Category Archives: Couture

The torrents of Spring/Summer

Oooh, it’s been a while.

But with summer nearly here, I thought some couture inspiration from the shows back in October last year to be essential viewing…

First, of course, is still-head-designer-less-but-rumour-heavy Christian Dior, for the headwear in the collection is nothing short of magnificent. We are particular fans of the following:

Christian Dior couture Spring/Summer 2011

Nobody does etherial elegance like Dior. Some examples are these elegant but fierce headpieces, using silk and feathers.

Christian Dior couture, Spring/Summer 2011

Christian Dior couture, Spring/Summer 2011

The Chanel show was stunning, despite the sad lack of headwear.

But Givenchy and Jean Paul Gautier more than made up for it, with these beauties – note the nod towards ‘hair-as-hats’ or hair art going on in JPG. Fabulous.

Hair or hat? Jean Paul Gautier couture, Spring/Summer 2011

Jean Paul Gautier couture, Spring/Summer 2011

Definitely hat. Givenchy couture, Spring/Summer 2011

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*Photos by no means my own, courtesy of style.com x

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Like Cloche-work, Vol I

Soooo, a few weeks ago I had a lesson from the legend that is Rose Cory. For those that don’t know, Rose is a master milliner who has made hats for everyone, and was appointed as the Queen Mother’s milliner for whom she made hats for 20 years. An inimitable Rose Cory design, with the signature upturned brim and feather alongside is alongside. The Guru once told me the story of the side feather on the Queen Mum’s hats. Apparently, when one of her hats was being finished in Rose’s workshop, someone got overenthusiastic with ironing the brim and burned the side of the hat minutes before it was due to be collected. In a panic, Rose placed a large plume over the burn in hope that the error wouldn’t be visible. Representatives from Clarence House took the hat away, and days later informed Rose that the new style was the Queen Mum’s favourite yet. (Somehow I don’t think my errors in hat-making would end up with a Royal seal of approval, but hey ho.)

Queen Elizabeth I, courtesy of Life

Rather than go the Queen Mum direction with my hat, I chose to slip into my favourite decadee, the 1920s. This was a special time in millinery, perhaps one of the most creative eras for headgear ever. So many styles we reproduce today originate in the 20s, and if you, like me, don’t have the figure for a flapper dress (yes, I have CURVES) the elegant headdress will always save the day.

Hoping to use the lesson to make a hat that I can show off on a regular basis, I opted for the cloche. Rose had this amazing book that I went through, and here are some pics I used as inspiration.

 

1920s cloche, from the book 'Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties', edited by Joanne Olian

Cloche-hatted French ladies on a shoot

It was agreed that as I only had limited time with Rose, it was probably best to make a classic cloche without the upturned brim. We started with choosing some fabric; Rose encourages you to only work with 100% natural materials, and the fabric I chose was this one, a French millinery cotton velvet, in my favourite shade of blue. Rose advised that this fabric was authentic millinery fabric, as you can tell from the very narrow width of the material; apparently, that’s how they produced it way back when (in Paris of course).

French millinery velvet

Fabric chosen, we measured my head (I won’t go into how big it is, sigh) and cut a strip on the bias. The key to this is to get as wide a bias strip as possible (within reason) at the length of the head circumference (so the bias line should be the circumference of your head).

Strip cut, I pinned the strip to the block, turned it insided out and machine sewed the seam as neatly as possible (another first for me, very exciting). Turning the now cylindrical piece of fabric back to right-side out, I placed it on the dolly for blocking.

As with all blocking, I placed the seam so that it was neatly diagonal at the back of the head shape, and placed pins in a cross shape pattern at the top, starting at the back (pic to the right).

Blocking the top of a cloche

The bottom of the crown was then blocked, using the usual – rather painful – method of hand-inserting pins. A useful tip for those who find this a bit difficult is: tread carefully. If you find a lot of pins breaking and consequently stabbing your fingers, mind you don’t bleed on your creation, especially if it’s really special or expensive fabric! I bled on my hat, but thankfully it came off straight away. It didn’t stop me stabbing myself repeatedly after though…

So once the bottom of the hat was blocked, I moved back to the top. The idea was to block the top section so that three quarters of the lower part of the fabric was crease free. After filling in the gaps of the initial pins, I steamed the fabric before blocking the rest, like so:

Blocking the top part of the cloche crown

It is important to then dry the fabric completely – I used a hand dryer for this, and held it under for about 3-4 minutes.

Blocking the cap of the crown

Then it was time to create the cap to cover the crown. Using a square bias piece of fabric, I blocked it as smoothly as possible to the top of the block. It was necessary to use alternate steam and drying (as above) several times before the cap was completely smooth. The cap was then sewn onto the rest of the crown, and the final result of Cloche, Vol I is…

Cloche, Vol I

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The First Hat, Vol III

Well, here it is! The final installment of First Hat.

