The Mistress of Millinery

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When I first met Katherine Elizabeth, the award-winning London based milliner, I was surprised at how down to earth and humble she was about her craft. I knew she had worked with legendary designers John Galliano, Stephen Jones and House of Dior, and that her clientele comprised the likes of Dita Von Teese, Henry Holland and Lily Allen. However, it was only when I delved deeper into the precision of the couture millinery process that I realised quite how talented and patient Katherine Elizabeth actually is.

With the royal enclosure at Ascot in mind, I was looking for a hat ‘all the more special’ to compliment a ruched shouldered, simple yet bold electric blue chiffon tiered dress. Colours for matching handbag and shoes were dependant on the outcome of Katherine’s creativity and the tones she felt would work best with my skin and hair for such a bright statement blue.

Our first meeting was a consultation back in March, when I presented Katherine with the intended dress for her to note the exact shade, detailing and fabrics. I was greeted with chocolates and champagne and felt immediately at ease in Katherine’s boutique studio, surrounded by delicate projects in progress, feathers and sample materials.

We discussed the colours we felt would best go with my light blonde locks against the blue of the dress and mulled over shocking neon shades to be in line with the 2011 spring / summer trend. Katherine sketched as we spoke, outlined potential shapes and educated me with fabrics and decorative detailing that would give the ultimate finish. I left the first consultation effectively decided on a diamond shaped blue hat, which would have a quill in another distinct colour and perhaps feather and beading detail. The additional colours were to be a surprise on my next visit.

My second appointment saw the hat at its halfway stage. Katherine had used the fabric sinamay, made from dried banana leaves, to create the intended diamond shape ruched up with stitches to give a ruffled uneven texture. In order to give the hat stringency she had placed a wet cloth on top of three layers of the sinamay and ironed over the top, letting the heat adhese the layers together to form a rigid structure.

At this stage Katherine explained that my hat was too tall and the balance wasn’t quite right. She further explained the moulding needed; pinching the hat in various areas to show me her exact intentions. I was then shown delicate Chinese pheasant feathers in beautiful shades of yellow, gold and mustard that were to overlap a sunshine yellow quill, all blending perfectly with the blue and would be easy to match in exquisite jewellery for any high-end event.

All that remained when I left my second consultation was the edging in the same sinamay and a backing base to attach it firmly to my head. We discussed Swarovski crystals in gold, to adorn the base of the hat, leading up to the start of the quill and then covering said part of the quill with the feathers. Katherine proudly showcased her extensive collection of ethically-sourced guinea fowl feathers, baby ostrich and a particularly fluffy speckled one that I fell in love with (which ended up being the focal feather). It really was the ultimate education in millinery.

My final visit to Katherine’s quirky yet cleverly organised studio in Farringdon was my favourite. I was excited to see the finished outcome and also to discuss the final techniques Katherine had employed while creating it. On arrival, Katherine was just as excited as I was and my eyes scanned the room for my new prized possession. Not just any hat, but a bespoke vintage Katherine Elizabeth hat made to order and made to match my beautiful dress for Ascot.

The hat, as predicted, was stunning. The edging left a smooth finish on quite an intentionally uneven design, and the round navy base gave some order to the ruched diamond attachment above it. The feathers softened the line of the quill and a few crystals attached to the feathers twinkled under her studio lights. I was delighted and impressed by the finished product and couldn’t wait to try it on.

Katherine herself was proud of this particular creation, so much so that I think she was sad to part with it. She positioned the elastic under my hair to hold it in place and we gasped in admiration at my reflection in her studio mirrors. Well, if the hat fits they say…or is that shoes? In this case the hat did fit, perfectly no less, and I would recommend Katherine to anyone who needs that extra special head piece for any occasion. The attention to detail was impeccable and she took into account every factor beginning, most importantly, with my own personal expectations. She is releasing her men’s range in September, so keep your eyes peeled for a further Arb review.

For those who might want to explore their own millinery talents, Katherine has set up the award-winning Mad Hatter Couture parties, where guests can have a step-by-step masterclass aided by Katherine herself, in a party-like atmosphere of their choice. Makeup bag staple brand Benefit are also in attendance, pampering said guests while they sip cocktails from dainty teacups and taste delectable sweet treats. I can’t think why anyone would not want to get involved; I know for a fact I’ve got my sister’s forthcoming hen do covered…

For more information or to book an appointment, please visit Katherine’s website.

Photography (c) Paul Winch-Furness.

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