London has long been a hub for hat making.
The Eighties and Nineties saw Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy raise the bar when it came to millinery on fashion’s catwalks. Think of Jones’ halo headpieces for Thierry Mugler circa 1984, or Treacy ‘s bird nests, antlers and umbrellas at Alexander McQueen shows over the years.
Now the next generation of milliners are rising up; primed to take the baton from the masters. This set is interested in looking back to feed the traditions of hat making into new-wave headgear that’s experimental, wearable and fun.
Headgear comes fuzzy with explosive prints from fabric offcuts, renaissance-style with sportswear twists and snake print cowboys hats and diamante buckets. This breed of milliner is self-taught, loves to swerve rules, and is monetising a market currently unsaturated.
Meet the best in class…
Newington Green’s milliner of the moment Benny Andallo counts Rihanna as a fan.
Having studied BA Menswear at Central Saint Martins, and failing the first year of his MA, in July 2019, he posted photos of six hats he had made to Instagram. “I wanted to make hats for a night out using the fabrics I had left over from uni,” he says. “I’m not traditionally trained, so I just make stuff from what I know about cut and sew for my garments.”
After the post came a string of collaborations with upcomers, including baker boys crafted from beer towels with Welsh designer Adam Jones, as seen on FKA Twigs this January, and fluffy faux fur dome hats with Central Saint Martins graduate Leeann Huang, worn by Adwoa Aboah on the cover of Elle.
Andallo levelled up at Paris’ Men’s Fashion Week this year, when Japanese designer Junya Watanabe asked him for archive and custom pieces to spruce up his AW22 collection, which was a tribute to Nineties icon Jamiroquai and his trademark headwear. “I’m a huge Junya fan, but I didn’t think it was true,” he says. “I lied to them saying I have all this stuff you can borrow, but I’d sold some of the samples. I just re-made the majority.”
The star headgear from last London Fashion Week was at KNWLS.
Super-sleek cowboy hats cut with a pointed front, in snake prints and distressed leather. To make them sharp edged, Anja Maye had help rendering a digital version of her design before printing a 3D mold. “I stiffen the leather and then wet mold it onto a shape in sections before constructing the hats by hand and adding any details,” she says.
The passion was born in North London’s Turnpike Lane. “There’s a charity shop I used to visit weekly and they had a trolley full of vintage hats one day. I started collecting them after that.” Maye enlisted on a course by East Sussex milliner Lomax & Skinner, spending a night a week for six months developing her craft. “Hats don’t need to be worn as a symbol of status anymore,” she says. “People are experimenting with accessories and clothing more and more.”
James Pink Studio
Bringing the historical up to date is James Rushfirth, the hatter of James Pink Studio.
“I’m massive on fashion history. Nothing influences my hats more than hats,” he says. “I’m not the kind of person to see a leaf, and think I’m going to make that leaf into a hat.”
After studying Fashion Communication and Promotion at Central Saint Martins, followed by a two-year stint on show production and window displays at Burberry, Rushfirth upped sticks and decided to go into hat making. “It was a massive risk. I’d never made a hat and hardly even worn hats apart from a Benetton cap.”
He took himself back to Leeds, started hatmaking in his grandmother’s house, and now works from an old mill collaborating with designers like Chopova Lowena and Ozwald Boateng. His biggest hit has been a beret, as seen on Harry Styles in his ‘Golden’ music video and Variety Magazine. “I mean, I didn’t invent the beret,” he says. “But with the ribbing and the ribbons – it’s a staple I will always do.”
For the weird and wonderful, French designer Diane Gaignoux is your go-to.
She got her grounding at Central Saint Martins, having studied knitwear, and now hops between Normandy’s Le Havre and Paris, creating lumped, felt garments and tall bowler-like hats. “I always thought that a hat would complete a silhouette,” Gaignoux says. “To me, it is very related to sculpting, reclaiming the history of fashion and including the past in the contemporary.”
Gaignoux’s come in poppy shades of ombré orange and fiery red, or lime greens and yellow. “I found London very inspiring in terms of millinery, I am thinking of John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood.”
But a lack of training in hatmaking left her one option: to wing it. “I am approaching it from other techniques – feltmaking and shaping, DIY techniques, dying and sewing,” she says. The results are as charming as they are unique. And that’s the best thing about hats, she thinks: “These accessories help us not look so similar.”
Ukrainian milliner Ruslan Baginskiy is the king of giving classic shapes a contemporary spin and it’s London’s millinery scene he turns to for inspiration. “Steven Jones and Philip Treacy are icons to me,” he says. “When I first became interested in hats, they were my teachers and shooting with their creations were my textbooks.”
Baginskiy began as a fashion stylist, before sidestepping to hatmaking after struggling to find good ones on the market. His designs come sharp cut and chic. Signature creations include fedoras, baker boys with “RB” stitching, and a diamante balaclava loved by Madonna.
“Most shapes of headwear were created many centuries or decades ago, and our task is to give them a new context and new modern associations,” Baginskiy says. “We want to create new traditions, the hats should become a new norm.”