Hats off to style

British milliner Karen Henriksen draws inspiration from vintage styles but combines that retro appeal with a savvy take on what people today are looking for in a hat.

Practicality and comfort are just as important as style to Henriksen, elements that combine to expand her brand’s global reach.

Though working in the millinery industry since the 1990s, Henriksen established her own label in 2003 following graduation from the Royal College of Art in London.

Presenting both men’s and women’s collections each season, Henriksen offers hats that are recognized for what she calls their “striking a carefully considered balance between innovation and accessibility and combining style with functionality.”

She adds she “brings a milliner’s aesthetic to everyday headwear,” emphasizing precision pattern-cutting and drawing on her passion for beautiful (and practical) fabrics.

It’s all designed to offer a bit of a challenge to the traditional look, while not straying too far from familiar ground.

And she’s definitely got a growing audience.

A participant since 2007 in the accessories trade show held during Paris Fashion Week, Henriksen presents four collections each season, including women’s, couture, men’s and the unisex Windswept range. All are made — entirely — in her Central London studio at Cockpit Arts, which bills itself as “an award-winning creative business incubator for designer-makers.”

The designs are carried in fashion and department stores and specialty boutiques around the world, including Suzanne Couture Millinery on East 61st Street in Manhattan, as well as through Henriksen’s ever-growing online store.

Maybe it’s time to join the Henriksen fan club. Private clients already include members of the British royal family, as well as actors David Tennant and Carey Mulligan.

The author of “Design & Make Fashion Hats” (A&C Black Publishers, Ltd., London, 2009), considered a must-have for millinery students, Henriksen recently took the time to answer a few questions for WAG.

Is there such a thing as “a hat person”?

“I often meet people who admire my hats but say they’re not a hat person, and others who say they definitely are a hat person. So, yes, I guess there is such a thing. Having said that, I do believe there is at least one hat style or design to suit everyone, and there are some lucky people who can wear almost any style and look good. And, far from being the case that you need confidence to wear a hat, in fact the right hat gives you confidence. I get so many nice reports back from my clients saying that they regularly get stopped in the street and receive compliments from complete strangers.”

What changes have you seen in the field since you started designing and what are trends for 2017?

“Since the global financial crash, I think it has become even harder to earn a living from making purely ‘special occasion’ millinery, which is the main business for the vast majority of milliners, at least here in the U.K. I do continue to make sculptural couture pieces for clients going to the races or weddings, etc., and love making these, although I have certainly found that my couture range has become a much smaller part of my business over the years. In contrast, I consider myself very fortunate that I have found a niche for myself designing and making everyday hats for both women and men. This has become by far my main occupation, and I am at least as passionate about it as the couture side.

Trends for 2017 — seems there will be lots of color, and sports influence alongside very feminine ruffles and bows. 

My own SS17 collection is called ‘Sports Day’ and does include all of the above.”

Who is your ideal customer?

“Probably someone who gets that an everyday accessory can (or even should) be interesting, special and beautiful, as well as practical. I like to know that my hats are being worn and loved day in and day out, not kept in a box!”

What style or look do you consider your signature?

“I like to play with classic styles and make them into something new and, perhaps, slightly unexpected but still very accessible and relevant to how we live our lives. So my own modern interpretations of the cloche hat have become my mainstay in the women’s collection. Also, the Windswept range, which developed from my M.A. at the Royal College of Art, is perhaps my original signature look — with sweeping asymmetric seams.”

How many hats do you yourself own? Are they all of your design — and do you wear them throughout the year?

“Not sure — quite a lot. Yes, all my own design, although I do also have a few vintage hats. I often wear my new designs for research as well — to check how well they wear over time. It’s mostly the autumn/winter hats that I wear, although I do have a good range of my visors, which I wear constantly in the summer as protection from the sun.”

For more, visit karenhenriksen.co.uk.

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