Today, while hats play both a decorative role (for weddings and high-society events) and a practical necessity when either a cold snap bites or temperatures soar, thanks to Royal Ascot – where the hats on show are as much of a talking point as the horses – millinery masterpieces are proving hugely popular. The current fascination with whatever a certain future queen chooses to finish an outfit has also helped push headpieces back into the spotlight, and when the Duchess of Cambridge requires a new hat, Jane Taylor is the designer she calls upon. “I was trained by the Queen’s milliner so I always thought, or always hoped, that I would make things for the Royal Family,” she reveals. “Probably one of the most complicated hats I’ve created was one I made for the Countess of Wessex, which was an ivory hat with a strip of see-through crinolin all the way around it. I had to block the hat shape twice, attach the crin, stitch everything back together and block the shape a third time. It took a lot of hours – three hats in one, really – but I know the Countess was pleased with the end result and that makes it all worth it.”
For someone blessed with such patronage, Taylor is charmingly humble and self-deprecating when it comes to talking about her talents. “I don’t really know if I have got that much acclaim,” she laughs when pressed on her position in the lexicon of great milliners. “I just love making things, being inspired, creating new connections and making people feel confident – I treat everyone the same.” Indeed, it is this readiness to ensure that everyone who visits her recently opened King’s Road boutique feels special that ensures Taylor’s clients have become lifelong customers. “When a client arrives, they often don’t have a preconceived idea of what they would like, so it’s my job to provide some guidance,” she says. “I’ll look at their proportions and face shape, talk to them about the occasion and get to know them a little better if they’re a new customer, which is all incredibly important in creating a suitable design. I often find that people who are nervous of hats usually want something really small, but this isn’t always very flattering. So I try to help the client understand what suits them by getting them to try on lots of different shapes until they find one they’re happy with and one that I think will suit them and work for the occasion.”
For a bespoke piece, Taylor usually works from swatches of fabric from the outfit being worn with the hat, hand-dying the hat to match, or using similar tonal colours, before adding any elements and trims discussed during a consultation. “I used lots of dying in the final show of my embroidery degree. With hand-dying you can paint it, use inks or layer up all the colours to get a beautifully soft effect. I’m creating a limited-edition capsule collection that will be exclusive to the boutique and I’ve been doing lots of marbling with the fabrics – I want to marble everything now,” Taylor laughs.
Rather interestingly for someone who works in the luxury industry, Taylor is a vegan, which has a significant bearing on the type of materials she works with. “The leathers I use must be a by-product and there are some things I’d love to use but just can’t bring myself to – like snake skin. Luckily, salmon skin creates pretty much the same effect as snake skin, so I use that instead,” she reveals. Where materials are available in the UK, Taylor supports British suppliers and has recently started working with a company in north London on a selection of bags and clutches. “So many bags make me really cross, as you can’t get anything in them,” she says. “So I’ve designed my bags with a strap that goes across the hand so they’re easier to hold and there’s a chain strap, if you prefer. There’s also room to fit your sunglasses and phone in, too.” With an all-consuming passion for her work – Taylor even admits to dreaming about hats – and with every detail taken care of, is it any wonder that she is ahead of the pack?
253 King's Road, London, SW3 5EL | 020 8392 3333