How did you become interested in millinery?
My grandmother introduced me to hats; she used to have an incredible collection which ranged from beautiful birds of paradise on a hat for special occasions to everyday hats often from that wonderful company Jacol. I loved the different designs and looks she could achieve just by changing her hat and was fascinated by how they were made.
Where did you learn millinery?
When I left school I was determined to become a milliner. I wrote to every millinery company in Luton, the centre of hat making in Britain, but had no replies. My father drove me from South Wales to Luton to start physically knocking on doors. The very first place I went to was Peter Bettley, who funnily enough had worked as a sales rep for Jacol years before. He offered me a job on the spot where I earned £42 a week as an apprentice and learnt all about factory production of hats from blocking and machining to trimming. It was fascinating work and a very steep learning curve which I relished.
Whilst at Peter Bettley’s I met Graham Smith, now a part of Snoxells Headwear. He went on to work at Kangol who subsequently offered me a position working with him and learning model millinery. After this apprenticeship I went on to take a design position with W Wright and Son, now sadly no longer in existence as they were put out of business by the introduction of mass produced hats from the Far East.
I remained with W Wright and Son as a senior Designer for 13 years. During this period I struck up a friendship with Philip Treacy who I met at a show at the RCA. His talent was immediately obvious. W Wright and Son subsequently funded his early collections, giving me the opportunity to work closely with Philip over a long period of time.
In the late 90s I left W Wright and Son and after designing multiple ranges of mens and ladies accessories for a variety of High Street stores I set up my own millinery business which is based on William Street in Edinburgh.
Where do you get inspiration for your designs?
My clients are a huge inspiration – their own look and taste can often determine the style and design of a hat. Otherwise I find inspiration in the most everyday of items from a compact disc to a pot of pencils on someone’s desk. The trick is to have an open mind and see everything around you in a new context. The actual materials I use are also an enormous influence – there are such amazing natural materials which are an inspiration in themselves.
What has been your most enjoyable commission?
I worked with Catherine Dettori to create a pink feathered headpiece for a television interview with her husband. The piece I ended up creating for her worked beautifully with what she wore and looked fabulous on the day which is the ultimate aim and reward!
How would you describe your style of hats?
Fun and individual.
Who do you make hats for?
My clients range from 20 years to 90 years old! Everyone suits some kind of hat or headpiece and the trick is to find the right thing for them. The majority of pieces are for more formal occasions; weddings, race days, garden parties and black tie events. I like to make sure that my clients feel they have had a unique and exciting experience coming to The Edinburgh Milliner. They can bring their outfits with them and try them on with all of the different pieces to get the right effect. As we offer a couture service if we don’t have what a client is looking for in the shop then we can make it for them.
What materials and techniques do you favor?
All of my hats and headpieces are made using old fashioned millinery techniques and using natural materials. Hats are handblocked at my Edinburgh workrooms giving me ultimate design control and quality over every piece. Although some machining is necessary many of the pieces are handsewn and I find all of the trimmings myself from a wide range of sources; friends with exotic birds, gamekeepers, fishing shops, the list is endless. I try and avoid manmade materials as I find they date very quickly and do not have the same character as natural materials.
Any other interests?
I am passionate about racing and riding. For the last six years I have been doing the fashion commentary for the BBC at Royal Ascot and more recently, Goodwood which is the perfect opportunity to combine my love of millinery, fashion and horses!