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).