Laura Cartledge meets a couture milliner who has hat making down to a fine art.
Millinery is changing.
While it is grounded in tradition, you only have to think of the creations on show at the wedding of Kate and Wills to know the only limit is the maker’s imagination.
“The reason I love millinery so much is that there doesn’t have to be any rules,” agrees couture designer Rachel Drewer. “Millinery can be seen as traditional with all the associated etiquette of occasions like Royal Ascot. And in making hats there are lots of old techniques and methods that are the accepted way of doing things.
“But I think that if the hat looks good and flatters the wearer then nothing else matters,” she smiles. “I feel like millinery is having a renaissance.
“Now, more than ever, I think there is room to cast off old attitudes to hats and indulge in self-expression.”
Working from a studio near Alresford, Rachel has taken an unusual route to the artform.
So what inspired her to make the move from studying physics and working in the carbon markets?
“While I loved the intellectual challenge of my degree I found that on a day to day basis I need to be creative in order to feel fulfilled,” she explains. “I still use my analytical skills in running the business, and even in engineering my designs, but above all I simply love working with my hands and letting my imagination run free.”
This sense of freedom, along with an ‘air of individuality and elegance’ are what Rachel lists as her biggest influences.
“A common theme I use is that of movement, and I also like to create a subtle depth and interest in my work,” she reveals. “Every bespoke commission brings its own challenges.
“When a client steps through the door of my studio I have no idea what to expect, and it is the process of discovering their desires – and sometimes fears – that gives me my direction.”
As well as Rachel’s bespoke service, which includes colour-matching pieces to outfits and style advice, she is currently designing a capsule collection of beautiful bridal headpieces.
“Often a lady will set her heart on a design she hadn’t expected to like, and that is all part of the experience,” Rachel explains. “I can offer advice on what kind of hat might work for a particular event, and I can also introduce ladies to other ‘hidden gem’ businesses to offer help with shoes, accessories, jewellery and other finishing touches.
“I’m really excited about the capsule collection. I love working with local independent businesses and I’m delighted they will be available from Alresford’s bridal boutique, The White House.”
Beautiful headwear and big days go hand in hand, so it comes as no surprise that Rachel often ends up building a unique bond with her clients.
“Often by the time I have finished their hat we have become firm friends,” says Rachel. “It is an honour to be trusted to create something unique that a person will fall in love with.”
Alongside creating and designing Rachel also teaches – so does she have a favourite aspect of her work?
“The beauty of having your own business is that you can choose to concentrate on the things that you find the most fulfilling,” she replies. “I really enjoy the different challenges that each bring.
“There’s just nothing like the feeling when you finish a new hat. It’s so exciting to see your idea realised, but I also find it extremely rewarding when I’ve helped someone take their first steps in millinery so they can feel that buzz too.
“I teach a whole range of people,” she adds, “from those who are looking for an adventure in a new craft, to people who are interested to pursue a career in millinery.”
From fascinator making parties – a great fun option for a hen do – to one-to-one workshops, Rachel offers a wide range of classes.
“Millinery is a great creative escape from everyday life, and it can also be a very rewarding occupation,” explains Rachel. “I don’t think of a particular point in time when I felt proud because each experience is just part of the story, but having said that it was a big thrill to see a bespoke design featured on Vogue.com.”
Pictures by Ina Halsor and Angela Ward Brown, images of Rachel by Adrienne Photography
To find out more about Rachel’s work, visit www.racheldrewer.com
February 21, 2014 Fashion and Beauty