Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Christian Walking the Coast of Britain...

This post has nothing at all to do with millinery, or sewing, but I'm writing it anyway :)

There's a chap called Christian Nock.  Last year (8th August), he set off to walk the coastline of Britain.  All of it.  Anti clockwise.  And sleeping rough pretty much every night (though he accepts offers of garages and barns to sleep in).

'Why?' I hear my reader cry.  Simple - he's raising money for Help for Heroes, and he's raising awareness of the homelessness of ex-soldiers.

I don't know him... I just found him a while back on Facebook, and have been following his journey ever since.  Obviously, for me, the issues hit fairly close to home.  I've been homeless (as a teenager).  My husband is a former soldier with PTSD (and many of the homeless veterans are suffering from some sort of trauma).

There is now also a petition going, to attempt to get the British government to match the money that Christian raises (his target is £100,000, and he's at £75k or so).  Given the shameful way that the government abandons former service people, largely washing their hands of them once they've used them and broken them, leaving the NHS and families to pick up the pieces of situations that they're not equipped to deal with, that can only be a good thing.

This is his facebook page

And this is the petition

Thursday, 4 July 2013

First Draft of my Millinery Lookbook for Autumn / Winter 2013 - 14

This is only a first draft - I don't yet have the pictures from the Hyde park shoot that we did, which will fill the pages currently marked "(picture)" in the next few weeks... Click to see, and then hit escape to come back here!!

Photo Shoot at Hyde Park Picture House

A few weeks ago, a classmate and I took out hats out of the college final show, and took them off to Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds, to be photographed by the incredible Jessie Leong and Lauren Danks.

I don't have the pictures yet, but...

The picture house is a cinema - with just one screen - that opened in 1914.  The little cinema faced all sorts of challenges - the First World War, the big cinemas of the 30s, the Second World War, the onslaught of television, and of video, but it eventually faced closure.  In 1989, Leeds City Council stepped in to save it.  It is now part of a company that is registered as a charity, and owned by Leeds Council, in order to save the cinema, and two other Leeds venues, the Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House, and The City Varieties.

It's a lovely little Art Nouveaux building, now opposite a Sainsbury store, slightly off the beaten track, and surrounded by residential buildings.

Some photos I took when we went to have a look at the place:

The back of the auditorium

The curtain in front of the screen, with a small stage in front of it

The projection room, with old projectors

The projection room, with big rolls of film

The front of the cinema

Behind-the-scenes piccie of one of my hats being photographed in front of the curtain

Behind-the-scenes of another of my pieces being photographed in the projection room , surrounded  by  film reels.

One of my hats again (though invisible because I'm under the light) being photographed in the projection room, alongside between two of the big projection machines.

Hyde Park Picture house is a lovely, lovely venue, and still a functioning cinema, (and one with a programme more diverse and interesting than the multiplexes), so if you happen to have an evening to kill in Leeds, have a look to see what's on!

The credits for the photo shoot are as follows:  photography and lighting by Lauren Danks and Jessie Leong (although the shots in here are by me, taken by phone - their shots to follow), Model Kirsty Buttle, and Make-up by Jack Tyson.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Final College Collection - Evaluation

I have to start out saying that the collection I ended up with wasn't the one I started out to design, nor was it the one I initially designed.

Due to the double whammy of having no money with which to buy materials, or new blocks, and no time to make hat blocks, or to play with / alter some of the materials I originally wanted to use (e.g. shaping a perspex rod to create a spear shape for one hat), I had no option but to think again.  I went back to my sketch books, and I started to see shapes that repeated, both in the fossils and minerals, and in the historical clothing and fabric manipulation - mainly, these were spirals and circles - also some cross-hatching, petal and leaf shapes, and shell shapes....

As a collection, I think it works, and I'm happy with it, overall.  I had a slight 'second best' feeling about it for a while, but I think I've got past that now.

Taking each hat in turn...

The White Hat (Number 1)

The white hat - this is an embroidered wool fabric crown, blocked over buckram, and a buckram and wool fabric interlaced brim (hand sewn together).  The trimming is of patent leather, hand cut - and the larger circles reveal a foiled leather layer.

This is one of the few designs from the original collection I designed, that has remained more or less intact - some tweaking, but it's more or less true to the original.  
I'd initially intended to make the brim out of felt, but using a wider brimmed capeline (white ones are available from a place in Europe), but I'd already started considering the idea of using fabric before I realised I couldn't buy the felt, on the grounds it may make the stitching a little easier.  I did some tests to see if the idea would work, and it did, so that was the choice made.

I'd originally intended to laser cut the leather, but I saw my classmates returning from the laser cutter week after week, despondent at the failure of the cutting, and just couldn't face it in the end.  I decided to use a leather punch and a scalpel to create the design, and I was happy with the results.  True, if you were making hundreds, you would realistically need to use a laser cut, but I suspect I'd get somebody else to do it for me!

On the subject of the leather, it was meant to be black patent leather initially, but when I cut the first strip for the band, it was just too harsh against the white, and the pink.  So I found a piece of navy patent instead.  This also went much better with the feathers in the next hat, which had not dyed quite right (see the notes on that).

