We’re always excited to hear about brilliant designers, whatever their particular passion might be. So Jess was delighted a few weeks ago when top couture bridal dressmaker Caroline Castigliano invited her for a chat over on Instagram Live.
Jess and Caroline talked about the golden rules of millinery, where Jess gets her inspiration and the big questions to answer when designing a bespoke piece. Read on for the inside story.
“Right from my early childhood, I have always loved dressing up. A hat is the last thing you put on, the thing that really transforms you into the character you want to be.”
Jess explained that her love affair with hats started early, from a ‘hat party’ held for her seventh birthday when she sported an upside down sieve encrusted with pineapple sticks: “like one of those very old-school party snacks! There’s humour in hats - it’s a fun thing to wear.”
Jess’s early fascination developed into a lifelong passion, helped along by training with some of the best and brightest in the hatmaking business, completing an apprenticeship with Edwina Ibbotson before enrolling on a millinery course at Morley College.
“That’s where I really learned about the business of hatmaking, and how to put together collections. I had always wanted to run my own label and that was where I learned the foundations of how to do that.”
The area around Portobello Road where Jess Collet Milliner’s flagship store is located, is well-known for its buzz and culture. Jess credits this environment as a huge inspiration for her work. “It’s a creative hub - the music, the colour, the clothes all really inspire me.”
Jess talked about three key things to bear in mind when designing a hat for a new client:
"When designing and making a hat, I look at the whole overall silhouette of the outfit to create the complementing shapes and balancing lines as well as the shape and personality of the client."
She explained that a hat commission usually involves three visits to the shop: one to choose the hat, one fitting appointment and a final visit to pick up your beautiful finished article. The process can take as little as four to six weeks, but Jess recommends thinking ahead, especially if your hat is for a big event like Ascot.
So, what should you bear in mind as a client, looking to buy a hat? Jess talked Caroline through her top tips for choosing the perfect hat to suit your height and face shape.
“There are a few general, well-established rules in millinery. If you’re short, opt for a hat that sweeps upwards, or add a feather for height. This will draw the eye up and make you look taller. For those who are taller, you can carry off a broader brim or a wider and shallower shaped hat.
If you have a more angular face shape or a squarer jaw, look for rounder shapes to soften your natural edges, while those with a round face shape might choose sharper, more angular lines. Classically, oval faces have the easiest job when it comes to wearing hats: anything suits you!
All of that said, so much of this depends upon your character! If you feel fabulous in something, it’s likely that will show in your face and you will look wonderful. A tiny person with a huge personality could easily carry off an utterly enormous hat.
Bear in mind also that a good milliner can create the effect of a large hat without a feeling of heaviness, so there can be ways around these so-called ‘golden rules’.”
The benefit of bespoke design is that your final piece, whether it be a wedding dress or a hat, will be tailored specifically to your requirements. Something that both Caroline and Jess are very familiar with. “It’s special to have something that was made just for you.”
We’ll turn to Caroline for the final word on the benefit of a designer hat: “When you have something on your head you feel more dressed, more finished. You always walk tall when wearing a hat.”