Vintage glamour is never old hat, says Laura Cathcart, Londons most exciting up and coming milliner. Chloe Barrow talks to her
Vintage glamour is never old hat, says Laura Cathcart, London’s most exciting up and coming milliner. Chloe Barrow talks to her
TUCKED BETWEEN FULHAM and New King’s Road, the newly established Laura Cathcart Millinery is ideally placed to draw in the right sort of crowd. I’m greeted on Edith Grove by a tall, slender young lady with a warm smile and easy charm. Laura guides me through another basement office and up some steps to a small cove-like studio. An array of beautifully designed and handcrafted heady creations line the slim walls of this modest space and, looking around, it occurs to me that this new girl on the millinery scene will most likely be able to upgrade her cramped headquarters before too long.
The daughter of the 7th Earl of Cathcart, who is a working peer in the Lords, and accomplished interior designer Vivien Greenock, Laura, 27, enjoys nothing more than rolling up her sleeves and getting hands-on when it comes to her work.
‘Physically making the hats as well as coming up with the designs is very important for me. I enjoy the entire process, creating something from scratch. Just designing something on paper would not be enough for me,’ she says.
Indeed, even if she achieves her goal of trading in her little den for a more glamorous, roadside boutique and studio, she is unwilling to lose touch with the basic essence of her craft, which so often eludes designers as the sales begin mounting. Laura prides herself on her bespoke service which allows all her products to be supremely personal as well as pretty.
‘People come in, I get all the fabrics out and we create something new together. I love the spontaneity of the bespoke process and my clients benefit from feeling as though they’ve had some input in the design of their new hat.’
After finishing her schooling at Stowe School, Laura chose not to go onto university, and instead went straight into work after completing an art foundation course at City and Guilds in London. She began her career, like her mother, working at George Spencer, followed by a stint in the Mayfair decorating shop of Colefax and Fowler, which she enjoyed ‘apart from all the admin’.
During this time, she began making hats as an after-hours hobby, which provided an output for her creativity while working for big companies. ‘I loved wearing hats and thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to make hats for myself?” Then friends started asking if they could borrow them and couldn’t believe that I’d made them myself. That’s when I decided to start taking it a bit more seriously,’ she said. ‘I could never decide between interior design and fashion – I suppose millinery was a happy medium.’
Laura Cathcart’s D’Artagnan hat
Laura then plunged herself into the world of hats, attending evening classes at the London College of Fashion, where she learned the basic skills of the trade, followed by an apprenticeship with Gina Foster with whom she still works two days a week.
Millinery is very technique-based and much of it is learnt on the job, according to Laura. ‘Once you know the tricks of the trade you can get going and then you can start getting more ambitious with the designs,’ she says.
However, although being a big fan of US-based Russian milliner Anya Caliendo, who produces ‘wacky, mad, wonderful and beautifully-made’ hats, she prefers to create styles that are essentially wearable. ‘My designs emanate a ladylike elegance and many of my hats are inspired by vintage styles. I use soft lines, rather than aggressive features, which suit a lot of people and are more flattering to the feminine face,’ she said. ‘Ultimately, I don’t want to scare people off!’
NOW ON HER third collection, Laura’s bestsellers include her large-brimmed, slanted creations that are delicately perched on a hair band, such as the ornate Lacy Tracy. These, she says, appeal to all ages, as while being more contemporary than the traditional crown and brim style, they still provide a classic wide-brimmed effect.
‘At the end of the day, people don’t want to look like their grandmas, so while my designs are relatively classical, I always keep them up-to-date. I’m fairly practical in my approach too; for instance, one of the best things about these particular hats is that when you take it off for dinner, you don’t get that line on your head.’
Also among Laura’s most popular head pieces is the enchanting Betty Boo, which consists of a simple slanted disc adorned with a sprig of flowers and – for some serious old-school glamour – featuring an overhanging net.
‘This creation is similar to the fascinator, a sort of modern take on a pillbox. I often encourage those clients who are travelling any distance to opt for one of these – provided they are happy with the style – as it’s obviously more lightweight and takes up less room than the wide-brimmed varieties,’ she says.
Her bestseller for Ascot this year was the Isabella, which is simple yet fun and positively oozes feminine charm. This popular choice of head piece, which boasts a splendid cream rose sprouting curly streamers over a slanted disc, speaks volumes about contemporary millinery design.
At just £150, it is also highly affordable, a point that is important to Laura since she caters as much to the young as to older clients. ‘People my age can’t afford extremely high-end millinery, so I like to keep them as affordable as possible – after all, if you out-price your customers, nobody will buy them.’
Also fast-gaining in popularity is her vintage-style Cloche, which Laura imagines could be due to the hype around World War I period drama Downton Abbey, in which the female characters wear similarly bell-shaped head gear.
And, of course, her suede felt D’Artagnan, featuring a pronounced plume – which, you guessed it, resembles a Musketeer-style chapeau – is again wonderfully old-meets-new. Laura’s signature creation is a simple, silk velvet beret, which she professes to practically living in while pottering about day-to-day.
THIS MARRIAGE OF old-fashioned glamour with modern-day edge seems to define Laura’s quickly evolving style. ‘I like incorporating pretty and intricate details, combining different materials and fixtures such as beaded lace, pompoms and pearls. It’s rather old-fashioned, but rather fun. I like to make my hats wearable but also enjoy experimenting with the details,’ she says. ‘One of my favourite features is the loose lace discs on the Tommy, which create a sense of movement as they blow in the wind.’
However, true to her bespoke philosophy, Laura maintains that she creates her designs according to the various desires and requirements of her clients. Indeed, often when people come to her with a certain hat in mind, they walk away with something entirely different. ‘My collections are a great representation of my work, but they don’t define what I do. Many of my hats are customised or altered according to the individual for a more personal touch.’
And she certainly seems prepared for a broad range of requests. Looking around, all manner of different fabrics are spilling out of drawers and covering surface tops – as much, one imagines, as she can humanly fit into her little studio. ‘I just love going around fabric stores. For me, that’s better than shopping for clothes.’
She muses that this passion is largely down to her interior decorating background and, of course, inspired by her mother. Reflecting back to her childhood, where she divided her time between the family home, Gateley Hall in Norfolk, and their London pad in Pimlico, she recalls how her mother tested her to see if she had ‘the eye’.
‘She would ask me which colour cloth we should put on the table. I would reply something like, ‘red, because it matches the man’s military jacket in the painting just above it’.’
So, encouraged from a young age by her creative mother, Laura Cathcart has gone on to develop a talent that is very much her own and, providing a young energy to one of England’s oldest and finest of crafts, she is surely one to watch.
Priced between £150-£300, one of Laura’s ultra chic bespoke hats would make the perfect Christmas present: order one now before she gets signed up by a French couture house and her prices rocket. Her unisex suede shooting hats will also be de rigueur in the killing fields of Wiltshire this year.