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October 21, 2013updated Sep 21, 2020

Hats Off: Incredible Millinery Creations for SS14

By Aoife Moriarty


Couture millinery is having a moment. With a new focus on individuality and elegant dressing, headwear has found itself back in the spotlight, with the trend shifting away from small delicate pieces towards bolder structured designs.

Here, Elite speaks with milliners Misa Harada and Sarah Cant about the recent rise of the traditional craft as both occasion and everyday wear, followed by a sneak peek at some of the most exciting millinery collections for Spring/Summer 2014.

Just what is it that is so captivating about millinery? If you’ve ever seen Grace Jones command the mic stand in a Swarovski crystal encrusted Philip Treacy bowler, then you probably already know.

As London based designer Sarah Cant, HNC in Millinery Director at Kensington and Chelsea College, puts it: “Hats do something. They’re the reason why fashion designers who don’t even sell hats will use them on the catwalk. Because they lengthen the line out and they sell the clothes.”

“The joy for me as a milliner is that you have the curve of the head, which is the size of the palm of the hand and then anything can happen on top of that; anything above that. It’s very exciting,” she adds.

Of course, in everyday life, even the most sophisticated fashionista may have little use for the kind of outrageous creations that music icon Jones sports (as recently featured in ‘Philip Treacy’ by Kevin Davies (Phaidon, USD$59.95), a book charting Treacy’s rise in glorious technicolored images).

Nonetheless, the popularity of couture millinery is growing, thanks in part to widespread media coverage of the hat-loving members of Britain’s Royal Family and fashion embracing popstars such as Lady Gaga.

Global milliner Misa Harada, who has dressed the heads of pop icons Britney and Janet and worked with everyone from Thierry Mugler to Yohji Yamamoto, concurs. “I think it’s obviously the interest in young royals, from Kate Middleton to the princesses. They look pretty in hats and also they get a lot of press coverage and the Queen, the Jubilee – all that sort of thing encouraged British millinery.”

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Indeed the UK and London are right at the heart of this growing trend. Millinery has a long and impressive history in Britain, thanks to its taste for formal occasion wear.

As Cant notes: “I think the UK generally still has quite a love of dressing up and the ritual of dressing up. When you have occasions, there’s a real desire – and maybe a nostalgia – for other times when hats were worn more.”

These social calendar highlights – from the races at Ascot, to weddings and summer garden parties – are the ideal setting for Cant’s eye-catching sculptural pieces, which are imbued with a sense of simple elegance and refinement.

Harada’s philosophy on the other hand, is that there is no occasion unsuited to a chic and sexy hat; so long as it complements your entire look.

“For me, wearability is the most important thing,” she explains. “You should feel special by wearing my hats and if you can wear them almost all the time, then that’s great.”

Of course while it may have British roots, it’s not just within the UK that the recent trend for designer headwear is exploding; it’s a certified global phenomenon.

“It’s very nice to see the world of millinery bubbling away quite vigorously at the moment and that does mean a spreading out across the globe,” says Cant. “It’s really good to now see some London department stores carrying American designers. And someone like Misa Harada, who is spanning the globe very successfully.”

So what trends can we expect to see for Spring Summer ‘14 and beyond? Both designers agree that, for the forthcoming season, it’s either ‘go big or go home’.

“We’ve had so much of people wearing fascinators,” says Harada, “and I think it’s people reacting against that really. The hats are getting bigger and a bit more dramatic. Statement hats, with more colors and shapes.”

“Millinery is having quite a good moment,” adds Cant. “It will never be what it was 70 years ago, because we aren’t how we were 70 years ago.

“You know, we have a much more casual lifestyle. But I do think compared to the 1990s, when a lot of milliners struggled, it’s actually very very healthy and I think there is a real taste for elegant dressing.”

Read on to discover some of the best millinery collections for SS14, from both established and up-and-coming design talents.

Looking like something straight out of the pages of a medieval fairytale, New York-based designer Anya Caliendo debuted her spectacular ‘Confessions’ collection at Mercedes Benz Fashion week last month.

Featuring 36 designs from the ostentatious to the subtle, the ultra romantic new collection is borne of Caliendo’s Russian heritage and passion for her home country’s regal past.

The designer uses the description ‘Objet D’Art’ for her fairytale couture creations, hand-stitched on custom-made bocks and featuring exquisite details – from silk flowers and feathers to gold-dipped birch trees. Truly exquisite fare.

Opposite: ‘Ko-Ko Muse’ by Anya Caliendo for SS14

(Image Credit: Ed Hafizov)

MH SS14 Talia

Trained by the legendary Shirley Hex in London alongside Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy, Misa Harada continues to be a force to be reckoned with in the world of millinery couture.

From Sex and the City to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson, Harada’s sexy, chic and ultra wearable designs have been sported by some of the world’s biggest stars.