There is one mark on the front of the crown.  I'm not sure where it came from, and obviously if I were making for a client, I'd replace the panel (not sure why it matters to me more for a client than a sample).  I'd thought that this would be covered by the circles of leather on the crown, but I had to reduce the size of them in the end, as the proportions just didn't work.  The crown also went a bit wobbly.  This was because I'd forgotten I'd need to block it and steam it again after working on it, and by the time I was at at that stage, I could no longer get to the block and the steamer at college.  Making it again, I'd make sure I could get at the block, and take in my own steamer if necessary, just to correct any distortion from pulling it around while stitching.

When it was on the model, though, at the photo shoot we did at Hyde Park, I really liked the way the brim moved - a solid brim wouldn't move in the way that this did (this hadn't occurred to me in the designing or making, and I really liked it).

Behind the scenes piccie from the Hyde Park shoot, showing the white hat

The foil and feather hat (Number 8)

Another from the original collection is above, although I changed the shape of the base, because of the recurring circles I'd noticed.  Originally I was going to make it using my little comma shaped block.  I also changed the colour of the foil from the original design, from holographiccy silver foil, to the mauvy colour.  The base is a padded leather, and the feathers are knotted and looped (not curled), onto a  minimal soft wire frame (just an upside-down 'v' shape).

The feathers were going to be black, but I didn't have any black acid dye, only Dylon (which is meant to be for vegetable fibres).  I soaked the ivory feathers in the dye for quite a long time, and they came out a sort of navy-ish shade, with the ivory still visible when you curved the feather.  Although that wasn't my original plan, I really liked the effect, and the shade worked really well with the mauve foil, so I decided to go with it.  I added the looped feathers in response to the circles theme that I'd discovered in my research.

I like this hat.  I think if making it again, I'd use a stiffer wire for the base of the feathers, although I do like the idea that you can alter the shape of the feather structure slightly, I think it might be a bit more sturdy with the stiffer wire.  I think I'd also put it on a headband, rather than using the elastic.  that goes for most of the headpieces, actually - I like elastic, and find it easy to wear, but I've noticed that headbands are far more common.  That may be for ease of construction, or (as I have a suspicion) that it (a headband) may be more popular.

I'd also make sure I had enough foil in one piece to completely cover the base.  I had to go and buy some more, and there was a slight variation in shade - not enough so you'd notice it from a distance, but enough that I noticed when I was touching it up.

The ruched silk and foiled and boiled leather brim (Number 6)

I really like this one.  In my original set of designs, I thought of it as being bigger, and similar to the white hat in construction.  Sharon suggested that from a timing point of view, it may be better to do it as a cut brim, and I had already considered that.  I had thought about using felt, but I wasn't sure I wanted to use felt for this hat, as I wanted the base to be metallic, and my foiling test on the felt was a bit too... bitty.  It didn't cover terribly well.  I did like the effect a lot, but it wasn't what I was after for this hat.

However, I'd had the idea in my head for quite a while to do something with boiled leather, which is an old armour technique (it was used to create hardened areas for knee protection, among other things, although never for full armour).
I thought that would be perfect for this, and that it would fit well with the collection - it would go with the other pieces where I was using leather, and it would form a good base for the metallic foil.

I did some experimenting to find the leather that worked best to mould, and i experimented with different ways of boiling the leather (from actually boiling it in a pan, to just placing the leather in boiling water for different lengths of time).  I worked out that the best leather was a veg tan one, and that it worked best when placed in boiling water until it had shrunk in size.

I'm happy with this hat, although it's smaller than I originally envisaged - that was because I used a pyrex bowl to block the brim piece, so I was limited by the size of that - I think I'd like to use the technique again using a wooden block - this would make the actual blocking a bit easier too, as I could pin into the block (unlike the bowl), and  I wouldn't be left with the feeling of needing an extra two or three hands.

A behind-the-scenes picture of this piece, taken by Jack  at Jack Tyson  Make-up Artistry and Design
One of the things I particularly like about the boiled leather is that you don't have to think about all the usual things, like how you're going to support the shape, and how you're going to add wire.  Although, of course, you do get a whole new set of things to worry over - I had to work out how to insert the lining (before I put the top ruched piece on), and then how to attach the crown piece (glue in the end, or the stitching would have shown one way or another).

The circles headband (Number 7)

This isn't one of the ones I originally designed.  This came out of all the spiral shapes I kept seeing.  My initial idea was to make giant shapes based on Dorset crosswheel buttons, but I couldn't work out a way to make the giant buttons without the back being a mess (they have a definite right and wrong side).  All I could think to do was to put two back to back in each position, and I was worried that might make the piece too heavy, as I knew I wanted to have multiple sizes of circle.

So I, (after beginning the brim below), decided to use bias strips to cover wire shapes.  I used icewool to pad out the wire, but I think in future I think in the future I may either use domet instead, or cover the icewool in something else first, muslin maybe.  The icewool fibres started to poke through the crepe satin after a while, and I don't like that.  I will also use a slightly larger button at the centre of each circle in future, as the ones I used were a smidge too small to do the job of covering the centre of the bias strip gathering.

