It’s hat season! No, not wool fedoras and ski hats and beanies. The season for ornate, whimsical, structured, romantic millinery – for spectacular special occasion hats. A hat for Easter, and spring and summer weddings. Something brilliant for the Kentucky Derby, Ascot, and the Central Park Conservancy Hat Lunch in New York. Plus garden parties, graduations, outdoor concerts and more. But where to find a chic chapeau that will signal confidence and creativity – not kookiness? We’ve rounded up the best makers of couture millinery in the world. Here’s where to find the perfect special occasion hat for you.
where can you find a couture special occasion hat?
have it tailor-made
Crafting a bespoke hat is both art and science. Which is why, just like in haute couture, the best couture milliners in the world are able to magically capture the essence of a wonderful occasion.
But they can also make adjustments based on the specifics of the occasion, as well as your height, face shape, hair color and personal preferences. Which means that the final creation is marvelous and unique, and it will last you for years.
Although, it’s such fun to wear a dramatic chapeau that you’ll surely want more than just one in your wardrobe. Right?
be totally on-trend
In this Instagram world, hats and hair accessories are having a major moment right now. So there’s no better time to consider leveling up your game.
Doubting whether hats are a Thing? Dear reader, a fashion authority no less than designer at Chanel-owned Maison Michel, Priscilla Royer noted: “The hat is a new means of expression. In a way, it is the new tattoo.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best milliners in the world are centered in and around London. The Royal Family keeps them very busy, as does Ascot (where you’re allowed into certain areas unless you’re wearing a hat that meets rigid specifications).
But there are some fantastic milliners in America, as well. And a new generation is emerging in Los Angeles with a fresh Cali sensibility that’s perfect for a more relaxed but festive occasion – like a wedding on a beach or a garden party.
plan ahead for your big event
If you have a special occasion coming up this spring or summer, or if you’re heading to the Easter Parade in New York City, or the Kentucky Derby, or Ascot, you’ll need to do a bit of prior planning if you want a bespoke hat ready in time.
Most of these designers have online shops and will ship internationally. And while many require up to 4 weeks’ notice – because after all, these are bespoke hats – they almost always say that they’ll work with you if time is of the essence. For example, for the Kentucky Derby, most milliners require you to place your order by the end of April.
the best makers of couture millinery in the world
Based on their clientele and critical reviews, here are the 17 milliners who make the list of the best in the world right now.
1. Philip Treacy
Philip Treacy has been creating striking architectural and feathered designs since 1990. He’s the go-to for many in the fashion industry. His client list includes the late Isabella Blow; Grace Jones; and Dita von Teese. If you love his Sweeping Wave hat ($1,615), below, part of his glorious spring-summer ’19 collection, it’s available in his shop or at Bergdorf Goodman in New York.
2. Stephen Jones OBE
London-based Stephen Jones has designed hats for some the best designers in the industry. He’s also worked with the Duchess of Sussex. He notes: “Christian Dior, who started out as a milliner, did not see the hat as separate – it was part and parcel of an outfit.” His spring-summer ’19 collection is called Parfum; in it, Jones captures the essence of his favorite fragrances. From L’Heure Bleue by Guerlain, to Calyx by Prescriptives, it spans decades in scent. Our favorite? Wisteria Hysteria, created in collaboration with Comme des Garçons.
3. Jane Taylor London
Milliner Jane Taylor of Jane Taylor London has created many hats for members of the Royal Family. She was “discovered” by the Countess of Wessex, and has become one of the Duchess of Cambridge’s favorite milliners. She has a shop on King’s Road in London that also houses her studio. In addition to the Royals, her hats are worn by Kate Moss, Rita Ora, Coco Rocha, and European royalty. You can find her creations online at Bergdorf Goodman if you don’t happen to be in London.
4. Rachel Trevor Morgan
Rachel Trevor Morgan established her company in 1990, and operates from a 17th-century atelier in St James’s. Holder of a Royal Warrant, she hand-makes hats and fascinators for clients including the Queen. Most of her hats are made-to-measure, but sometimes styles can be purchased “off-the-peg.” And no worries – the shop’s dyeing service ensures that your bespoke hat will uniquely compliment your outfit.
Founder and Creative Director Emily Baxendale is the driving force behind Emily – London, a luxury headwear label. Launched in 2014, the brand offers exclusive hats and specialized headpieces. Each piece is handmade by the studio millinery team in London. Bespoke service is available year-round. Ready-t0-wear head pieces are presented in two seasonal collections. You can find the ready-to-wear in Harvey Nichols in London. The label has announced overseas expansion plans for this year, with a special focus on the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
6. Jess Collett
For Notting Hill-based milliner Jess Collett, no outfit is complete without a hat. Her client list includes Pippa Middleton and the Duchess of York. Collett was also part of the 2018 Royal Ascot Millinery Collective, which saw eight milliners create a hat exclusively for Fenwick on Bond Street. Her ready-to-wear collection items are made to order, and ready to ship in 7-10 business days.
