On a wet July day following a busy Ascot season in 2012, I was warmly welcomed by milliner Jane Taylor to her lovely showroom and studio, located in Fulham, West London. She’s been operating from this premises since November 2011.
I started by asking Jane how she came to be here, working as a successful milliner. After completing a degree in Embroidery in Manchester, where she produced sculptural textiles using Japanese embroidery techniques, one of her tutors pointed out their similarity to headwear.
This intrigued Jane and she decided to turn her creative skills to millinery. Jane completed a year-long course in Millinery at Chelsea and Kensington, and finished off doing work experience for an established milliner.
With all this creative education under her belt, Jane pulled together her talent for business and produced a small range of her millinery, which was shown to local boutiques and successfully sold! From there she established a millinery studio at Henley on Thames, then moved to another in Mortlake for several years, before arriving in her current premises.
Her establishment in Fulham has a working studio upstairs and showroom downstairs displaying her current season’s range. This not a one-person show anymore: Jane has a full-time assistant, Lauren, and an intern, Hannah, who has just completed a millinery course in Leeds.
Materials, techniques, inspiration – Jane uses a variety of materials in her designs: ramie, sinamay, textured silks, parisisal straw and basket weave sinamay. Small and medium-sized berets and some shallow crowned, wide brimmed hats are trimmed with a variety of feathers, arranged dramatically sweeping towards the back, over the top or elegantly perched on the side of their bases. Individually crafted flowers made from hand dyed silks and sculpted sinamay and straw trims also adorn her designs.
Jane Taylor offers a ready to wear range, a bespoke service (including bridal) and a wholesale range that is currently stocked at Harrods, Fortnum and Mason and Harvey Nichols in Dublin, Ireland.
I asked Jane if she had any favourite materials or techniques… She particularly enjoys hand dying (straws) but was quick to point out that she did not enjoy doing it under pressure! Trying to match a particular colour is not something that can be hurried. Other favourites were felt (enjoyed for its sculptural capabilities), beading, veiling, working with textured fabrics and using sinamays with metallic threads.
I wondered what influences Jane’s designs each season. She says she starts by looking at the colour trends and seeks inspiration from new materials that may appear on the market and new block shapes. Often new ideas evolve when she is working under pressure, she says. For example, in the busy weeks leading up to Ascot. Although she may not have the time to explore the idea at that time, she makes a note of it and follows it up when there is more time available.
Royalty and the bespoke process – Her hats have adorned royalty at Ascot and the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, in 2011. When asked about favourite commissions, Jane mentioned Sophie, Countess of Wessex, who wore a wide brimmed basket weave sinamay hat (view photo) at Ascot 2012. Jane’s assistant, Lauren, showed me the first prototype of this hat in the studio upstairs.
The bespoke process involves the client first trying on shape from an existing range, followed by a discussion about colours and fabrics. One, sometimes two fittings are involved, where trims are teamed with the base shape, before the final fitting on collection.
Even though millinery is seen as a creative profession, the reality of running a business can be mundane. Jane estimates that about 5% of her time is actually spent on the design process, but she hastens to add that, if working under pressure, you can be more inventive.
Her average day starts and ends at the computer, responding to emails and ordering supplies, often only leaving the afternoon for making hats. This is where Lauren and Hannah keep the wheels turning upstairs, working on the wholesale orders and production. Throw in a photo shoot here or there, website maintenance, client fittings and the resident dog walks, and you have one very busy milliner!