I also had a hitch with the wire - I had to use some softer wire to create some of the circles, and one of the supports (the circles are attached to the headband with wire struts going up inside the fabric).  They both really need a stiffer wire to do the job properly.  This has to be made using a couture headband, because one set of 3 circles is attached to the front of the double wire, and one set of 3 to the back, but I need to work out a cost effective, and not too intrusive, way of covering the headband.  I didn't cover this one, because I just ran out of time, but it was my intention to do so by thread or cord wrapping it, but that obviously pushes the cost up, because it takes a long time to do.  It may be that a stretch ribbon is an option.

Other than that, this is one of my favourite pieces in the collection.

Long pile felt crown, and teardrop silk brim (Number 2)

This was one of the last pieces I designed.  Right at the beginning, when I first started thinking about final collections, I had the thought in my head to design a mens collection, or to make partly for men and partly for women, because I don't just want to make or design hats for women.
Obviously, that didn't happen, but I held onto the idea of a slightly more masculine shape.  I bought this felt with that intention, although no real idea with what I was going to actually do with it.  I first tried to block a crown and brim in one, but didn't really like the result over-much.  So I soaked the felt again, and blocked the crown.  By this time I knew I wanted to make a brim that had a bias silk covering, with pleating / gathering, and that was asymmetrical.  I found the teardrop brim block in the cupboard at college, and loved the shape, so decided it was perfect, and blocked it in buckram.

After i got them home, and trimmed off, I realised that the brim was not big enough - it looked really out of proportion against what is quite a big crown.  I decided to extend it, to make it a better 'fit', and I did that by stretching bias buckram, and slashing and inserting more buckram, and steaming it and shaping by hand.  I then covered it with icewool, and with silk.

Again, I wouldn't use the icewool again with this fabric, or at least not without covering it, because fibres have poked through a little.  When making it I also made a complete mistake - I cut the bias strip half the width that it should have been, and so I had to put a seam at the edge of the brim - I didn't want that to be there, I wanted it to be one piece, but I didn't realise until it was too late, so had no choice.  Needless to say, I wouldn't do that again!
I decided deliberately not to line the felt crown - I'm not sure why, other than that I hadn't lined the cloche I'd already made, and I neatened the silk behind the petersham to take that into account (purely because the crepe satin frays horribly if you don't neaten it).

This is probably my second favourite of the collection - it has a real vintagey, 40s vibe about it - I keep thinking of Brief Encounter, but modernised a bit.

Below is a behind-the-scenes picture I took of the photo shoot we did at Hyde Park Picture House.

                            The tweed beret (Number 3), and the leather beret (Number 4)

Photo by Jessie Leong, model Beckii May

Photo by Jessie Leong, model  Beckii May

I've grouped these two pieces together, because they're basically the same design, but in different materials.  Again, I went back to the circles theme that I'd stumbled across for the bases, and for the flowers, the spirals.  I was watching tutorials on youtube, on flower making - in this case, ribbon flowers, although I've used fabric instead of ribbon, and I was struck by the fact that these roses are basically spirals - the fabric is literally wrapped round and round on itself in a spiral.

I really like the idea of making the same design (in terms of shape at least), and using completely different materials to make them.  I also like the idea of mixing up different materials - some very traditional (tweed, and organza in the case of these two), and putting them together with slightly less traditional materials (again, in this case, holographic dance fabric, and heavyish black leather).

I don't think I'd do that much differently with these designs - although I think I may be making the overall design again in different materials quite a bit (you could conceivably make it over and over again in different fabrics, and with whatever fabrics and materials you happened to have to hand that worked together).    I may use headbands as standard, rather than the elastic that I've used (partially for the sake of time) in this collection.

The red felt cloche (Number 5)

I think I was always going to do a cloche, realistically, although there wasn't one in the first set of six I designed - although one of the first designs I sketched, and then discarded was a cloche shape with ruching and a sort of cage structure.  I may go back to that in the future.  Anyway, it's probably part of my art deco obsession.

Anyway, after I had to re-think the collection, I decided that I wanted to do a piece or two that were really complex (that would be the white hat), and make the rest quite simple.  The rest of the design (the cuts, and the clasp) was based on the leaf / petal shapes, and the shell shapes that I kept seeing, in the fossils, as well as the manipulated fabric.  

I'm really happy with how the folded brim turned out.  The only other time I've done that was with the first felt hat I made, way back in the first few weeks of college, and this one is much better done than that!  I'm also happy with the cutting.  I wanted to do something different than just completely cutting away the felt, so i cut some away, and left others attached, and just pinned them up and steamed them.

I'm not sure why I chose to leave the hat unlined.  I know that in theory, a lining makes it more expensive-seeming, but I think I just liked the inside of the felt, or perhaps the way it looked with the petersham sewn in place.  Or it may have been that I originally intended to cut into the crown of the hat as well as the brim, and that I didn't want a lining to be visible.