It was a long time coming, but the next session was so exciting.

I hadn’t finished the brim (I forgot the invisible slip stitch half way through, drama. In case you forget, here’s the link). Once the brim was finished – this took a while due to having to check that the fold of the brim was of even width all the way round every few seconds for couture perfection reasons – it was time to block the crown.

Fabric stiffener for cheap thrills

Blocking the crown was slightly different. Firstly, I cut out a piece of very starchy crown fabric and completely drenched it in water (which made it into a sort of gooey cloth). This was then placed on the block and the crown section of the capeline (the bit I cut out in my previous session) slid on top; I blocked both to form as smooth a shape as possible. Once it was dry (had to use a hair dryer!) I got to do my favourite part which is dab the whole crown with fabric stiffener. The smell is divine. It was upon declaring this that I was told a very funny anecdote about Vivienne Westwood participating in a class where they used such strong chemical stiffener that the whole floor of the building they were in (somewhere in Germany) had to be evacuated for health and safety reasons. Not me though, I love the stuff.

The next stage was, perhaps one of the trickiest. We had two things to do: firstly, place the brim over the crown and angle it correctly (the Guru had to do a lot of this as I could not be trusted) and, secondly, to trim the side of the crown that shows underneath the hat and drape silk over it to make it look nice. Both of these steps are easier said than done!

Draping silk chiffon to cover underside of crown

I took great care to bring a nice piece of navy silk chiffon with me for the underside of the crown; however, once this was cut on the bias for draping, it emerged that I had nowhere near enough. A significant amount of Guru expertise was used to drape not one, but three pieces of bias silk chiffon in place without it showing. Although difficult, this was one of my favourite parts of making First Hat. Silk draping is such an elegant art and the Guru and I had a long conversation about the technique and its hero Madame Gres. A simple version of what I was doing can be described as follows: pin the length of silk along the area you want to cover. Create folds that look natural, and continually pin into place (pin underneath the fold), aiming for there not to be a

First Hat on stretcher, final stages

beginning nor an end to the folds. Once you are happy that the folds look completely uncontrived, sew invisible stitches from pin to pin. Make sure the underside of the hat also looks tidy. And, unlike me, do try and use one large piece of bias silk instead of several small ones, as this makes things considerably easier!

Next it was time to measure my head for fit. I was so excited, as the hat was looking near finished. My happiness was short-lived however when, upon measuring my head, the Guru declared it to be slightly larger than average. I HAVE THICK HAIR I said icily, but enough on that. We measured my average-sized head and cut a hatband (or puggaree! but better known as petersham) to the right length. My love for the Guru was restored when she told me all about the signature petersham colours the couture houses use, petersham being the ribbons on the inside of the hat crown that make it more comfortable to wear. Apparently, each house has it’s own signature colour; as my hat was Dior-inspired, I used theirs which is rich brown.

If you look closely, you can see the evil fabric stiffener on the brim...

Once the hat band was cut and sewn into a circle using a simple stitch, I pinned the band to the inside of the hat, ensuring that the ‘hem’ of the band was at the back and that all the fabric and lining was tidy. It was then all sewn together. To iron out any wrinkles, I used a very thick piece of sinamay to place between the hat and an iron. Using the lowest heat possible, I ironed all parts of the hat very gently using my hand as a base (careful when doing this, it can get hot quickly!) to make the hat absolutely perfect. A moment of panic ensued when I got a bit too liberal with the finishing layer of fabric stiffener – you are only supposed to feather dust the finished hat with it but I, high on the chemical fumes, put so much on the poor hat started to look a bit gooey. I nearly burst into tears I was so distraught, but a bit of last minute dabbing saved the day.

So proud of my beautiful First Hat. Here it is on one of its first outings (on my friend Jess’ head, which is decidedly smaller and makes it look a lot better, sigh … )

Ta da! First Hat

The Guru and I were very pleased with the result. As is typical of me, I couldn’t wait to start making the next one. The Guru advised that fabric hats are a good learning curve for couture skills, so that will be my next project with her. But in the break between Guru classes (she has a lot of hats to make!) I decided to something a bit more fanciful. Tune in next time for the (shorter) saga of the First Cloche with the Doyenne of all that is Millinery, Rose Cory.

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Winter millinery, the couture way

Christian Dior, Couture A/W 2010

Ooooh, apologies for the lack in First Hat updates! I’ve been busy trying to find the perfect winter hat to actually wear, hoping to cheer myself up now that London is turning all cold and depressing.

And where else to turn for cold weather couture inspiration than the catwalk? It’s the natural habitat of all else fashion, and we’re often so distracted by the stunning clothes (or complete lack of them in some cases) that nobody notices what’s up top.

