22 October 2017Last updated

Features | People

Rachel Trevor-Morgan: the Queen’s milliner

London-based Rachel Trevor-Morgan spills the beans on designing hats for royalty and how they’re still relevant for fashion

By Mike Peake
20 Jun 2016 | 10:05 am
  • The well-known hat designer has made over 85 hats for the Queen since 2006, and some for Kate Middleton as well.

    Source:Getty Images

How did you come to work for the Queen?

I was contacted by Buckingham Palace in 2006 when Freddie Fox, one of her previous milliners, had retired, and they were looking for a new milliner. They got in touch with me, I was asked to submit some ideas and the first hat I made for her was for her 80th birthday service.

How do you make a hat for the Queen?

I can’t talk very specifically about it, but normally I would be sent a sketch of what she’s going to be wearing and a swatch of fabric, and I would carry on from there. I take into account the print on the dress, the colour and maybe even the event itself. As with any client, you have fittings and you make sure the hat is working. I’ve now made more than 85 hats for her.

Which are your favourites?

Inevitably, I’m very fond of the first one I made for her, which was golden-coloured with ostrich feathers and a flower. I also like a white one with black lace, which she wore when she met George Bush. Over the years, she’s worn some wonderful hats and has been very experimental if you look back at the Fifties and Sixties. She has a very classic style now.

When did you first discover a love of hats?

I blame my mother, really; she always wore hats, so I suppose that went into my psyche. Further down the line though I wanted to get into theatre costume design, and actually fell into millinery when I moved to London and was at a bit of a loose end. 
I wrote to lots of milliners in the city because I thought it sounded like an interesting career, and one of them wrote back. I’ve been working in the industry ever since, and opened my own business in 1990.

What three things make a great hat?

The most important thing is balance – your hat should be well-balanced and proportionate with everything else that you are wearing. Beautiful craftsmanship is very high up there, too. Thirdly, the personality of the hat has to match the personality of the wearer, whether that’s an extension of a big personality and really making a statement, or the opposite. You’ve got to get it right.

Is matching the hat to the outfit important?

Absolutely. To make a bespoke hat you need to know what a client is going to be wearing, although sometimes people do come in and start with the hat first. When you walk into a room and you’re wearing a hat, it’s the hat that people are likely to remember. So you can wear a simple dress and have a great hat; if you have a very busy outfit, you probably want a hat that’s more straightforward.

What are some of the delicate touches that go into making a hat?

It is a very intricate process. From the concept, we set about dyeing the straws to match the outfit, then block the hat (which means making the shape). If there are flowers, then each petal will be cut out and hand-rolled, and feathers might need to be sanded down, dyed and cut. Often, there’s a degree of thinking time around a design, too – it will be sitting in my head and as I’m not very good at drawing, I tend to do things straight from my imagination. When I’m making a hat, I know when it looks right. It can just be a small tweak, and then suddenly I’ll stop and think, “That’s it, I’ve got it”.

In which era do you wish you’d lived, either for the popularity of hats or overall fashion?

I think it would be the 1950s, that wonderful era where men and women went out wearing hats every day. The way they dressed and the style of the hair lent itself to hats, too. It’s a pity we’ve lost that art of hat wearing. We’re all a bit too casual these days.

Do you wish the baseball cap had never been invented?

I don’t mind the baseball cap! But an irritating recent trend is tiny fascinators with bits of feathers on them – basically an Alice band with feathers. People put them on thinking it’s a hat when it’s not.

Some people feel self-conscious in a hat. How might they overcome that?

It does help if you can go to someone who has a knowledge of hats and can advise you. Trying on different styles is very important, including things you don’t expect to like. 
Go with a friend who can give you some honest feedback.

Have you made hats for clients in the UAE?

I’ve made a few hats for some important people here and we do have others coming to see us when they’re in London, who want us to make hats for the Dubai World Cup.

What has been your strangest day in the office so far?

It was probably when Kate Middleton – as she was then – came in with another one of our clients to look at the hats. It was before the royal wedding and it was such a thrill to have her in here. She has since had a few hats from us. We do get lots of interesting and fantastic people coming in and that’s one of the great benefits of the job.

By Mike Peake

By Mike Peake