I was in Venice earlier this year and loved looking around the old antique shops selling fancy dress Venetian velvet masques. My bespoke hats are all unique masques – but for the head rather than just the face.
I can understand why the writer and gardener Vita Sackville-West (who wore the most divine and wacky hats) talked about her garden at Sissinghurst being divided into individual ‘rooms’ – each self-contained, quirky and beautiful in their own way. That is what I try to do with my hats.
Bizarrely, my ‘Hat Factory’ on the Pimlico Road is just a hundred yards from the house where Vita used to live on Ebury Street in Belgravia with her writer husband Harold. Whenever I walk past the Blue Plaque on the wall outside their house I often think how Vita would have spent time upstairs choosing a particular hat before opening her front door and stepping out to face the world.
The Pimlico Road – actually in Chelsea – is a wonderfully eclectic and creative street to have my studio. There are so many weird and wacky and beautiful objects – from ancient fossils to ornate 18th century sandstone finials – in every shop window. Just walking to work can be inspirational. Many of the window objects d’art I pass every day get my creative mind thinking – whether it is a marble bust or a beautiful malachite table.
Because my mother is an interior designer – also based on the Pimlico Road – I was always surrounded by eclectic and beautiful fabrics when growing up. The house was always full of exquisite rolls of velvets, tartans, felts and linens – I learnt how to choose between three very different shades of navy blue felt; and how fabric texture, weave and weight could be as important as colour.
Many of my designs emanate a lady-like classic ‘elegance’ and many of my hats are inspired by vintage styles (such as the ‘Jockey’hat which takes me back to watching those movies of Audrey Hepburn on rainy days in Norfolk as a young girl). My preference is to use soft lines, rather than aggressive features, which suit a lot of people and are more flattering to the feminine face. But my new collection is sparkier and less feminine than most previous designs.
People don’t want to look like their grandmas, so while my designs are relatively classical, I always keep them up-to-date. The new collection is a bit more gritty and street smart than is usual for me.
That’s what I love about hats: they have the creative power to transform your personality so that you almost don’t recognize yourself as you pull up the velvet collar of your favourite old overcoat and walk down the road on a cold winter morning wearing a new hat that makes you see the world with a little more sexy edge, fun and attitude. I almost can’t wait for the autumn chill to turn to frosty winter.