On 23 February, the Feltmakers and their guests gathered at the grand Luton Hoo Mansion House, set in extensive grounds in the Bedfordshire countryside. As all Feltmakers know, Luton is the historical home of hat making and once the world’s biggest hat producing location, with more than 500 hat manufacturers based there in the 1800s and it is an important part of the Company’s history.
We were greeted with a sparkling reception and met our friends from the Company in the ornate Romanov Suite, once the chapel of the house. The stained-glass windows, highly decorated ceiling and elegant marble and plasterwork were a suitably colourful setting for the milliners to showcase their fantastic creations. There was a great variety of stylish hats on display, made from high quality materials and suitable for all occasions from Ascot or weddings to a fashionable country walk.
We then moved to the Fabergé Private Dining Suite for a delicious three course lunch with a winter country menu accompanied by wine.
First, Feltmaker Carole Denford explained the history of the Guild and how it had been re-establihsed in 2019 following a meeting between her and industry colleagues in a London pub two years earlier. Carole is the founder of trade publication The Hat Magazine and was motivated to rekindle the Guild to promote the unrivalled excellence of British millinery and help people in the trade to network, support each other and promote the industry. Carole enthusiastically explained how she had steered the Guild’s formation through the difficulties of lockdown, where Zoom-style meetings helped the milliners and hatmakers to support each other through a devastating period for their trade. Since then, the Guild has taken in new members and should grow from strength to strength, as shown at www.thebritishhatguild.org.uk .
Next, milliner, Jess Collett, gave a lively and entertaining talk about her 25 years’ creating exciting designs, normally handmade and often for famous clients. Jess has an infectiously light-hearted attitude to what must be a demanding business. She has now added an “off the shelf” range and, as we had witnessed in the Romanov Suite and then on her video at the lunch, her designs are strikingly stylish, colourful and edgy, as can also be seen at www.jesscollettmilliner.com .
Finally, Guild member Rachel Frost gave a fascinating talk on her work, which is unique in the UK and, almost, the world. Rachel is a Feltmaker in the historical sense, making felt for her hats from ethically sourced wool, beaver fur and plant-based dyes. Rachel explained how an interest in traditional hat making led her to research old books and recreate the original tools from drawings. She then travelled to Hungary, Turkey and ultimately Mexico to learn from the few remaining pre-industrial Feltmakers around the world. Rachel brought along some of her creations, some raw materials and her best prop, a Hatter’s Bow. This large wooden implement was strung like an archer’s bow and Rachel played a video showing how it is used and her journey from initial curiosity to travelling the globe in search of the last of the Feltmakers. Rachel is now the only person in Europe using these traditional techniques and has made hats for stage and screen. It was a pleasure to experience her dedication to this fascinating part of our own Company’s history, more of which can be seen at www.thecraftybeggars.org .
Finally, we all applauded Viviane Vayssieres, who we have been lucky enough to have as the creative organiser of the Luton Lunch for many years. Viviane is now handing over the reins of this event and her charm and joie de vivre will be a tough act to follow; merci beaucoup from all at the Feltmakers!
Thanks to Author Mark Williams