The royal wedding season is fast approaching and beside the ceremony itself, there is an eager anticipation to see the fascinators the guests will adorn on the day. Hats in Britain may not be a mandatory accessory but it is a part of the tradition and the monarchy has kept it alive. You have never seen Queen Elizabeth without a hat and perhaps you never will, but new royals including Kate Middleton are spotted without it.
In 2011, when Kate Middleton married Prince William, we saw almost all the guests exhibit colorful head gears as the accessory has been attributed as a sign of respect.
However, many have done away with the tradition but fascinators still have fascinated many over the years. We sat for an interview with Paul Stafford, an award-winning milliner of modern times and who is giving a spin to the traditional accessory and turning it into modern artistic pieces that can be worn for fashion and functionality.
A Cambridge graduate, Stafford has had his collection photographed for Vogue UK, CR Fashion Book and Dazed and Confused. He and his wife Selina Horshi run The Season Hats, a company dedicated to making headwears for modern wardrobes. Their designs have been amply exhibited during London Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week.
1. We have seen hats evolve into a comfortable accessory and The Season Hats folding concept has emphasized the functionality. Could you tell us your personal experience on how hats used to be when growing up and how are they perceived now?
Stafford: My great-grandmother and grandmother always had a lot more hats than my mother and sister – very much traditional pieces, all made by hand. My great-grandmother was a tailor and she particularly will have appreciated the craftsmanship, but wearing a hat was very much conforming to the norms of the time. On a more functional note, growing up in rural Yorkshire and Northumberland, I was very used to men wearing flat caps.
There is a greater feeling of self-expression in hat wearing today, and it’s a deliberate choice to wear even a functional piece when you have the option to put up a hood to protect yourself from the rain. It’s great that people are using hats to stand out – I love seeing a bold, elegant piece worn to a wedding or the races.
2. How did you get into millinery? Were you initially skeptical about choosing the subject and the profession? What attracted you the most about millinery?
Stafford: After university, I worked briefly as an unhappy accountant and took an introductory millinery class as an escape. I fell in love with its making, learning the processes and techniques involved. I was also lucky to come into a profession with so many lovely people – it turns out that there are a lot of kind and interesting people making hats.
3. Where do you see the art of hat-making, say in another five years?
Stafford: There’s a huge element of tradition and heritage that I hope will be able to continue – blocking and block making in Luton on a commercial scale and traditional couture craftsmanship for bespoke pieces. More milliners are embracing newer technologies, and it would be great to see a rise of that as more ways of making become feasible. It would also be lovely to see a continued rise in people wearing hats, both for practicality and self-expression.
4. Who are your regular customers? From which country do you get the most numbers of orders placed and why?
Stafford: Our best selling pieces are generally the most graphic – and either in black or bright colors. They do well in Australia where there is a massive racing culture, Italy and LA – places where the sun is bright enough to complement the style.
5. What does “hat” mean to you and what is its significance?
Stafford: I think it’s probably best to treat a hat as anything that you put on your head and the significance is determined by the wearer and the viewer, as well as the hat itself. It’s great that hats can be completely silly and frivolous or demand utmost respect.
6. Give us one reason why you think hats will never run out of fashion?
Stafford: As there’ll always be a visual impact in putting something on your head.
7. What type of hat are you currently working on?
Stafford: We’re currently looking towards SS19, and I’m hoping to develop our casual range further. Looking at how to cleverly construct caps or brimmed pieces while maintaining our own handwriting.
8. What is the trendiest hat to wear this summer?
Stafford: The worrying thing about trends is the temporality – I had a fitting very recently for Zailea, our largest piece to date made of unfolding layers of tulle, which was originally made just a year after we set up and I’m as excited by the piece now as I was when we first made it.
9. What is the hat demand ratio for men and women as of today?
Stafford: On casual pieces it’s a fairly even split.
10. How do we ensure to keep our hats in the best of shape and condition?
Stafford: Most hats are ideally stored on a head form, but failing that can be stored in a hat box with as little pressure on them as possible. Our folding pieces are best stored flat – it keeps the fabric in pristine condition.
11. What was the first hat you created and who was it for?
Stafford: I made a headpiece out of feathers, wire and amethyst crystals for Selina (who is now the other half of The Season Hats) to wear to a ball when we were at Cambridge University together.
12. What is the most expensive hat you have designed?
Stafford: I made a piece for the finale of Yiqing Yin’s SS13 Haute Couture collection. The materials themselves were very humble. 6km of thread was knotted along an industrial wire to create a structure which was held around the head through the tension in the thread. It took a solid month to construct.
13. Finally, what advice would you give the upcoming milliners who daydream about following in your footsteps?
Stafford: Learn and play as much as you can.
14. What are the things to keep in mind when buying a hat?
Stafford: How it makes you feel.