HOW TO BE A HAT MAKER BY ELAINE KEOGH


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As we settle down for the cold snap and finally say farewell to summer, there’s one thing that’s top of our love list when faced with seasonal change, our cold weather cap! From boaters to beanies, fedoras to fur, your winter headwear holds the potential to luxe up your most lacklustre outfits. Ever wondered how to be a hat maker? We have too, so we met up with expert milliner Elaine Keogh in her South London workshop to talk key trends for this season, working with British fashion house KTZ and why traditional techniques are the best.

VH: TALK US THROUGH YOUR BACKGROUND, HOW DID YOU GET INTO MILLINERY?

I started making hats in 2009. Really it was a hobby at the time, I wanted to do something in fashion but was working and had trained in pharmacy! It was about a year into practicing millinery during evenings and weekends that I decided to give pharmacy up altogether and went out to Cape Town for a few months to work with a milliner called Jacqueline Kolbe. When I returned I got in touch with the Queen’s milliner, Rose Cory and trained under her four days a week.

VH: WHAT WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU LEARNT FROM HER?

With fur always brush it to the left, anticlockwise always. It’s tiny little pieces of advice that come from her experience and not from a textbook that I find most valuable. There’s no glue in millinery it’s all hand done from start to finish, with Rose if you do one stitch wrong you have to take it out and do it all again. She’s amazing!

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VH: EVERYTHING YOU DO IS HANDMADE, WHAT IS IT ABOUT TRADITIONAL TECHNIQUES THAT YOU LOVE?

It’s the look and the finish of the product and the sense of luxury that I love. When I walk into some shops I can barely look at the hat section as the quality is just not the same as those that are handmade. For example the balance of the hat on your head is something that’s really difficult to get on a machine, you can only do it the traditional way.

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VH: DO YOU EVER USE VINTAGE FABRICS IN YOUR WORK?

I buy a lot of vintage materials especially furs and trims. Sometimes I’ll even buy vintage hats that I’ll rework and restore for sale. I like working with it because often the materials are no longer in production.

VH: WHICH STYLES ARE KEY FOR THIS SEASON?

My clients love anything done by Maison Michel, I’ve had two people come in looking for something similar to their classic boater, they’re so simple and elegant that I’m really not surprised!

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VH: WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR INSPIRATION FOR EACH COMMISSION?

Customers usually come in with their outfit looking for a hat to match. From there I’ll make some sketches and pull some fabric and dyes to work with the customer to establish exactly what they’re looking for.

VH: YOU WERE COMMISSIONED TO MAKE HATS FOR THE KTZ AW13 SHOW, HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?

It was amazing! I worked in a fabric shop in central London and they came in one week before their AW13 show saying they needed hats. They wanted to make them themselves but only had a week so we ended up looking together at their collection. They managed to get the blocks specially made within a day and bought them in and from there it was about blocking and making. We managed to get them down the catwalk at London Fashion Week a week later. The fabric shop were very good to me, they gave me the week off work and it was working day and night with lots of coffee but it was definitely worth it!

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VH: IF YOU COULD DESIGN A HAT FOR ANYONE WHO WOULD IT BE?

That’s a difficult question, I suppose right now I’d love to get Cara Delevingne wearing one of my pieces.

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VH: WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PIECE YOU’VE EVER MADE?

It changes all the time! At the moment I love the turbans! They’re silk inside and out and are just so comfortable to wear and go with anything. I think if you wear them with your hair down it gives them a modern twist. I end up wearing the ones I’ve made all the time.

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VH: CHANEL HERSELF STARTED AS A MILLINER, WOULD YOU EVER CONSIDER BRANCHING OUT INTO FASHION DESIGN?

No absolutely not. I love what I do now but have no interest in clothing. I think when you go into clothing its more about production whereas now I really love that I can make everything myself and control everything from start to finish.

VH: A STYLE OF HAT THAT LOOKS GOOD ON EVERYONE…

I’d definitely go for a hat with a sweep to the side brim. Even if you have glasses this style still manages to frame your face, I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t suit it. It lifts people but even if you’re very tall it doesn’t drag you down.

VH: TALK US THROUGH YOUR TYPICAL WORKDAY LOOK…

Today I’m wearing this sporty dress by Baum und Pferdgarten. It’s just so comfortable. I’m constantly getting fabric stiffener all over my clothes and pins stuck into dresses so everything I wear is very comfortable and casual.

VH: IF YOU WEREN’T PRACTICING MILLINERY WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING NOW…

Definitely some kind of textiles. Even working in the fabric shop, I loved every minute of it. It was so exciting seeing the different fabrics come in and the buying process. We’d burn a sample of every piece that came in and smell it to see what fibres were in it, I guess that’s my science side coming out! For more from Elaine you can check out her website here…


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