Photo by Jessie Leong, model Beckii May

And that's my collection.  It's a very different collection that I thought I'd end up with at the beginning of the year, but I think I'm overall happy with it.  And I may still use the ideas I initially had at some point in the future.

The credits on the photo shoot pictures above are: 
Photography by Jessie Leong 
Models Beckii May and Kirsty Buttle
Make-up Jack Tyson

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

End of Year Show Evaluation

Our final shows - the exhibition, rather than the fashion show - opened on Friday 15th June.
We went in on the Wednesday to set up, and I wasn't happy with my display by the end of the day.  Admittedly, I didn't have all of my hats (I was two short), and I didn't have all my stands (two short again), because I couldn't carry everything in one load on the train, (though it's more the mile walk at either end of the train journey :)  ).  I also didn't have the book stand at college at that point.

But I still wasn't happy.  I'm not sure why, but I did melt down slightly, and dissolve into tears several (hundred) times.  It may have simply been tiredness, or general depression (I went to the doctor shortly before because I thought I was a bit down over the non-paying client issue, and he seems to think I may have some sort of 'undealt with trauma' over a fairground accident I witnessed when I was a child, and I think hearing that may have upset me more than I realised).

I also hadn't finished two of the hats I needed to display.  They both only really had finishing to do - there was never any danger of not getting them done, but it was another worry.

I hadn't had time to get any cards printed (I had intended to get some printed using the photos that Jessie and Lauren had taken, but I just ran out of time), so instead I printed off some transparent labels, with my contact info on them, and stuck them on the cards.  Worked quite well, actually.

I'd printed off some pictures to put on the wall, and on the plinth - as well as a few extras for my portfolio.  I picked ones for the wall that weren't part of my final display - the ones I had ready at the photo shoot, that I'm using as part of this collection on the website, (including the James Brindley one), but that I wasn't handing in as part of my final project (plus the little leather one from last year that I haven't been able to get a decent picture of myself, because it really needs to be on a person's head, to show it at its best, not on a dummy head).

Sharon took a couple of us down to one of the other department's rooms to have a look at some different ways of displaying pictures, without frames, (because there was no way I could have afforded to buy big frames (although I've now discovered that the place in the market does some fairly big wooden ones quite cheaply, so I may consider that if I do the same sort of set-up again).  There were various ways of pinning, and of clipping things up.  I really liked the bulldog clip idea - a single bulldog clip, at the top of the picture, holding the pic, hanging from a nail.  So I went off up to the library shop to see what they had.  There were some coloured ones, but they were in colours that would have clashed, and they were the fold down kind, anyway, not proper bulldog ones - in the end I went for quite large ones, in chrome.  It occurred to me that the chrome didn't really go with the wooden stands, but I thought I'd worry about that later.

I still wasn't happy - I think I didn't really like my stands, and I wasn't sure about the height of the plinth, or the fact I'd laid it on its side, and I thought my stand just looked a bit bare....

Anyway, I went home on Wednesday night, and really wasn't terribly happy about the whole thing.  It just didn't feel right.

I ended up being a bit later than I'd intended on Friday, when I was finishing the setting up.  i'd finished my hats, and made the couple of stands that were left to sort out (I'd also commandeered two of the really tall stands that belonged to college, leaving them wood coloured, instead of painting them white, as it went with the canes better).  And I had the book stand for the portfolio book to go on.

When I was packing, I chucked some extra ribbon into my bag, and I came across what was left of the shimmery silver / pink / green dance fabric that I used in a couple of pieces, and threw that in.

When I got there, I set to tying all my hats onto their stands using fishing wire, and putting up pictures.  I'd already put up the nails, so all I had to do was to clip and hang.  I still wasn't happy about the plain white lying-down plinth, or the chrome clips.  So I covered the plinth with the dance fabric (as it turned out, the piece was just the perfect size, so it was clearly meant to be :)  ), and I used some of the extra ribbon on the bulldog clips, just tying a bow of ribbon around each one.  that hadn't been my plan initially - I took the ribbon to tie some around the stands that didn't have any yet (the uprights from college, and the taller cane ones that I'd just made).

I felt it was still lacking something, though, so I asked Sharon about my one of the big pictures she'd had printed by the digital print room.  She'd said she'd leave hanging mine till last, because we'd already talked (on Weds) about it needing something in the middle.  Unfortunately, because I was late, and the  chaps doing the hanging had needed to get on, it was already on the wall (I missed this, as I came up the wrong stairs).  sharon very kindly said she'd see if the print room could do another copy (I said it would be really good if they could, but not to worry if they couldn't - Sharon was far too frazzled for a tantrum over it, and it was my own fault for being late!).

Thankfully, they could do it, although it was going to be a while, and Sharon told me at about 3-ish that it was going to be about 15 minutes.  I'd pretty much finished everything else, so I pulled out the plinths, so that I could get to the wall with the ladder, and got all the bits (nails, hammer, clips) that I needed to hang it ready to go.  Then I went off on a little adventure, to find the digital print room, in a part of college I didn't even know existed, behind the lecture theatre (which later drew the classic comment from one of my classmates "there's a lecture theatre??!!"), and came back and hung it (measuring down from the top of the flat to make it level - a trick learned when I was building sets).