7. Piers Atkinson
The son of a theatrical milliner, Piers Atkinson launched his own label in 2008. Since then, his client list has grown to include Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, Kate Moss, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Paloma Faith, among others. Every piece is hand-crafted in his London studio, and the process generally takes about two weeks. The Piers Atkinson spring/summer 2018 collection sees waterlilies and orchids strewn across distressed, raw-edged straw hats, a tongue-in-cheek take on countryside chic.
8. William Chambers
Scottish milliner William Chambers describes his signature style as “elegance with an edge.” All of his pieces are produced in his studio in Glasgow. Chambers’ celebrity clients include Roisin Murphy, Joan Jett, Ana Matronic, Kelis, and Livia Firth. His spring-summer ’19 collection is inspired by the paintings and adventurous spirit of Victorian biologist, explorer and artist Marianne North.
9. Lock & Co.
Reportedly the world’s oldest hat shop, London’s Lock & Co. is renowned for inventing the bowler. The shop created hats for Lord Nelson, Winston Churchill and Prince Philip (it holds a Royal Warrant). Despite all the menswear, the shop also supplies elegant, feminine headgear. It’s designed by an in-house milliner and handcrafted in the workshop above the store.
10. Awon Golding
Looking for a fresh, fun take on traditional millinery? Awon Golding worked as a fashion editor in Hong Kong before moving to London. There, she was an apprentice to celebrated milliner Edwina Ibbotson. Golding’s spring-summer ’19 collection, Fluff, is a celebration of the whimsical side of millinery. It showcases the milliner’s eye-catching use of color and updated materials.
11. Rachel Black
At Rachel Black Millinery, you’ll find joyful confections perfect for any special occasion. “Born of the desire to provide women with no nonsense hats and headpieces,” Rachel Black launched her eponymous brand in early 2011. Her aim? Releasing the wearer’s ‘inner drama queen’ and appealing to their sense of fun. Each item in her seasonal collections is handmade in her North London studio. You should alert them if your head piece needs to fit Royal Ascot, Royal Enclosure size requirements. Allow 3-4 weeks for completion prior to postage for all other orders. And if you have a party coming up and want to make a statement, check out her party hats. We. Love. These.
12. Noel Stewart
If avant-garde is more your style, head for Noel Stewart. A graduate of the Royal College of Art, Noel Stewart has worked with many of Britain’s best directional young designers, including JW Anderson, Gareth Pugh, Erdem, Roksanda Ilincic, Viktor & Rolf, and Hussein Chalayan. Stewart’s clients include Keira Knightley, FKA Twigs, and Miranda Kerr. The ready-to-wear collection is available in his shop and online, and items ship within 3-4 working days. His bespoke commissions normally take 4-6 weeks to make and ship to an address of your choice.
13. Rosie Olivia Millinery
The founder of Rosie Olivia Millinery began her professional career after studying millinery at Central St Martins in London. She completed internships with iconic milliners Philip Treacy, Stephen Jones and Victoria Grant. Since launch in 2011, Olivia has been offering unique hats and bespoke headpieces. Her bespoke program begins with a consultation consultation at which clients try on lots of different hats, choose a color to match your outfit and select a trimming. She promises to supply “honest and professional advice from the milliner.” That sounds like real luxury to us.
14. Mr. Song Millinery
This Detroit-based millinery, run by Luke Song, was the go-to shop for the late great Aretha Franklin. Franklin wore a Mr. Song hat to perform at President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration. But she’d been a Mr. Song customer for years. Mr. Song Millinery has been in business since 1982, making hats for church, the Kentucky Derby, Ascot, and other special occasions. Purchases can now be made exclusively online. Hats by Mr. Song Millinery are on display at the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, several African-American Museums, and The Smithsonian. So consider yourself a part of history if you decide to wear one.
15. Christine A. Moore
Christine A. Moore has been the Featured Milliner of the past two runs of the Kentucky Derby. She’s also the Official Milliner of the Breeders’ Cup. So she knows a thing or two about how to nail the special occasion hat. Take note: for 2019, the last day to order for ground shipping for the Kentucky Derby is April 26th.
16. Suzanne Couture Millinery
Suzanne Couture Millinery is located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, just off Park Avenue. As befits the neighborhood and its tony clientele, owner Suzanne Newman is well-versed in the rules about hat size at Ascot and what works well for the Kentucky Derby. Her bespoke couture hats are made on-site at her shop. Newman’s sage advise for would-be hat ladies? “Have the confidence to wear it and carry it off.”
17. Formé Millinery
Jenny Pfanenstiel is the Master Milliner and owner of Formé Millinery, based in the heart of horse country: Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to incorporating traditional millinery skills, Jenny has created a unique style of hats that are sculpted on her braid machine from the 1800’s. She sculpts the braid with her hands, creating “one-of-a-kind sculptures for the head.” Her first book is The Making of a Milliner. Her client list includes Former First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, and actress Regina Taylor.
There you have it – some of the best sources in the world for a chic chapeau. What’s your favorite? And where are you going to wear it?
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