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Hats off to a master milliner from Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 06:00 25 October 2012

Milliner Piers Atkinson. Photo: Supplied

Milliner Piers Atkinson. Photo: Supplied

Supplied

For truly head-turning headwear, who better to take inspiration from than home-grown talent and milliner to the stars Piers Atkinson? Emma Outten profiles Piers and marvels at his current collection.

Wymondham may not be able to boast exactly the same millinery milieu as Luton, Britain’s traditional home of hats, but something about the historic market town must have gone to the head of Piers Atkinson. That and being surrounded by three generations of creative women, perhaps.

The London-based milliner grew up in Wymondham as a teenager, attending Wymondham College, and so spent his most formative years in Norfolk. He learnt hat-making at the knee of his mother, theatrical milliner Hilary Elliott, who worked for opera houses in London and had one of her hats featured on the cover of Vogue in 1964. He took his multi-disciplinary cue - Piers has recently added DJ to his creative bow, for example - from his grandmother, artist/writer/horticulturalist and illustrator Lesley Gordon. And last but not least, his sister Lucy used to assume the role of long-suffering photographic model for his teenage reconstructions of Grace Jones and Art of Noise record covers.

After studying graphic design and photography at the University of Bristol, Piers moved to London in 1995. He helped out at that year’s Alternative Miss World, the brainchild of artist Andrew Logan, now an occasional collaborator and constant inspiration, as Piers says: “He helped me see the rich possibilities of free-form events and a ‘just do it’ attitude.”

In 1999, Piers started with iconic fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, whom he assisted with art direction and in-house PR. “She instantly cured my conservative approach to colour!” says Piers (if you check out his current collection for Zandra on his website and you will see exactly what he means). When Zandra became a client of PR powerhouse Mandi Lennard, Piers took a post there assisting Mandi, who gave him many of her unique insights into the fashion world.

Five years ago Piers started making hats at his kitchen table and launched his first collection in February 2008. He has created collections every season since. Nowadays he has his own studio and 11 people working to make his designs. He has collaborated with designers Ashish, Ashley Isham and Noki for runway presentations and is right to refer to himself as milliner to the stars on Twitter. He has dressed such celebrities as Kate Moss, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Kelis, Cate Blanchett and Paloma Faith. And yet he probably has Vogue fashion icon Anna Dello Russo to thank for launching him on a global scale, after she wore his cherry hat. Dame Shirley Basey wore one of his hats at Ascot (he has a stand-alone Racing Season collection this year) and the Princesses of York wore his hats as part of the Jubilee celebrations this year. Plus has has had pieces in the V&A’s ‘Hats: an Anthology by Stephen Jones’ and ShowStudio’s exhibition ‘The Café’.

The Piers Atkinson Autumn/Winter 2012 mainline collection is inspired by Beauty and the Beast, the ‘Lions and Tigers and Bears’ of Dorothy’s wilder imaginings, and the Big Bad Wolf. It celebrates the animal within, evoking razor-sharp claws, flying fur and glossy pelts.

The so-called Oh My! collection launches a few firsts from the brand: bridal, menswear and an Ascot collaboration with London Undercover. Working with illustrator Rosie Beard to develop his debut print, Piers has lined London Undercover top hats and umbrellas with a secret erotic escapade, visible only when ‘doffing ones topper’ or sheltering from an all-British racing rainstorm. Piers has also teamed up with jeweller David Morris to celebrate their 50th Anniversary. The result is a huge ruby and blood-sapphire heart-shaped hatpin and matching choker.

This season’s pieces come in a wild palette of coal black, blood red, tan and chocolate, brightening to honey and ivory for bridal. Gold-plated tiger claws, hides, faux-fur and suede mix with luxe wool pom-poms and glossy feathers, punctuated by brass and gold trims.

Styles range from Piers’s classic mini-berets - this season is in suede and adorned with bows - to furry felt trilbies. Pom-poms make a timely return, knits go from strength to strength and soft caps and pork-pie hats launch Piers’s menswear collection. This collection, retaining his signature sense of humour, is as ripe for an outing at Royal Ascot as much as the society wedding, a night at the opera or for simple, dressed-to-kill style.

The recent London Fashion Week was described as a great success for Piers and, looking ahead to Spring/Summer 2013, we will see that he has headed to Hollywood for inspiration in his ‘Director’s Cut’ collection, where hats have evocative-sounding names such as ‘Bette’ and ‘Bacall’. Expect lots of Swarovski crystals and a reincarnation of the iconic cherry headband. But the show-stopping highlight has to be a battery or mains operated neon beret. Hats off to him!

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