And I was finally ready to go, and happy with things.  The rest of the time till we opened I spent with everybody else, doing things like tidying up, and sweeping the floor.

I spent a fair bit of time during the evening, because I was on my own, sitting at the side of the room, by the door, watching and noting people's reactions as they came in.  Mine was the first stand that people got to, and about half of the people came in and looked at things properly, and about half of them glanced and walked on to the next stand.  A small handful of people picked up cards.  From previous experience at other shows, I think that's actually a really, really good 'look at' rate, so I was quite happy at that.  I restocked the cards that were out three times in all, (I'd left a pile behind the bookstand), on Friday night before I left, on Monday morning when I went in for the photo shoot, and on monday afternoon when I was back from the photo shoot.  That surprised me too, as I only had postcards, and normally business cards are much more popular, as they're easier to slip into a bag or a pocket.

The only slightly sour moment was provided by some slightly mean fashion students (I think, from the way they were talking), who made some bitchy comments and said about a couple of pieces things like 'why would you put *that* on your head', and 'what kind of moron would ever wear *that*'.  That did upset me for a few minutes.  But then, when they'd left the room, I went over to look at which pieces they were talking about specifically, and it was exclusively the pieces that have had the best feedback from people - both from Sharon, from classmates, from strangers on facebook etc when I've shared pictures, from strangers when I've shown them at markets and at Wetherby, and from the nice lady from The Hat magazine (the particularly nasty comments were regarding the black leather & magpie feather headpiece in a photo, and the red felt cloche on the stand).   At that point I realised that fashion students or not, their opinions (while still as valid as anybody else's) may not be as - um - aware of millinery as I'm sure they'd like to consider...

I eventually decide to head back home when I spotted that a couple of classmates had got their cases out ready to go and get a cab.  Having nearly dozed off a second before, I jumped up to get my own bags, and went off with them to get the second-last train home (I hadn't wanted to be too late home anyway, as hub was away that night).  Normally I don't really sleep when he's away, but I fell asleep at about 10.30, and slept for something like 11 hours, when I got up to go and meet friends in Leeds to go round the shows.

Most friends' opinions were that the best shows were the millinery and the furniture.

As far as the actual set-up of the shows goes, I don't think I'd do anything differently - possibly try to impose a deadline on myself of the week before to get everything prepped, so it's a bit less of a stress out, but at the same time, I'm not really sure that's very 'me'.  I tend to do much better at things like this when I have a vague plan, and wing it, and go with the flow a bit.  If I try to plan things rigidly I tend to get upset when things don't go to plan (which they never do), and that causes more stress than being more loose with my planning.  Drives hub mad :)  .

I think the only thing I'd do really differently would be to work out a way to weight down the stands - maybe little sandbags, or some sort of feet, or some sort of base into which the legs fit.  Or maybe something like a golf ball, drilled into, with the legs slotted into them...  They were a bit unstable - I sent them all flying once as I was leaving, (MUCH thanks to Sharon and Sue for putting them back up, as I rushed off to get my train), and a friend managed to catch his jacket on one on the Saturday and knock a couple over.  Though it has struck me that this kind of stand is going to be very good for outdoor shows on grass, though maybe with longer sticks, because the ends can just be poked into the ground, and they'll be quite stable then.

I also realised I'd forgotten completely about wearing a hat myself.  (Duh.)  Probably because the only other time I'd worn the dress I picked for the night, I had worn the leather beret with the red flowers, that was on the stand!

Oh, and I'd make sure to have some proper little business cards, as well as the postcards.  And I think I'm going to do some proper postcard type postcards (like you get in museums, with more or less blank backs, so they can be used as postcards).  Either to give away, or to sell, possibly in packs.  That could be a nice little add-on thing to stock if you're doing fairs - obviously, a hat at the level I'm going to be selling them is a considered purchase, and the actual fair will be more about publicity than sales, so having something that isn't such a considered sale will help to cover the costs a bit.  They could also be sold online - another income stream, even if a teeny one - it all helps.

All in all, though, I was happy with my display in the end.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Our End of Year (and End of Course) Exhibition at Leeds College of Art

After a few very wordy posts (sorry any not-college-related readers, they're coursework, so have to be written  :p  ), some pictures!!!.

Of our final shows...

The shows were titled (fairly appropriately) 'This is Not the End'.  This is the sign outside college, advertising the shows.

The whole of college is transformed into a gallery for the duration of the shows, with classrooms being boarded out to display the work of the students.

This is a picture I took last year, while making my 'Lit up' hat, which shows our little millinery workroom in the background.

After the builders had been in, and while we were setting up, and painting plinths, it looked like this (and yes, that is me with my back to the camera, in my overalls):

Picture by Emily Ellwood

 After we'd finished setting up, it looked like this:

Excuse the bags and boxes in the foreground, I took these as I was packing down)

My stand was in the corner by the door:

Then after I'd gone in and broken down my stand, it looked like this, in the space where my stand had been:

And six days later, the whole room looked like 
it did in the beginning again!

