LONDON — Britain’s summer season is on hold — for now — but that hasn’t stopped top milliners from creating, selling, or dreaming about hats and the role they can play now, and in a society emerging from lockdown.
The summer season is big here — really big — with private weddings and public events like Wimbledon, Royal Ascot, Henley Royal Regatta, Glorious Goodwood and Cartier Polo taking place from June through the beginning of August.
Not all of those events require a topper, but the Brits love them so much they wear them anyway.
Wimbledon has been postponed — as have most weddings — while the Ascot racecourse and other racing venues are shut, or making contingency plans.
Royal Ascot, the June event that Queen Elizabeth II, her family and personal guests attend, could still take place behind closed doors, with no spectators. In the meantime, Ascot’s grounds are being used by Britain’s National Health Service as a drive-in center for COVID-19 tests.
Juliet Slot, chief commercial officer of the racecourse, said the world of sports will have a “very different” summer season this year. Her office is working with millinery and fashion figures “to celebrate Royal Ascot week in style, while supporting those in need,” with more details to come soon.
Cartier, meanwhile, has said its summer events will depend on government guidance, and that it’s too early to say how, or when, those events might take place.
In the meantime, milliners including Stephen Jones and Awon Golding of Lock & Co. are pressing ahead, with Jones upbeat about the future of hats in the world that’s emerging.
In a telephone interview from his London home, Jones pointed out that hats have a role to play when times are good — and bad.
He noted that hats were among the few personal items not rationed during World War II in Britain because they are protective, uplifting and empowering. He also believes they are great communicators, sending messages such as “Keep your distance,” “Come on over,” or “I’m in charge.”
Jones noted that hats can be worn for all occasions — not just for formal ones like Ascot. They can be worn for work, dropping off the kids at school, going to the beach, or to a dinner party. They can even be for the boudoir.
Even if people are locked down at home, he said, there’s no reason why they can’t create their own hats.
Jones, who’s spent 40 years zipping to Paris and around the world for work, has been as busy as usual in lockdown. He’s taking made-to-measure winter orders from clients via video calls and making sure he’s got stock ready for stores like Dover Street Market and 10 Corso Como as soon as they reopen, which should be later this summer.
“The show must go on,” said Jones, who is also planning to take part in the British Fashion Council’s new, digital, genderless platform in June, and in London Fashion Week in September, whatever form that might take.
Jones is also forging ahead with plans to mark his 40th anniversary in October, having already held a celebratory cocktail party during London Fashion Week in February.
The event, which took place at his Covent Garden shop and atelier, showcased some of his favorite designs over the decades.
Jones believes that hats will thrive in the future because fashion is inherently protean, and therefore resilient. “One thing that makes fashion relevant is that it adjusts to the times and responds to what the public needs at a particular time,” he said.
Although he has been making hats for the Dior runway since the Nineties, it is only now that he said he truly understands why Christian Dior’s post-War New Look was such a hit. “People were hungry for a different sort of life. They wanted to have a wonderful time,” he said.
London milliner Awon Golding, who has an eponymous couture business and who serves as head millinery designer at Lock & Co., the historic hatters in St. James’s, is also forging ahead with work despite uncertainty about the summer social season.
Golding, whose studio is based in east London and who has made hats for clients including Lady Gaga and the Duchess of Sussex, said her couture brand has been “severely” impacted by the cancellation of weddings, races and big occasions. She said she’s been using this time to develop collections for bridal, a growing category.
Lock & Co., which sells hats for men and women, is a different story. She said the online business has been doing quite well, especially with more casual fare, like fedoras and turbans. Formal looks are flying off the virtual shelves, too, she said.
Golding added that a customer recently ordered one of her designs for Lock & Co., a straw braid bucket hat with a long silk gazar bow at the back, priced at 695 pounds. “She said she’s going to wear it at the beach,” said Golding. “I think people are looking forward to coming out of lockdown.”
Golding, who is originally from Hong Kong and who lived through SARS, said it’s important for everyone, despite this difficult moment, to keep their eyes “squarely on the horizon.”
She said she’s taking inspiration from Lock & Co. itself, which was founded in 1676 during the reign of King Charles II. “It has weathered so many storms, and has stayed afloat, pivoting with the times.”
Lock & Co.’s managing director Ben Dalrymple said the latest pivot the brand has made hasn’t been so bad despite the fact that the company has had to shut its doors for the first time in 344 years.
“We’re very fortunate to have a loyal clientele from around the world — places like America, Hong Kong and Australia — who are still buying hats for the season. I think they want to have the ownership experience, and to treat themselves. Some are even planning garden parties where they plan to wear their hats,” he said.
Lock is also a solid business: The brand owns the 17th-century townhouse near St. James’s Palace where the shop is located, so it doesn’t pay rent. It also operates with a small team and plans its seasons a year in advance, so it has not been adversely impacted by late deliveries or factory shutdowns.
Dalrymple is even looking forward, despite the inevitable social distancing measures, to reopening the historic shop, with its warren of small rooms, dark wood and glass cabinets.
“Everyone will be able to have a good look around, because of the one-way system I plan to set up,” he said. In the post-lockdown world, walking the shop floor may well turn into a sport in itself.