The bold and the beautiful have returned.The dazzling creations of milliners Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy have brought couture millinery back into prominence. Runways are popping with magnificently oversized furs, elaborately embroidered cloches, fantastically whimsical cocktail hats and jaw-dropping derby-styled fantasies. This is the art of sculptured head gear–the art of couture millinery.
When we see the Duchess of Cambridge donning an amazing fascinator hat, we are not surprised; she is, afterall, English royalty. When the wealthy women of Churchill Downs parade around Louisville, KY in the spring, we think, of course–it’s the Kentucky Derby. Au contraire. Couture milliners are steadfastly working to broaden this image, to make it more inclusive. These hats are not just for some women–they are for every woman. Every woman is entitled to the luxury of feeling beautiful. These hats elevate the spirit from the mundane to the superlative. They transform the face, raise self-confidence and dazzle every eye in the room. Just as every woman should own a little black dress, every woman should have at least one bespoke, couture hat.
The couture milliner hand crafts these gems with enormous care and creativity, crafting a hat that is uniquely suited to the wearer’s dimensions, with the goal of highlighting and accentuating the feminine features. The milliner considers the face type: oval, round, square, oblong or heart-shaped, factors in the head dimensions, respecting the individual facial features, and decides what brim types best frame the face or which styles to avoid to prevent an overpowering look. The milliner conceptualizes every detail — whether an asymmetrical tilt is good or which style best emphasizes the eyes.
The couture milliner may then create a pattern to produce a new, unusal shape or choose from one of the traditional hat blocks to begin to realize the creation. They will choose materials, trims, embellishments, and embroidery, and sculpt a one-of-a-kind creation.
These creations, while obviously hats, have more specific names. Some of the more popular styles are Fascinators, Cloches, Fedoras, Kentucky Derby Wide-brimmed, or Oversized Furs.
Fascinators, or cocktail hats, are typically the smallest of the head wear. They are not intended to cover the head as much as to make a statement. Fascinators are commonly made with feathers, flowers, and beads and are fancifully ornate. They can be affixed to the hair with clips, combs, or bands. They were quite popular at last year’s Royal Wedding and tend to make a showing at many horse-racing events. They are terrific for brides who are wearing non-typical gowns and fabulous for accentuating most any formal attire.
The cloche is a close-fitting, bell-shaped women’s hat. It takes its name from the French word for “bell”. The cloche was typically made from felt so that it could easily conform to the shape of the head. It is intended to be worn low on the forehead, just above the wearer’s eyes. Cloche hats are terrific accessories for holiday parties, weddings, cocktail parties as well as at lots of unofficial gatherings.
Fedoras are probably the most commonly known hat style. They were initially designed for men, but have become unisex and can be worn with just about everything.
Wide-brimmed hats or Kentucky Derby Hats have held a fairly secure place in spring fashion for more than 100 years. Thanks to the annual horse race, the Kentucky Derby, this hat style has never fallen from grace. The wide-brimmed hat is the perfect compliment for formal attire during derby days, or a night on the town or even wonderfully appropriate for lazy days at the beach. These hats provide a unique splash of class and style to any occasion.
Fur hats are amazingly versatile. They are currently a favorite of Marc Jacobs, Alice Temperley and Rachel Zoe. These hats can be worn with jeans, leather, prints, and just about any conceivable clothing style.
Couture millinery has made its way back to the fore, and thankfully, the Chicago woman is never far from a fabulous milliner. The studios of Jenny Pfanenstiel, Michelle Tan, Chapeau – Chicago Millinery and the Millinery Arts Alliance are busy conceptualizing, designing and sculpting. Chicago, your hat awaits.