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Mad Hatters

Words by Carolyn Gerin

…She slowly descends the red-carpeted stairway, perusing the crowd, all eyes transfixed upon her arresting, intricate, plumed chapeau: the photographers swoop in, cameras flash…

Welcome to your entrance and the power of a hat (courage and moxie imbued at no additional charge). Having witnessed milliner Melissa Bolin bring an A-lister ballroom to heel, it’s official: whether you’re a royal (or a mere mortal), don a topper of distinction and rule your runway. 

In Ancien Régime France, status was conveyed by the size, scale and context of a hat. News of the day – miniature battle ships and victory ribbons – festooned the chapeaus of social superstars like Marie Antoinette. Although she ultimately lost her head, that head wore some newsworthy hats.

In celebration of the hat, today’s "veil alternative," we delve into the inspirations of two landmark "Mad Hatters": Stephen Jones, elder statesmen and milliner to punks, princesses and the polo pony set at Coworth Park; and New York’s next big thing Melissa Bolin, at Kitty Andrews Millinery.

DID: How did you first become interested in being a milliner?

SJ: My first day working in Shirley Hex’s millinery workroom. It was 1976, my punk years: with terrible unemployment in England and Thatcher at the helm. I opened my first shop in 1980, went to NYC and ultimately, Paris.

MB: I lived in Japan when I was younger and I experimented with extreme, crazy headpieces. I studied visual design at FIDM and took millinery classes. I began making hats of my own and people noticed.

DID: What is your favorite time in history to design chapeaus?
SJ: Wartime 40s – people made their own and had to be inventive.

MB: The 1930s and 40s – women wouldn’t leave the house without donning a fabulous chapeau. 

DID: One woman in history for whom you would make your dream hat?

SJ: Michelle Obama.

MB: Grace Kelly.

DID: How does your work differ from royal milliner Phillip Treacy?

SJ: He is a sculptor, I am a lyricist.

MB: I'm a huge fan of '77 and glam-style punk, indentifying with that devil-may-care attitude.

DID: What are today’s bridal trends?

SJ: Smaller, more precise…almost tailored; a proper hat looks great with a big dress.

MB: “Cage veils” made of Russian veiling, shorter illusion tulle. I am obsessed with lace and pieces which look like confections. 

DID: What defines your design philosophy?

SJ: Lightness, humor.

MB: Fringe element, with glamour and tact. 

DID: Define your client.

SJ: Someone who sees fashion as self-expression.

MB: A confident woman passionate about headwear who wants to be noticed, whether they are the life of the party, or not.

DID: Your ultimate “it” girl?

SJ: Dita von Teese.

MB: Gwen Stefani.

DID: Who are style icons for you; yesterday and today?

SJ: Issy and Anna, Rihanna, the Duchess of Cambridge, Elsa Schiaparelli and Oscar Niemeyer.

MB: Diane Von Furstenberg, Carolina Herrera, Lulu Guinness, Grace Coddington, Zelda Fitzgerald, Rita Hayworth, Edith Head, Bettie Page, Diana Vreeland, Rosalind Russell and Katharine Hepburn.

DID: What does the future hold?

SJ: Very busy. New hat collections for the UK and Japan, a new book next year.

MB: My gorgeous Fall/Winter 2013 bridal collection! 

Images Courtesy of Comrade Cid (1st, 2nd & 4th) and Peter Ashworth (3rd & 5th) 

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