Recently I met up with Mr Noel Stewart before his presentation in the lounge of La Maison Remy Martin, a private members club open for the month of November on Greek Street in London. After an incredible month of events in the beautiful Soho townhouse, we sat down with a cocktail and talked about architecture, loo roll and of course hats.
Noel Stewart, Milliner
What did you want to be as a wee boy? As a young child I wanted to be a painter but when I got to 12 I thought architecture was for me. I realised that it was all about straight lines and mathematics so that quickly put me off. My parents are both creative and I'd always been encourage to draw and paint so that let my mind flourish. My mother used to have an old suitcase filled with cereal packets and loo rolls that we'd dig into on rainy days to make things.
Do you think there's an architecture to hats? Totally. Weirdly I think I've become an architect of fashion and that's much more appropriate for me. There are many creative minds in my family as my brother is an architectural technologist and there are some art historians. I also recently found out my grandmother made wedding dresses too. More and more I believe that this kind of thing is in your genes. I meet many students who've never designed before but when they attempt it for the first time it comes so naturally. It always transpires that someone before them has been in the art world.
Other than buildings, what inspires your designs? Often a whole collection will be inspired by an experience. I could take a trip to China for example and the whole visual I encounter there will be the reference. It's really varied, it's never one thing.
Why hats and not clothing? I'm actually not as interested in clothing. When I started making hats in a fashion context rather than a sculptural one. The head is such an extraordinary place to accessorise as it so brashly showcases who you are and the character you want to create. My spacial awareness and desire to make beautiful things all leads back to what's on someone's head.
Do you think there's a type of person that wears hats? There's a type of person who becomes obsessed by hats and it's very much part of their identity. The worst thing to say to a milliner is "I don't suit hats" because we know that it's really because you've not found the right hat yet. A lot of it is about confidence, both the confidence to initially put on the hat and then the confidence it gives you when you wear it. It puts you into a different place.
Since you began work as a milliner 20 year ago, how has the way men wear hats changed? The designs themselves haven't changed much but the attitude towards them has. Men now appreciate the quality and see them in the same way they approach an expensive pair of shoes. Men and women shop very differently so it's less about fashion and more about high quality, craftsmanship. They want something no one else has but also not outrageous enough for people to think it's odd. It's like when a man buys a suit - he wants to know the lining it something not many others have. It's not for show, it's for them.
Many religions regard the top of the head as being close to God or a channel of energy to the universe. Is there anything spiritual wearing a hat for you? I always like to think of Native American tribes who would use head-dresses and feathers to show the connection to a greater power. There is a certain protection that a hat gives you and can allow you to be yourself. A hat sets you apart in some way, there's a reason why the Queen wears a hat every day.
Finally, leave us with some words of wisdom. With hat wearing it's all about playing. Play until something clicks and that also relates to life. When trying to find the things you love you need to play, play, play. Others may regard it as frivolous but actually I think it's critical and the doorway to happiness.
La Maison Remy Martin on Greek Street hosted events throughout November, including a style tutorial with Mr Noel Stewart himself. Go to LaMaison.RemyMartin.com/ for more information.