The epitome of refined elegance, the Queen of England Elizabeth II is rarely seen without her signature accessory: the beautiful hats that provide the finishing touches to her lovely outfits. Once a necessity in every self-respecting lady’s public appearance, today’s formal head wear still plays a key role in the wardrobes of royalty and public figures.
“I have been designing hats for Her Majesty since 2006 and since then have designed and made over 70 hats for her.”
From the Queen’s dainty pillboxes to the fanciful creations of the Royal Ascot, hats and the art of hat making are rooted in a longstanding tradition of fashion and craftsmanship. And no one knows this legacy better than hat maker to the Queen, Rachel Trevor-Morgan: a high-profile London milliner who has been creating hats for Queen Elizabeth since 2006 and was granted a Royal Warrant of Appointment in 2014.
Q & A with Rachel Trevor-Morgan, proprietor of a Royal Warrant of Appointment
Magnifissance. Have you always wanted to become a milliner? How did you start making hats? What about hats intrigued you?
Rachel Trevor-Morgan. I was initially interested in theater costuming and fell into millinery rather by mistake. My mother always wore lots of hats and somehow the drama of millinery appealed me.
I contacted a number of designers and was lucky enough to be offered a position in a workroom. From then on I did not look back. I learnt my craft doing an apprenticeship in Graham Smith’s studio. Graham was a master milliner, his work was exquisite and always looked flawless. I had landed in the best possible place to be inspired and learn.
I have always been drawn to beautiful objects and fine craftsmanship – millinery combines these two elements wonderfully. I absolutely love what I do. I love the whole process of designing and making and the relationship you build with individual clients.
M. The wonderful culture of millinery is not as popular as it used to be. Why do you think changed? How come people don’t wear hats as much anymore?
R. These days, people only tend to wear hats for more special occasions such as weddings or the races. I think we are all rather out of the habit and for some the whole idea can be a bit daunting. Pre 1950’s women would not have left home without a hat and yet these days it seems easier not to bother. This is a great shame because the hat is such a unique accessory and has an effect like no other. I think styling is altogether more relaxed and casual these days.
M. Quite a few formal society events today still require ladies to wear a hat. And seeing that the ladies of the royal family wear hats to every occasion, what do you think wearing a hat changes the overall look of a woman?
R. We have a great tradition of racing and quite a number of formal occasions for which hat wearing is obligatory. A good hat can transform an outfit and have a lasting impact – it finishes an outfit. Women generally love wearing hats especially when they know that everyone will have one on. At an event such as Royal Ascot where a hat is mandatory, women really go to town and can feel confident. It is usually the hat that people remember so it is important to combine it perfectly with your outfit.
M. What is your style and philosophy in making hats?
R. I am best known for soft, feminine, elegant hats and headpieces. I believe in quality of craftsmanship and designing hats for the individual character of my clients. I have a loyal client base who appreciate my work and ethos. Every element of each hat is handmade in my small studio in St James’s, London.
M. What do you think makes a hat design beautiful and balanced? What are some of the things you pay close attention to?
R. Balance, proportion and silhouette are the most important elements of millinery design. You must constantly try the hat on your hat to check that all of these aspects are working. Also, the hat needs to look good from every angle, front and back.
When designing a hat for an individual there are many things to take into consideration: the character of the client, the occasion to which the hat is going to be worn, what it’s being worn with, where the event is taking place! As a designer you have to weigh up all of these elements.
Each piece is perfectly crafted and balanced. All of the flowers on our hats are hand made in house – each petal is hand cut, dyed and shaped. By making all the trimmings in our studio we can ensure a unique look for each client.
M. What are some of the hat styles you wish people could wear more of?
R. Everyone should wear more hats in everyday life generally! I would also like to see more red carpet headpieces.
M. As the official hat maker for the Queen, how many hats do you design for her each year?
R. It would really depend on what events were coming up. More often than not, I will be making several hats ahead of a season or for a tour.
The time scale varies a lot as you can imagine, a great deal of planning and hard work is done behind the scenes.
M. How many years have been making hats for the Queen, and how many hats have you made?
R. I have been designing hats for Her Majesty since 2006 and since then have designed and made over 70 hats for her. I now have a very good sense of the scale and style of hat that works for her. I love taking inspiration from the beautiful prints and colours that she so often chooses.
M. By now you probably know the Queen’s style and what she is looking for pretty well. Could you explain how you work with the Queen now? How is that process different from your other clients?
R. I work very closely with The Queen’s couturiers. More often than not it is Stewart Parvin whose clothes I accessorise. I am sent the sketch and fabric swatches I take it from there; designing the hat that I think will work best.
The design and making process isn’t that much different to any of my other clients. I want all my hats to look beautiful and timeless and I want all my clients to feel fabulous and confident. That design ethos is reflected in every hat that I make.
M. What are some of your new projects or designs that you can tell us about?
R. I am currently planning my collection for Spring/Summer 17. This is our most important season and when we do the largest part of our business. I will start to see store buyers shortly and take orders for the season ahead.
We have a few projects and events lined up over the next few months. We are currently collaborating with a chocolatier Paul Gregory to make a chocolate hat! We love unusual projects like this.