Friday, June 13, 2014


Jess Collett Milliner in her atelier, photos provided by Jess Collett

Handmade hats, haute hairpieces and high-performance horses become functional--not to mention fashionable--highlights of the derby/summer sporting season both domestically and abroad. With the Epsom Races passed and the Ascot Races upcoming, Jess Collett, a familiar favorite in the world of high-profile headgear, staves off the sun with a range of subtle to show-stopping styles. A graduate of Kensington and Chelsea College, Collett's couture creations are wielded by British royalty, actors and actresses and the general public. Established in 1999, Collett's atelier in Notting Hill continues to be the birthplace of all her handmade floral, felted and feverishly fantastic hats. Keep reading for a sincere and insightful Q&A with the designer...

Wooden Vaneer Hat--a favorite of the milliner, photo provided by Jess Collett

Millinery is such a specialized craft. What inspired your initial interest? Has your design style evolved since your first headpiece? How do you keep your designs fresh? What would you consider your most unique design?

I have always been interested in hats--ever since I could put them on! Dressing up as a child and creating outfits from a trunk of old clothes was my obsession. Adding a hat completed the look. It gave me more character. With a mother as a dress maker, I had all the tools at my fingertips.

I had a hat party for my 6th birthday. I made a pineapple and cheese hedgehog using an upturned sieve, a million cocktail sticks and some fruit. So yes, I think my designs have evolved and will hopefully carry on evolving forever. I think if you find things that inspire you, then it fires creativity. Collaborations always open your eyes to new materials and techniques too.

My favorite piece is the one made from wood veneer. It's so elegant!

Colorful Panama Trilbies, photo provided by Jess Collett

Couture hats are delectably dainty and often reserved for special occasions (i.e. the Kentucky Derby or a Royal wedding), but you've declared that people "don't just need a 'big ticket' occasion to wear a hat." How do you recommend that the average individual incorporate headpieces into their day wear?  What style is the most in-demand by your clients? 

Don't be afraid to dress up and try new styles! Many people say that hats don't suit them, but just a simple flower in the hair--or maybe a sequin star or a butterfly--would be perfect. It doesn't have to be a show-stopper.

Most popular are my felt trilbies--hang one next to your coat and throw it on as you skip out the door. 

Jess Collett's green fedora, a collaboration with Bex Rox // Africa, photos provided by Jess Collett

Do you wear headpieces yourself? Paint me a picture of your personal style!

It depends on my mood, but my green fedora--a recent collaboration with London jeweler Bex Rox--makes me feel happy and I find myself wearing these red Indian sprays quite a lot. I'm a color queen!

 Azalia head piece, photo provided by Jess Collett

Catering to royalty instantly elevates reputation. How did you come across your first royal client? Is there a higher level of intricacy involved in headpieces designed for 'famous' clients? How do you set your brand apart from the many other hatmakers, worldwide? How do you quantify the "success" of your business?     

The Countess of Wessex was my first royal client. I believe a friend of hers had seen my designs at the Kensington and Chelsea College final show.

Every client who comes through the door wants to feel like a million dollars, so its my job to make sure they are filled with every confidence when they walk out with a hat box swinging on their arm. Although sometimes--if a performer is turning up side down or leaping around on stage--you need to make sure at all costs that it wont fall off.

I only make things that I would wear myself and I believe in high quality and impeccable finish. Designing, creating and wearing hats runs in my veins and I hope this shows in my work!

Mai head piece, photo provided by Jess Collett

Advances in technology are simplifying production processes and quickly removing the human aspect of "handmade" products. Do you believe that technology drives style and design (i.e. fast fashion = more affordable = phasing out of couture products)? Have you incorporated technology in the design/development of your product (i.e. 3D printing, laser-cutting, etc.)?

Technology has simplified many processes and this can be a very useful thing. You have to move with the times. But there will always be a market for a specially made, hand finished product because people like to buy into something unique and individual that they will treasure.

I love the idea of 3D printing; I’m working on something for the next collection.

Up close, photo provided by Jess Collett

Food is always a favorite topic. What's the most exotic food you've had/What was so unique about it? Do you cook?

Well, I have had some pretty weird stuff in Laos--vein salad… and roasted crickets in Mexico. The best food I’ve ever tasted was in the state of Madekeri in India--fresh home cooked curry with the most exotic vegetables that I haven’t come across again. I find that I don’t have the time to cook that much, but my favorite for a family meal is roast chicken with all the bits. I also LOVE chocolate. Atisan du Chocolat is delicious--so many taste sensations in one beautiful box!

Butterflies in hair // Wedding, photos provided by Jess Collett

Talk to me me about your philosophy, background, location and favorites… 

I think nature is unbelievably imperfectly perfect.
I love David Bowie, Schiaparelli, Erte, Tim Walker, the history of costume. 
I love the Edwardian era (I LOVED wearing my wedding dress :)!), but equally feel at home in a pair of brothel creepers. 
I love all good music and people. The world is such an amazing place--so many people doing so many different and wonderful things to discover and enjoy.
I have always loved the area my studio is in. All Saints Road in Notting Hill has such a history of music, riot, creativity and partying. It’s a beautiful buzz

My grandmother's motto was 'Never say no' and I have stuck to it!

What a creative cap! // Assorted styles from Jess Collett's SS '14 collection 
For me, Jess Collett's talent is inherent in the humble authenticity of her communication and her craft. Collett's personality comes across in the organic feel of her hats and the rhetorical conversation that is introduced with each unique piece. I can't wait to see what's coming next! Have a closer look at Jess Collett Milliner


  1. Excellent article. The questions were so insightful which obviously prompted meaningful responses. You should proud of this post.



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