Heads Behind the Hats: An Interview with the Masters of Millinery
14th May 2019
By Ellie Hamilton
To celebrate London Craft Week, Leo Fenwick hosted an intimate panel conversation in-store with iconic British milliners Rachel Trevor-Morgan, Noel Stewart and Edwina Ibbotson. Here, we take a look at everything they discussed from their inspirations, trend speculations and styling advice, to their Ascot preparations.
At Fenwick, we're known for our wondrous Millinery Department, ready and raring to get you prepped for all your stylish summer occasions. (And if you haven't yet paid a visit to our fabulous [millinery expert Mr. Tony](https://www.fenwick.co.uk/daily-muse/article/?cid=64a2d570-a214-4eb7-b22f-fc11e73d2fc1), then we strongly suggest you do.) Last weekend, to celebrate London Craft Week, alongside a curated millinery exhibition, Leo Fenwick, Head of Brand at Fenwick, hosted an intimate panel conversation at [Fenwick of Bond Street](https://www.fenwick.co.uk/store/?StoreID=bondStreet) with iconic British milliners Rachel Trevor-Morgan, Noel Stewart and Edwina Ibbotson discussing their inspirations, craftmanship and Ascot preparations.
From runways to racecourses, rock stars to royalty, the sought-after creations of these three master milliners have been adding finishing touches to statement [occasionwear](https://www.fenwick.co.uk/women/clothing/dresses) for over 30 years. Here, in conversation with Leo, we discover how they've combined sublime creativity with unparalleled technical expertise to produce their showstopping hats, as well as their top tips on hat selection...
##### LF: It's an honour to be joined by three of the very best British milliners to celebrate London Craft Week and the exhibition unveiled. How was the exhibition born?
**RTM:** "During London Craft Week a couple of years ago there was a wonderful exhibition of leather in the Leather Sellers Hall. We saw that and thought we can do this for hats, and it all came together to create it."
**EI:** "It's our fifth year at London Craft Week, and we'd all done things separately, but we wanted to do it for more milliners than just ourselves. We wanted to bring together all the different milliners we enjoy and respect to create something for other milliners."
**RTM:** "We hand-picked different people for their different crafts."
**NS:** "Craft Week is about revealing the skills behind the craft, and showing the reality of our lives as craft people. We were inspired by the leather exhibiton to give a feel for what goes into the making of a hat. And the wonderful spectrum that's within our discipline. We tried to focus on showing a little bit of each one of us and each one of the milliners."
##### LF: Where does the design process start?
**NS:** "It's very different for each of us. If I'm working with a designer they'll have an idea for their collection and I will respond to that. Or, if it's my own collection I just think about what I love, and what I've seen out there that's inspiring me right now."
**RTM:** "I build a collection thinking about my clients and the occasions. Sometimes clients you work with inform you of as to where you might go in the following seasons."
##### LF: Are there trends in millinery? What's the trend this season?
**RTM:** "Definitely, although they're slower than mainstream fashion."
**EI:** "It really depends where you're attending and where its going to be, like different types of weddings for example. And, there's heavy influence from royals and celebrities."
**RTM:** "People often ask 'Is it small hats or big hats this season?', but it's down to the individual and what they feel comfortable with. There are no rules."
**NS:** "I think rimmed hats - it wasn't really a thing before, people just didn't wear them and now people don't feel afraid of them, which has been a big change in my career. When I first started I was drawn to the drama and elegance of a big rim, but people were really resistant. That's changed quite dramatically, people feel so much more comfortable."
**RTM:** "There's still a bit of a fear factor around hats. People have to try different styles to get used to the shape or the drama. Often someone will come into the showroom and you'll put a particular hat on them, they'll say 'Oh my, I can't wear that!' Then you try on lots of other hats and they end up coming back to the first one."
**NS:** "Yes, every time! They always end up going back to the first hat. We tell them what to try and we know because we're doing it everyday, but they try all these different things and end up saying, 'You were right all along!'"
**EI:** "99% of the time the first hat is always right."
##### LF: How do you prepare for Ascot?
**EI:** "Lots of vitamins! And lots of water."
**RTM:** "It's quite difficult, it's an exciting and stressful time of year. You go into a rabbit hole and know you're going to put in a lot of hours. It's a juggling act because as a mostly bespoke business you've got to work out how many orders you can take on, whilst leaving room for your regular clients."
##### LF: What are your Ascot predictions? What are people asking for this year?
**RTM:** "It changes depending on outfits."
**NS:** "It does seem like there's a lot more brights around, people are more confident with colour."
##### LF: What rules are there for hats at Ascot?
**EI:** "It depends on the enclosure. We all know in the the Royal Enclosure it must be 10cm, which is far too small as far as I'm concerned."
