The hat hobbyist: 5 minutes with milliner Tracy Hillel

While it may have started as a hobby, designing hats has become much, much more for Tracy Hillel.

With Royal Ascot just around the corner, we caught up with the milliner to get her top tips for picking the right hat and find out more about her unique collection of millinery designs (think vintage feathers and 1920s fabrics), now available at Fenwick Brent Cross...

tracy hillel portrait image

How did you decide you wanted to be a milliner?

I had never planned to become a milliner, it began as a hobby 7 years ago. I could never find the right hat so I started making my own. People would approach me asking who had made them and where they could buy them, and from nowhere I had a business. I feel very very lucky doing something I absolutely love. Creating beautiful hats, using the best materials, meeting lovely people and seeing customers feeling confident and comfortable wearing the hats I make.

What inspires you and your designs?

My inspiration comes from all around me. I'm very fortunate to come from a large Italian family, and my mother and my aunts are the most elegant female leads. Spending much of my youth in Rome, my love for style and glamour was instilled in me at a very early age - think Godfather movies, Roman holiday and Sophia Loren and you get an idea! I also love exploring vintage fairs and antique markets, where I get a thrill from uncovering beautiful vintage feathers, veiling and hat pins to incorporate in my designs.

Have you always been local to the Brent Cross area?

I've always lived in Hendon and I still live here with my family. I went to school here, as did my kids. Brent Cross is where my love of shopping began and thrived - I've spent many hours mooching around the shops, probably more like years if I add it all up! Being able to showcase my Ascot Collection in Fenwick has been a fantastic experience for me - I feel an emotional attachment.

Are you attending Royal Ascot this year?

Royal Ascot is the highlight of the year! We go every year and I feel it's my treat right in the middle of the crazy busy wedding season! This year we're going on Ladies Day on Thursday - as it's my birthday we couldn't think of a better way to celebrate! Everyone makes such a huge effort dressing up - I love the excitement of the Royal Procession, the spectacular hats, the outfits and of course the horses!

What are your top tips for styling a hat for a summer occasion?

My tip to anyone wearing a hat is whatever you choose to wear, do so with confidence and a smile, enjoy yourself and hope the sun shines! As Marilyn Monroe said: "Give the girl the right hat and she can take over the world!"

How do you see your brand growing in the future?

Being a perfectionist and loving every aspect of what I do makes it a challenge for me to delegate in my business. There's nothing better for me than when I see ladies feeling fabulous wearing my hats!

I hope I'll continue to grow as a designer, be able to identify and predict customers' needs and create beautiful hats that surpass their requirements. Nearly everyone I meet says: "I never wear hats, they don't suit me!" I would like everyone to find their style and shape and feel happy and glamorous dressing up for an event. 

By Alison Millington