The Horse Rider's Journal

Hat Tricks

Noel%20Stewart

We asked master milliners Philip Treacy, Stephen Jones and Noel Stewart to choose their perfect hats for Royal Ascot. You’re very welcome.

Text Stacey Streshinsky Images courtesy of Philip Treacy, Noel Stewart and Stephen Jones

The Royal Ascot is one of the world’s most high-profile horseracing events. A five-day flat racing affair that does in-theory centre around sport, the horses nevertheless compete with an exceptional factor as main attraction: the sartorial choices of the ladies in attendance.

Whilst the hem-lengths might differ within the three enclosures, the hats atop the ladies’ heads are universally extravagant, prompting countless round-ups of the good, the bad and the ugly online, wicked WhatsApp group chats and whispered into ears at the champagne bar.

No-one wants to be regrettable or forgettable, so what we need here is thoroughbred advice for the week ahead. We got it from three of the most celebrated milliners working today, who have throughout their careers collaborated with designers such as Alexander McQueen; Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel; Valentino; John Galliano at Dior; Vivienne Westwood and Gareth Pugh, their hats worn by the likes of Isabella Blow; Diana, Princess of Wales and Lady Gaga. Ladies, here is the headwear gospel according to Philip Treacy, Stephen Jones and Noel Stewart.

Philip Treacy
Philip Treacy

Tell us why your hat is perfect for Royal Ascot?
There is a theatrical element to the unusual way it sits on the wearer’s head, it creates a bit of mystery — and Royal Ascot is the right occasion to be a bit more adventurous.

What’s the inspiration behind it?
My influences are contemporary, be it sculpture, or art, or whatever is going in the world today. The Royal Ascot is an expression of English dress and culture, which attracts an audience that is seduced by glamour; glamour is a good currency to work in and there is nothing more glamorous than a hat that enhances ones features.

How do you know a hat is right for you? And what should we consider when choosing an occasion hat?
I design hats to enhance the face in a particular way, whether it is an angled brim sweeping upwards, or an elegant flat brim. Sometimes matching a hat exactly to the outfit and accessories can look old; it is far more interesting to pick out some of the lesser colours within the outfit and make the hat to match. It’s essential to make the wearer look and feel a million dollars while remembering to amplify the personality underneath.

(Hat available to purchase at philiptreacy.co.uk, price upon enquiry)

Noel%20Stewart
Noel Stewart

Tell us why your hat is perfect for Royal Ascot.
At the races it can so often be about the flowers and the feathers, in a way, the very obvious aspects of occasional millinery, which is often thought of as very classic. For my work, I try to make things that are less obvious. It is maybe less about the constructive aspects of decoration — and decoration can be anything; it can be a texture, a printed silk a tone, a reflective material… I wanted to bring something a little more intelligent to the racecourse.

What’s the inspiration behind it?
This hat was inspired by a trip to the retrospective of Bill Viola, the film artist, at the Grand Palais in Paris. He’d done this extraordinary thing — a three-story high video production of fire and water blending into one another, so you didn’t really know how or where the water and the fire began, what was the reflection — it was really entrancing. The visuals were stunning and experience so immersive, I knew I wanted to bring that contrast and synchronicity into a piece, in some way. We took an image that I made of it and we turned it into a print, which brought water and fire, the two basic elements, into one hat; it’s really striking. The shape is flattering and iconic, and gives a really great silhouette to the body. I thought it would be really great to see this at the races.

How do you know a hat is right for you? And what should we consider when choosing an occasion hat?
How you know it’s right for you is how it makes you feel. When choosing a hat, it’s really about trying it on and seeing what makes you feel good. It’s a celebratory moment, you don’t wear these kind of hat and go to that sort of event every day, so it has to be fun, has make you look fantastic, has to make you feel fantastic and I think that you can’t really know that unless you try it on. The most essential thing is to play — It’s always exciting to see people try hats on, because they’re so surprised; but they try it on and it’s something they never imagined. Hats have this really transformative power, they bring out things you never even knew about yourself, because the head is the most powerful place to accessorise. I feel like recently people have rediscovered this power, which is unique in terms of what it does to the outfit and how it makes you feel about yourself.

(Hat available to purchase at noelstewart.com, £620.00)


Stephen Jones

Tell us why your hat is perfect for Royal Ascot.
This Summer’s collection was based around the perfect hat for a particular occasion, the name of this hat is the perfect hat for… ‘Ascot,’ so therefore that’s the one I chose.

What’s the inspiration behind it?
The hat is somewhat inspired by Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ in terms of the overall silhouette. However, I always say that wearing a hat is like having a party on your head, and this one definitely looks like a party!

How do you know a hat is right for you? And what should we consider when choosing an occasion hat?
Ascot is an occasion for every woman, and man, for that matter, to shine and not necessarily be their normal selves. So a hat for Ascot, could be discreet, but is more fun if it’s spectacular.

(Hat available to purchase at Stephen Jones Millinery, 36 Great Queen Street, London, price upon request)