**RTM:** "I'd say make sure you wear a proper hat! If you're too apologetic, you'll regret it. Be brave, be bold."
**EI:** "It doesn't have to be big to be dramatic, be playful."
##### LF: How do you think people are breaking boundaries and being playful in the crafting of hats?
**RTM:** "We're always looking for new ways and clever techniques. Like Noel's hat in the Craft Week exhibiton that has been sealed on one end with a soldering iron, which is so great and so different."
##### LF: Yes Noel, that hat felt different. What was the inspiration for that?
**NS:** "Aha! Make a really beautiful hat, and quickly! It takes an odd combination of skill and perseverance. You have to innovate to keep up with the way materials are changing. There's materials coming back, and lots of materials dissapearing."
**EI:** "And, clients are used to seeing something unusual."
**RTM:** "That's the great thing about hats, you can almost make a hat out of anything."
##### LF: Are you influenced by buyers or those working on the shop floor who sell your pieces?
**NS:** "We listen, for sure!"
**EI:** "Yes we do. It's very valuable."
**NS:** "It's different here in-store to in our workshops. We can find out what works and what doesn't. It's an invaluable piece of feedback."
**EI:** "We also get a different clientele. Ladies come here to find something that suits them, that's comfortable and flattering. So it's good to know what works."
**NS:** "People come to us because they know they like what we do. If they don't know they can come here to try on such a wide range of hats, all different scales, colours and price ranges, which is an extremely good way of finding the niche that you like."
##### LF: Do you have sustainability in mind when designing?
**RTM:** "You're always conscious of that. We have to be hot on it, we have to know absolutely where everything comes from. As a royal brand, we have to be environmentally friendly and adhere to that. And, as milliners we use traditional fabrics which tend to be sustainable."
##### LF: Where do you source materials from?
**RTM:** "Straw is generally from abroad, and the feathers are either the UK, US or Czech Republic."
**EI:** "But we do have to be careful."
**NS:** "We have to have much better visibility than we ever have. By coming to one of us you're getting something that is handcrafted, and it's sustainable because it's not mass produced, it's something you'll have for the rest of your life. It's super well made, and we're not taking part in fast fashion."
**RTM:** "We create investment pieces."
**EI:** "And, clients also bring hats back in to be re-trimmed. Even if they're something from 50 years ago. It's a wonderful thing to see a hat thats been around for a long time."
##### LF: Do you have any tips on buying a hat and putting together an outfit? Hat first or dress first?
**RTM:** "If it's made for you, then having your outfit first is good. Of course as a milliner we'll say choose a simple dress and then go for a wacky hat. The most important thing is to try on a lot of different hats, and see what suits you."
**EI:** "We dye hats to match colours if you already have an outfit. I love it when a client asks for a hat first though, and then they're going to find an outfit to go with it."
**NS:** "The best advice we can give is to try on lots of different styles. You have to play, make mistakes and try things out."
##### LF: Has the Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition at the V&A influenced what you're being asked to make?
**RTM:** "Yes it has. Anything popular does. I'm waiting to see if the Mary Quant exhibition will too. Films also definitely have an affect. So do royals and celebrities, and of course the Royal Wedding had a huge effect that made everyone want to go to Ascot that year and in a stunning hat."
**NS:** "Dior is confident with hats. He famously said, 'without hats there's no civilization' which you can see in the exhibition. Every mannequin has something on its head, which shows people the different variants and possibilities. It gives people the confidence, which is really exciting."
##### LF: What do you think it would take to bring hats back into everyday wear?
**All:** "You, you, you!"
**EI:** "Although, I have this feeling we won't go back to it."
**NS:** "I'm not sad about that though. I like people choosing to wear a hat rather than having to."
**RTM:** "I'm a little bit sad that we're all so casual nowadays, but it's nice to dress up for an occasion."
**NS:** "You stand out in a hat, especially in the noise of social media. A hat is a point of difference which gets you noticed."
**LF:** "Perhaps we should start a movement, bring the hat back!"
##### LF: How many hats do you have personally?
**RTM:** "Just a few. I don't tend to hold onto them. You want to wear something different to every event. And, we give a lot to charity."
**EI:** "Yes charities, and I also give them to children for their dressing up box."
**LF:** "How wonderful! Hopefully inspiring the next generation of British milliners."
_Searching for the perfect Ascot outfit? Discover our edit below, and finish the look by visiting our millinery departments at [Fenwick stores nationwide](https://www.fenwick.co.uk/store-locator/)._