The brand continues to expand its global presence, now retailing in 15 countries in 120 selected stores – with a London flagship in Notting Hill.

Describing her signature style, the designer says: “I’m a female and I design for females. Even though my hats can be pretty or couture, they are still realistic. So something I hope that women want to wear or can wear hopefully every day: For me, wearability is the most important thing.”

Opposite: ‘Talia’ by Misa Harada for SS14

SC SS14 Wings_

British talent Sarah Cant specialises in occasionwear, producing stunning made-to-fit creations for the year’s biggest calendar events, from weddings and summer garden parties to the races at Ascot.

Current course director of the HNC in millinery at Kensington and Chelsea College, her Spring Summer collection features clean, feminine shapes, structural designs and ombré dye effects in a strikingly subdued palette of colours including sea- greens, powdered pinks, burnt orange and metallic shimmers.

Speaking about her design aesthetic, Cant explains: “What I really, really want when I make a hat is for it to make the face look beautiful.

“I don’t want hats to be beautiful on their own. So I really try with shape and with the combination of colors and the way the light hits something to make it really flattering. That’s my aim.”

Opposite: ‘Wings’ by Sarah Cant for SS14

Need to add a splash of sophisticated color to a night at the opera or a masquerade ball? Then look no further than NY-based designer Leah C.

Her glamorous and sexy feather-based headwear draws from the 1920s and ‘40s with an updated American twist.

Featured on the pages of every glossy from Vogue to Tatler, the designer’s one-of-a-kind pieces are handcrafted in her New York City atelier with viewing at her Manhattan showroom by appointment only. Certain lines including bridal and eveningwear are also available to buy online and ship internationally.

Opposite: ‘Fuchsia Whirlwind’ by Leah C. for SS14

(Image Credit: Caroline Knopf)

Mixing traditional materials with latex, plastic and metallic leather, Scottish milliner William Chambers is definitely one to watch.

Working with private clients to create their perfect headpiece, the Scottish accessories designer of the year has drawn inspiration from his own garden for his latest Spring Summer collection.

Exhibited at the prestigious Headonism showcase at London Fashion Week last month, ‘Summer Nights in the Garden’ displays a quintessentially British elegance combined with Chambers’ own fresh and simple aesthetic and features oversized abstracted peonies, laser cut lily silhouettes and Milano twists.

Legendary hat maker Stephen Jones has previously heaped praise on the young designer, saying: “He is a fantastic milliner. He makes things that are classically beautiful in an elegant way but he makes things that are wearable.”

Opposite: ‘Crin Edge Milano Twist’ by William Chambers for SS14

The go-to designer for the Melbourne Cup, Aussie designer Reny Kestel originally studied millinery in London, launching her own label back in Perth in 2010.

Her daring hats and headwear combine traditional techniques with exhilarating modern influences that range from contemporary art to popular culture.

Using signature luxe materials including hand dyed ‘feather stacks’, silk flowers and barramundi leather, Kestel has created a highly desirable couture brand representing the very best in Australian millinery.

Opposite: ‘Glossamer hat’ by Reny Kestel from her latest Australian collection

A young design talent on the rise, Emma Yeo’s couture creations are what can only be described as ‘wearable art’.

Creating avant-garde headwear worn by the likes of Lady Gaga and Vogue’s Anna Dello Russo, the Brit’s signature style uses laser-cut woods and delicate geometric patterns to push the boundaries of sculptural headwear.

Her latest collection ‘Reflective Virtues’ swaps her trademark materials for the use of hand-sculptured brass metal, drawing on her expertise in the realm of jewelry-making and adornment to dazzling effect.

Opposite: ‘Eleos’ by Emma Yeo for SS14

Established UK milliner Piers Atkinson is best-known for the humour and playfulness of his youthful designs.

Imbued with a contagious joie de vivre, his urban creations are now stocked in stores across the globe from Paris and Milan to LA, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Atkinson’s SS14 collection, named ‘It’s MY Party!’, draws inspiration from a little girl’s bedroom, toys, tea parties and sweets and is filled with candy pinks, lilacs, baseball cap veils and nail-art sparkles. Perfect for a society party or your fashion conscious niece, this is fun and frivolity at its absolute finest.

Opposite: ‘Lilac Satin Bow on Band’ by Piers Atkinson for SS14

Up-and-coming Welsh milliner Robyn Coles – who worked as a luxury fashion buyer in a previous life – creates playful bespoke headwear that is starting to gain the attention of royals and celebrity clients alike.

Trained in millinery at the London School of Fashion, Coles produces made-to-fit headwear by appointment at her Cardiff atelier and also produces a small ready-to-wear collection each season, available online.

The designer draws inspiration from lilies and roses for her latest collection, which features clean lines and classically elegant shapes – perfect for a summer wedding or that all important day at the races.

Opposite: ‘Giant Rose in Ivory’ by Robyn Coles

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