Here are some of the highlights from the Autumn/Winter 2010-11 shows. We will, of course, be focusing on couture for this post,and first up we have candy-wrapper chic by Christian Dior.

The veil effect of the effective flower ‘wrappers’ is genius, as is the undone updo hair that almost looks like it is the basis of the headgear itself.

 

 

 

 

 

The chic turban seen at Jean Paul Gaultier (as opposed to the one on the crazy lady stalking her old hang-outs on the King’s Road) is very much de riguer, particularly when teemed with interesting shoulders and tailored, 40s mid-length hemlines. Deep dark jewel colours are also a must, and red lipstick will seal that air of mystery into one glorious Avendonesque snapshot. Alors, some of my favourites, keep an eye out for the cornflower blue ensemble which has me weak at the knees:

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Come back in a few days for more winter millinery excitement, including ready-to-wear (yes! things we can actually buy, yay!) and, of course, the latest from the First Hat.

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Millinery guru wanted

So, being a nerd at heart, I started the hunt for a suitable teacher. To be a couture milliner it would be best to be taught by someone that specializes in couture millinery, or even better, an actual couture milliner, right?

To the internet for more hard-core researching. Who would a couture milliner be? Obviously, we have Philip Treacy, Stephen Jones, hat-maker to the Queen herself Rachel Trevor-Morgan and another favourite Louise Mariette, of most expensive hat fame.

By the way, my heart sank when I read that Lady Gaga was to APPLY for an apprenticeship with the legend that is Philip Treacy. I mean, if Lady GAGA is going to be a milliner, what hope for the rest of us? The lady clearly has flair and is her own advertiser, etc etc.

Anyway, I digress. I looked and looked and despite the fact that there is no set-in-stone method for training as a milliner I finally found the Guru. I think the main tip for anyone searching for a millinery teacher would be to just find a milliner willing to teach you, whose methods you respect and whose work you admire (find out who makes the hats of the designers you like; always a good start). You don’t have to have the same style, or aspire to work the way they do, just focus on whether or not they actually have the skills you would like to learn.

My Guru is exactly that; an example of what I’d like to learn. This lady, is cool (and happens to be from the same part of London as me, which somehow made it seem like it was meant to be). She has a purist couture background that I couldn’t resist, so I booked my class and thus found myself trying to pick a ‘fashion’ outfit on a Saturday morning before heading to her trendy studio space to learn how to make hats for a living.

The Guru in person was everything I thought she would be and more. Effortlessly glamorous with an own-brand headband in her hair and sleek Chanel glasses perched on her nose, she was elegant enough not to laugh when I showed her my attempt at a ‘couture’ flower, before sharing a few tips and chatting through the beginnings of millinery.

So, brace yourself for the saga of… The First Hat, parts I, II and III. Inspired by the above Dior 1950s New Look hat. But in navy, because that’s always better.

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Blossoming art

Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen

So, during my tinternet searchathon, it occured to me that this new habit of mine might actually end up being proper expensive. Semi-private tuition by a master of millinery can’t come cheap, can it? And not to mention all those top-quality materials I love to visualize…

In an attempt to save myself some hard-earned cash, I decided to tread slowly into the learning process.

I invested in a few couture tutorials online, to see how I would fare at a beginner’s level. I went for the higher-end tutorial, not a ready-to-make kit, and chose a couture flower (how hard could it be?!) as my first challenge.

There were a lot of skills involved in the making of this flower (most of which only harmed me), including cutting fabric on the bias, curling the flower ‘petals’ (without an egg iron, a contraption that I later discovered is used to shape fabric in a round way, rather than cook eggs without creases), folding and shaping the petals together and, the most important attribute for a milliner… patience.

The couture fabric flower that you are about to admire, took me a whopping 6 hours to make. Yes, 6 hours of painstakingly cutting the fabric and trimming off the ends, curling and re-curling (because curling manually with a wire is not easy) and trying to stitch neatly and wondering why the silk keeps fraying.

Couture Flower I

Another valuable lesson. Do not believe everything the fabric/haberdashery/supposed experts tell you in store. The silk I went crazy on (ambitiously buying 10! different colours – for 10 different flowers, ha!), was cheap even though I was told it was the best in store.

Cheap = low thread count = fabric losely woven = fraying. As soon as you cut it, it’s frays galore and as roses are meant to have lucious thick petals, the effect was more watercolour rose than real. There is a way around this, I have since been told (by the Guru, but more on her later); either spray the cheap silk in fabric stiffener, or dunk it in gelatine. Gelatine works best, and is probably more fun to do (I will be experimenting shortly, so watch this space).

I loved the flowers I made though; especially in creative colours. For my birthday, I decorated the hat below, a genuine Panama, with a cluster of couture rose, and feather-made bird, butterfly and feathers to a really satifisfying effect.

Not quite the intro image, but just you wait.

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