The Art of Millinery: Louis Mariette, King of Hat Couture

Ladies, time to don your hats! Between the Royal Wedding, Ascot’s 300th anniversary and the rest of the Season fast approaching, this perennial accessory is hotter than ever. That is why Chic-Londres paid a visit to the fairytale-like studio of milliner extraordinaire Louis Mariette (38), whose dreamlike collection of hats have been worn by everyone from Lady Gaga to Kate Moss. Here, the Malawi-born designer, who was a judge in the last series of Britain’s Next top Model and is vice-president of The Children’s Trust, and whose latest bespoke creation (pictured here) will be graced by top model Erin O’Connor at the Investec Derby, talks about the art of hat-making and gives us some advice on how to wear them.

How and why have you become a milliner? I started my career as a party planner and one thing I used to do was to take some elements of the decor I was creating to style the hostess: a stylist friend of mine saw what I was doing and commissioned me to make a hat seven years ago, and that is how it started. So you could say I became a designer by accident, although it felt like a natural transition to me. I didn’t receive a formal training and am self taught: my childhood in Africa helped, as when I was a kid, I would spend hours collecting wires and things on the road to built little toys with my hands.

What inspires you when you create a new piece? As a kid, I used to spend hours exploring the African flora and fauna, and this fascination for their colours and shapes definitely inspires my creations today. Each piece is an expression of my imagination: my creations tend to be both romantic and flamboyant, with a very strong element of theatrical drama.

Do you think hats should be worn everyday or only for special occasions?There is a sense of practicality with hats, which can accentuate a lady’s look, hide a bad hair day or protect her from the elements when it is cold or raining, so they can definitely be worn every day, especially since a good hat is not necessarily expensive. But of course, there is also this magical moment when you dress up for a special occasion, when a hair piece can make you look and feel absolutely fabulous.

What advice can you give when it comes to wearing hats? Like with any other garment, you should first experiment to see what works on you. If you are very petite for example, don’t go for a wide brimmed hat, as it will be too overpowering. Hats are not only about looks but also about personality. You have to be confident to wear bold colours, like scarlet. If you don’t feel comfortable, then it isn’t right. If you choose to wear a hat which is particularly flamboyant, then keep your jewellery and dress simple: it is often better not to wear a necklace, in order to accentuate the neckline. Play with angles: a brim tilted over one eye can look very mysterious and seductive. And pay attention to the way the hat looks from the back, not only from the front.

What makes a person stylish? I think that a good deportment is essential, so pay attention to your posture and move gracefully, as a dancer would do on the stage. Attitude is also very important: elegance is not just external, but also comes from behaving like a lady. And always remember that fashion should be fun:  one should enjoy wearing a hat just as much as I enjoy making them! (Louis Mariette is the official milliner for the Investec Derby)

Top: Erin O’Connor wearing a bespoke piece created for the Derby. Below: “Circle of Life”, “Chapeau d’Amour” (photo Alice Wilby) and “Princess Neptune” (photo Zena Holloway)