Pieces of our work were also displayed outside the millinery room.  This is me alongside my James Brindley hat - those were displayed in individual cases just inside the main first floor doors, at the top of the main staircase.

And on the right below is the picture (taken by Jessie Leong) of my blue and neutral suede headpiece, on the wall, opposite the Brindley hats

Hats in Leeds

When I was walking through Leeds the other night, on my way to meet hub,  I had some time to kill, so I nipped into the new shopping centre in Leeds, Trinity (into which I hadn't had time to go, although it has been open for months).  The main part of the centre itself has an incredible glass roof, and there's a metal sculpture of a horse (or possibly a pegasus) above the walkway.  The feeling of space is incredible.

I decided to have a quick look at hats in the extended M&S, and some of the other shops.  A fairly depressing experience.  I know that they have to appeal to as many people as possible, as that's the whole point of the mass market, but really, why do they all have to be so depressingly samey???  Given that  pretty much all of the shops I went into have come on leaps and bounds in recent years in terms of their clothing, why can't they do *something* at least vaguely interesting headgear wise!  I know people are out of the habit, really, of wearing hats (although less so than I had thought, based on my surveys), whereas everybody wears clothes, but they could have *one* interesting piece, and have all the others be staid and dull.  I probably shouldn't be complaining about it - if the high street did interesting headwear there'd be no need for milliners.

I nipped into Coast while I was there it's next to M&S in Trinity), because I know that William chambers has done a collection for them, and I've only seen it on the website.  This is described on the website as their  Trinity Flagship store' (they have two or three concessions in Leeds, in House of Fraser, etc, but this is their only store).  Really, I may as well not have bothered.  The whole shop (while there's some lovely stuff in it) is about twice the size of our decent-sized-but-not-massive living room, and the very few headpieces on display were hidden away on a low table, facing the back of the shop, behind a pillar.  What was there was quite sweet, but it was very much in the 'twist of sinamay with some spiky feathers' variety.  None of the Chambers stuff was there.

Talking of House of Fraser, I nipped in there, since I was headed that way.  I thought I'd find something there, even if it was a bit middle aged.  Well, since I was last in there (which was only about Christmas time), most of the ground floor seems to have been taken over by cosmetics, and perfume (smells like a chemical factory now (though I'm not their target customer - I get perfume from Penhaligons, as they mix it for you).
Anyway, I thought they might have some in the concessions, so I went up to the first floor.  I first saw one floor stand (with multiple arms - not all filled), that fitted with my expectations - I forget what brand, and didn't have a notebook with me, as it hadn't been in my plan to do this - but mostly big brims, square crowns, aciddy bright colours, sinamay flowers, etc.  There was one broad brimmed sinamay hat that  Ithought was lovely - it was the only one with a shallow-ish rounded crown, in ivory and navy, and it had a broad brim that was set slightly above the bottom of the crown, at something of an angle.  It had a fabric sash and a sinamay flower, and it was quite different from all the others.
I wandered a bit more, and found some at the CC Fashions concession.  They were again, more of the sinamay swirls with feathers on a button or saucer base, type, generally, on headbands, but they had nice stiff sinamay, with two or three layers, and wrapped headbands - in short they were decently made, even if made in China.  The buttons weren't wired, but the stiffness meant it didn't matter so much, and the wider ones were wired.  They were also well displayed, on shelves atop clothing rails carrying clothing of similar colours.
By contrast there was another concession (that again, I don't remember the name of (possibly thankfully, given I wasn't impressed)) that had some sorry looking pieces on a shelf on the wall - the designs were actually quite nice - a sinamay button in ivory with black spots, and a black swirl at the side, mounted onto a headband that was covered in black satin.  The execution was appalling.  There was only one layer of sinamay, which wasn't very stiff, and it wasn't wired.  In consequence, what should have been a round beret shape was actually a distorted oval, rolling in at the sides, and trying to revert to the original roll it would have had when it was a sheet of sinamay stored on a roll.  Just dreadful!

Surprisingly, BHS, the mere name of which is generally the shorthand for 'slightly old fashioned uninteresting mother of bride hat' had probably the most interesting selection of any of the high street stores I went into.  They had a good selection, ranging from the headband with a few swirls and two feathers, right through to full hats, with both round and square crowns, and with broad and narrow brims, deep and shallow crowns, etc.  Possibly the best selection I've seen in any high street chain store outside London, in fact.  Most of the stuff was made reasonably well, if 'made in China', although some of it looked as though it had taken a bit of a battering (dented hats, bits missing from the flower centres, etc).  There was nothing outstandingly innovative, but it's mass market, so it never will be.  There was one nice saucer shape that was sinamay covered in lace, with a flower sitting off to the side - that was probably the best of them all.  My main criticism was that there was just too much stuff crammed into the space available - the headpieces were hanging from arms, but there was a shelf below them that was too far up, so they weren't hanging properly, and the things were getting tangled.  At one point I tried to pick up one fascinator to get a better look, and four others came off the arm with it.  When I tried to look at one of the full hats, two others hit the floor as I picked it up - possibly why so many were dented!

