girl Marissa Montgomery in a dress by Amanda Wakeley as one of her favourites of Ladies Day Royal Ascot Week.
The other highlight of Ascot Week was that my husband gave me a wonderful Ascot drawing by the artist Adam Dant inspired by the famous scene in the film of My Fair Lady at Royal Ascot with sets designed by Cecil Beaton. It is called ‘Ascot Favourites’ and is now hung in my Shropshire studio between two cabinet display cases full of my hats.
I was touched that Adam signed off the original drawing with the words ‘With a hat tip to off to Laura on her birthday’. Oh, but how I wish I had been a milliner in the Edwardian era when every ‘lady’ wore a hat whenever they stepped outside their front door.