I trained to be a dancer at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. But I decided it wasn’t for me during the second year and left. Instead, I did an art foundation course which led to a degree that started off as textiles, then changed to fashion, at Liverpool John Moores University.
I made my own fabric, a heat textured fabric. At my graduation show I sold my collection to Donna Karan, which spurred me on. I saw Philip Treacy and he was so nice. I saw his hats and I remember thinking, I’ve totally done the wrong degree. He said he loved the fabric but didn’t know what to do with it. Now I’ve come full circle and have become a milliner using that very fabric in my creations.
My mum said go and try a millinery course and after the first session I was completely addicted. Going from fashion to millinery it felt like I consolidated all my skills, I’m very hands on and very inventive, and I like to create quirky things.
My first hat was for sale in my mum’s shop, and it was a complete success. She had a millinery shop that she’s just given up.
I just love making hats. I feel so honoured that I can do what I love. There’s not many people who can do what they love every day.
I made Laura Whitmore’s hat for Royal Ascot this year. She sent me a picture of her in the dress and the handbag she wanted to wear, and I had a few days to do it. The hat was on the front page of every paper. We were all hopping around and whooping. I didn’t expect it to get so much publicity.
It starts with an idea. The right way to work is to start with a drawing, but I personally don’t work like that, because creative people aren’t as organised.
I like to see what kind of people they are. I work from home so I can either meet them on neutral ground, or go to their house for the initial consultation. I think that works really well because you get an idea of the clothes they wear and what sort of things they like, and they have all their things to hand: the jewellery, the dress. I then go back again and have a fitting with them and change things around until they’re happy.
I’m really excited about my new men’s range, King Pin Hats. It was a really steep learning curve, because a man’s hat needs to be pristine, whereas a woman’s hat is a bit more flouncy, with flowers and striking elements. A man’s hat needs to be so sleek and crisp – what you see is what you get.
There will be lots of interesting, quirky finishes. I’ve got some really nice pork pie hats, which are quite cool at the moment. It’s that dandy look that I’m going for, with rolled-up trousers, braces, pork pies and grandad shirts. It’s very much daytime wear.
There’s so many different angles at the moment. A lot of the dandy guys wear a funky hat on the back of their head. Trilbys, like the Blues Brother’s trilbys, are smaller and can be worn tilted down. Then you’ve got the bigger hats with the bigger brims, like fedoras, which are generally worn at a bit more of a jaunty angle – down over one eye and up at the back. How you wear a hat really does matter.
The whole language of a hat is so interesting. Young guys have started asking for hats to go with suits, and the last wedding I went to I made three or four hats. But, obviously they need to be taken off to go into Church, it’s not something that’s acceptable to be worn in the venue.
Everyone’s wearing them now. Johnny Depp likes a wider brim hat, Brad Pitt likes a slimmer, smaller trilby.
Hats have become current and edgy. It’s not a classic thing anymore. They’re definitely big at the minute.
Molly’s top tips for budding milliners
1) You need to learn all the technical things. People make the mistake of thinking it’s an easy art, that anyone can buy a hat and dress it. You need to have a good eye for design and vision, and find a good course.
2) The finish is imperative. You can’t sell something that doesn’t look beautiful, and it’s really important that it’s finished well. That it’s comfortable, mounted properly, and the headband’s going to hold it on – all those tiny details are technical things you need to learn.
3) Big is not always best. I saw a house on someone’s head at Royal Ascot. There are always some funny ones there. Maybe they’ve studied millinery for a little while and thought big is best, but they aren’t always the best in terms of design and style.
4) Follow your instincts. I don’t really follow the latest trends, and when I did fashion I didn’t either. At college I held the strong belief that you should follow your instincts rather than a magazine. I used to design things I wanted to design and go from a completely different angle. That’s what its all about. You should use what’s in your head and not look to other people for inspiration.