On a brighter note, the Central Arcade in Leeds (across the main street Briggate from Trinity) has been completely done out, and is now quite pleasant to walk through, even in early evening.
I remember this place in the late 90s, and it always smelled of unsavoury bodily fluids (urine and sweat, mainly), and usually had at least one or two druggies or *really* aggressive beggers, (the kind they used to have in Hyde Park tube station subway), sitting at the sides, and you always had the faint feeling you were minutes away from being dragged off and raped, even in the middle of the day.  What shops there were in there gradually closed, one by one.

Now, however, it's completely different - light and clean, with a new floor, and a second level of shops, reached by stairs either side, and walkways.
Anyway, there's a hat shop in there.  Depressingly full of the standard sinamay-and-feathers and disc shapes, but there were a few (*shock*) straw pieces in there - enough to give some hope!  And the woman behind the counter was sewing, so perhaps she makes pieces too (I can't find any info on them on the internet, other than that they're a new hat shop in Leeds).

Hat Shops

After we set up our store display, we went into some shops selling hats

The stuff in the chains was all much of a muchness.  Fairly uninspiring and dull concoctions with sinamay and pointy feathers (pointy in an unthought out way, not in a Rachel T-M way).
Coast had some pretty colours, but the shapes were as uninspired as the rest of the shops (I should add that William Chambers' collection for Coast wasn't in the small store (in fact I haven't seen it yet, other than in pictures)).
One thing we did pick up on was that the headbands all had 'hygiene strips', or tape on the inside, and labels stating that pieces couldn't be returned (statutory rights excepted), if the strip had been removed.  Something that's worth remembering for R-T-W pieces that might be sold at fairs, or sent out online, especially if you can work out a way to attach it so that the piece can't be worn without the tape being removed (it'd have to have tailor's adhesive, of course).

On to a shop that only sells hats...  it's quite a big shop - double fronted - but the overriding impression that I'm left with of the place is that it's incredibly small.  That can only be down to the sheer amount of stuff in the place (several of our group nearly sent things flying from the stands, because there wasn't enough space to get by).  It doesn't convey to me the impression of somewhere that I'd want to go to spend a lot of money.  It gave me the impression very much of 'pile it high and sell it cheap'.  Clearly the retail theories to which most high end stores (particularly expensive designer stores in places like Bond Street and Paris) subscribe have passed them by (i.e. that people are willing to pay more for pieces that have lots of space around them, as though they're in an art gallery (that a gallery-like setting conveys a worth over and above a simple piece of clothing or a simple accessory)).

I know that this shop is making a decent go of it (it's recently been put up for sale, because the owner is retiring, and the published (on the internet) figures estimate a turnover of £100 - £200k per annum, although the net profit is undeclared), so it's hard to argue against the model, (unless the t/o is right at the bottom of the bracket given, it's working for them), but everything about it screamed 'cheap' to me when I walked in the door.  Which is a shame, because they had some really nice pieces crammed into the place - some (I think) gorgeous tweed caps, for example, that I could barely see (and certainly couldn't get to), because of the hat racks in front of them, and some really nice big sinamay races hats (but different from the usual dreadful kind), that again, you could barely see because of the mounds of other stuff crammed onto the shelves around them.  While I understand the idea that 'if people can't see it they don't know you have it' (although that's never been a problem for me), there is an equal and opposite argument that 'if people can't see it because of the amount of stuff, then it amounts to the same thing as not having it out in the first place'. There is also something to be said for the idea that in trying to sell to everyone, you can drive away the most lucrative potential clients (that old 'you can't please everyone' thing).

The more showy hats, as well as the ones with more detail on them, that looked as though they may be hand made (what appeared to be rolled edges on the trimmings that I couldn't really see properly, etc), were kept well behind the counter, so you had to ask about pricing, presumably, as well as to try them on.  That's fair enough, as from a selling point of view, it's better to start a conversation with somebody, as it will increase their spend, as well as their likelihood of buying (based on my experience), and plus it keeps then out of the way of people who will treat them roughly and cause damage (most people don't know how to handle a hat at the best of times).

I found off-putting the repeated large signs strewn along the counter (at least four) stating that 'occasion hats' could not be returned.  Maybe they've had trouble with this in the past, (the outrageous idea that you can buy something, wear it once, then return it, is fairly common, as is the erroneous idea that you can return something for a full refund for any reason), but since you actually have no legal right of return in a face to face transaction, (faults excluded), and since presumably the staff will be talking to the customer (and so can explain the store policies to them), surely one sign, or maybe two, discretely placed, would have been enough??!!  I have to admit that had I been there to actually buy something, the number of signs that there were would be very likely to make me walk straight out of the shop, (I've walked out of furniture shops that have had similar signage in the past, because in those cases I felt it to be indicative of a certain attitude towards their customers, with which I did not wish to be faced).  I've since talked to a handful of people who've been into this shop, thinking of buying a piece, and two of them have walked out based on those signs, and a lack of engagement.

