The legendary British milliner tells Jill Geoghegan about teaming up with Debenhams and backing young talent.
You are curator of the British Fashion Council’s Headonism project, which celebrates emerging milliners. Why is it so important for you to support up-and-coming talent?
Not to make me sound like grandpa, but it’s great to be able to show people the way and give them a window into the industry in a way that I didn’t have. It’s something that just came around a few years ago and I knew I had to get involved. I’m such a terrier; I picked up the bone and ran with it.
What advice do you have for designers trying to break into the fashion industry?
You have to love it, and I mean really love it, because at 4am when you’re unpicking something you still have to love it. And if you love what you do, you will convey that to your friends and family and they’ll all help; you can never do it just by yourself.
Tell me about your Top Hat women’s collection for Debenhams.
People were surprised at me doing a high street line but it is fantastic quality and I’m proud of it. Some of the hats are spectacular and others are for everyday wear - perfect for ‘what am I going to do with my hair on a rainy November morning’ moments.
Why did you decide to move onto the high street?
I’ve always wanted to create a high street collection but it feels like the right time now. I felt the public wanted it too - enough people are now are wearing hats on a daily basis to warrant the range.
You always design such innovative creations - where do you get your inspiration from?
veryday things; I sort of live my life and turn it into a hat. This autumn’s collection is based on my time at Central Saint Martins. It was about coming to London and not knowing what to do and hoping you don’t appear like a complete fool. It’s something we all go through, every single one of us.
You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in fashion, so what has been your favourite collaboration to date?
Working with John Galliano for 17 years was really amazing. That time has passed but most people don’t get to experience something like that in their lifetime and it was extraordinary. I’m always looking forward to the next thing; that’s the wonderful thing about fashion, we all have to reinvent ourselves every six months.
Everyone from Lady Di to Lady Gaga has donned your designs. Who wears them best?
Dita Von Teese. For her every hat is like a little costume. I remember once she came into our shop and she picked up a baseball cap and said this would be great with a pair of cut-off jeans and red polka dot espadrilles in the summer for hitchhiking. And you can see her doing it.