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British hat maker turns heads with ‘outrageous’ creations

Fortnum and Mason in house milliner Adrian Phillip Howard poses for a photograph with his creations in London. — AFP photos
Fortnum and Mason in house milliner Adrian Phillip Howard poses for a photograph with his creations in London. — AFP photos

From racing at Royal Ascot to high society weddings, summer is the busiest time of year for British hat maker Adrian Phillip Hoard, who says he revels in the “outrageous and outlandish”. Howard is the in-house milliner at distinguished London department store Fortnum and Mason, where on the second floor only the hum of his sewing machine interrupts the atmosphere of genteel calm. Smartly dressed in a light suit and with hair swept to one side, the forty-something hat maker, who has previously worked with members of Britain’s royal family, is full of passion for a job which started as a hobby.

“The summer is the busiest season-the racing season, Ascot, the Derby, all those things,” he tells AFP in an interview. “Ascot’s fun is my favorite time because the hats are a little bit more outrageous and outlandish. “A lady may come in and she has a dress with perhaps six or seven colors and she would say: ‘Can you incorporate more into the hat?’ and for me, that’s like a dream.”

His clients’ husbands, however, are sometimes less keen. “One gentleman came in to me that I hadn’t met before and he said: ‘All my golf clubs have had to be moved of my room to accommodate your hats.’ “He said ‘you’re not my favorite person’ because his wife had so many,” Howard adds. One recent creation which the milliner shows off features a huge black tulle bow, which he hopes to sell before Ascot. One of the highlights of the horse racing calendar which is known for its flamboyant parade of hats, the five-day event west of London starts on Tuesday.

‘A hat for everybody’
Howard spends most of his time at a workshop in his garden in East Sussex, in southern England.  But he travels to the British capital twice a week to carry out fittings and meet clients at Fortnum and Mason, where he has worked since 2009. “I’m the first in-house milliner here since 1958 so it’s a great honor. It’s my favorite shop, too-I’m a lucky boy,” he says. He says his clients come “from all walks of life”. “It might be a wedding or something where hats are required, which is happening more and more in Britain, thankfully,” he explains.

“Brides are now saying hats are compulsory, which is great for us milliners.” Taking inspiration from the classic Hollywood glamour of stars like Audrey Hepburn, his hats take from one day to two weeks to create and do not come cheap.  Prices start at £300 (380 euros, $430) but can be significantly more expensive depending on what kind of extras the client wants. “The sky’s the limit, depending on what detail goes into them and what they’re embellished with,” Howard says. “Some ladies might have fine jewels they want on their hats.”

Although some women insist that hats do not suit them, Howard believes this is not the case-it is simply a question of finding the right style. “I think there is a hat for everybody,” he says. “There are a few ground rules regarding ladies’ face shapes. For instance, if a lady has quite a long face, it’s normally advisable for her not to wear a tall, thin hat because it just accentuates the fact.” He adds: “Short ladies generally steer clear of large, downturned brims because, as my millinery teacher used to say to me, it makes them look like mushrooms.”-AFP

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