On that engagement thing - I found it odd that nobody said hello to us, or even made eye contact or smiled.  We were in there for quite a while.  While it is possible that they may have clocked that we were unlikely to be buying hats, or they may have been busy with other things (it was a weekday at about lunch time) I'd expect any smaller shop to take every opportunity to greet anybody who comes through the door, at least with a nod or a smile, because the truth is that you never know.   There's a reason that one of the subheadings in Mary Portas's column for the Telegraph magazine is 'was I being served'.  (Although to be absolutely fair, it may be that they did and I simply missed it.)

As I said, with the turnover that the shop has, it's hard to argue against the formula, or the set-up, because it clearly seems to be working,  and they do have in stock just about every kind of hat you could possibly want to buy, other than a few more obscure / less traditional types  - it just feels to me that in order to do them justice they should be in premises twice the size.   I also can't help wondering how much of that is built upon the sales talent of the current owner / staff, and / or the loyalty of existing clientele over the years.  Or, for that matter, the fact that there is no real competition in the town (many of the chain stores / department stores do not carry any head wear at all, beyond woolly hats in winter and floppy beach hats in summer).

A comment was left by somebody who was apparently upset by my comments in this post.  I chose not to publish that comment because I could not verify from whom it came - it may have been somebody at one of the shops of which I've written, it may have been somebody from a different shop entirely, but thinking it was about them, or it may have been a competitor or rival deliberately leaving a message that could have been detrimental to one of the shops.
I felt that given the above, it wouldn't be fair to post the comment, as it did make some very negative statements regarding a large percentage of the customers of one of the shops I wrote about, so I deleted it, although I have edited my original reviews to address some of the points raised.
As a courtesy I have also removed any details regarding the location of the shops, thus making the identification of the places more difficult.


As part of my research for college, I wrote some little surveys - one for people who already wear hats, one for people who don't, and one for historical hats.

I've collated the results, and the information from them is here, as a PDF

I found a few things quite interesting.  Regarding the 'historical hats' pricing, I had expected the general price range that people expected to pay to be a lot lower, because headgear is one of the areas in which mass market hats, and machine pressed hats, has actually taken hold (unlike in most other areas of the historical market, other than padding).  There are a number of historical specialist hat makers - some untrained, and some fully trained, but they tend to try to fit in with the 'going rate', rather than setting their own prices, and so they have no option but to cut corners in the construction.  That's absolutely fair enough, because they are making their livings solely from the hats, and I know how scary it is to stand back and say 'the price is the price, pay it or don't', especially when you won't eat if the person you're saying that to says 'ok, I won't'.  That said, most of the hats that are available in the historical market in the UK are simply dreadful.  To the point where anybody who wants a properly made hat will not think that hard about importing a hat from America, with all the attendant difficulties of doing so.
I don't intend to turn my back on the historical market, and thankfully, the idea of setting my prices and letting people walk away is not something that scares me any longer.  As an example, when I first started costuming, a pair of historical breeches (trousers) cost on average around £35.  I was charging £70, and after a while, the orders began to come in.  I fully believe that as people see that there is another option, headgear-wise, those who want something of better quality will begin to buy it.

As to the 'modern' surveys.  There were a lot more people identifying themselves as hat wearers than I thought there would be - even if they only wear woolly hats or baseball caps, I find it encouraging that nearly as many people consider themselves to like hats, as those who don't.

And among the 'non hat wearers', there were some people who do wear hats, or who would if they could get help with the choosing of them.  Very few people were absolutely adamant that they would not wear hats at all.  I found it very interesting that the top two reasons people gave for not wearing hats, were that they either didn't know what would suit them, or they had problems finding hats in the right sort of size.

Some of the answers regarding price expectations were a little on the low side, but the people generally answering were clearly not the kind of people who would pay for couture headwear.  Although I didn't expect that craft fairs and other fairs would be the second most popular place to buy hats.  Anyway, the questions that then come are 'how to get in front of the people who *are* willing to pay a fair price for a couture hat', and 'how to make hats more attractive / affordable to those who can't pay for a couture hat'.

Obviously I can't compete with a chain store, and i have no intention of trying to (I can hold my own against foreign imports, but I have no intention of trying to play on the ground of somebody like (say) M&S or Next, with all the resources that they have.

I think the pricing information definitely lends credence to the idea of producing a diffusion range - something like Stephen Jones 'Miss Jones' and 'Jones Boy', that is mass produced, (and therefore more affordable), without diluting the design aesthetic too much.

I've also had success (with costume) with the American tradition of buying by 'layaway'.  Effectively instalments, where the last payment is made before the piece is despatched.  Obviously, in the UK I'd have to have a consumer credit license to allow people to pay by instalments after delivery (because I'd be extending credit to a private individual), so it helps keep me on the right side of the law too.  I can't see any reason that wouldn't work with hats too.

Anyway, I found the surveys to be very helpful, and quite encouraging.