‘Crowning Glory’

by Claire Aldridge for Round and About Magazine, March 2018.

Spring is the time of year for new beginnings. Forget about New Year’s guilt-laden resolutions, spring brings a more balanced and optimistic frame of mind. Wedding invitations have usually been received, holidays are planned and life seems to get better day by day with the improving weather. This is the time to feel emboldened. Whether you are the bride, a wedding guest or attending Ascot’s world-renowned Ladies’ Day, there is something wonderful about the feeling we get wearing the perfect occasion wear and accompanying head wear.

The process of choosing a hat can be as stressful for some as it is joyous for others. Apart from stretching our woolly pom-poms on with hair-flattening disregard through the winter months, we generally have very little experience with head wear. Many of us can often be found scrabbling around at the last minute trying manically to decide how to “finish off” our outfits; do we match or contrast? We’ve all done it; finding the perfect dress, then (not knowing whether to commit to a fully brimmed hat), ending up with a so called “fascinator” from the high street consisting of a sad bit of net and a feather on a headband. These can be to head wear, like a limp lettuce leaf is to a salad; underwhelming and largely pointless. 2018 is the year to get serious about hats. It’s time for change, it’s time to plan better, because we deserve better than to adorn our bodies with ill- considered afterthoughts. Our head wear is, after all, the first thing people see of our outfits. So, why not this time start with your hat? And there is no need to be intimidated by trying to find the right style. There are headpieces of all varieties and styles to suit everyone... especially if you know where to look.

There is a new milliner bursting on to the scene, who seems to provide everything we could hope for when choosing our hats. Having been impressed with her gorgeous creations showcased on social media, I went to see Immy Howard, who live sin Botley in Oxford, to find out whether perhaps she could be the answer to all our hat needs, or if she was perhaps too good to be true. Immy Howard provides a bespoke hat-making service. She uses high-quality materials and traditional millinery methods, while her eye for fashion design is contemporary and above all, creative. Every item she produces is unique and represents a refreshing change from the generic styles we have become so familiar with. Sensing my apparent bias against “fascinators”, Immy urged me to leave behind my pre-conceptions of the terms we might usually use; “hats”, “crowns” ‘hatinators’. I was thrilled by the bountiful samples and ideas that blur these lines and nestle against each other in her rich and inspiring work space. Immy’s design ethos is to work with the client to create something ideal for that person. Just as any good hair or clothes stylist, she can allow her dynamic creativity to influence the result and still fulfil the brief; sometimes we think we want one thing, until we see the right thing. She approaches consultations informally but with sensitivity and professionalism, and her delightful personality, is reassuring. Although Immy can’t always be involved in planning the whole outfit from the start (preferred for bridal head pieces), she offers a colour-matching service for those who have already chosen their clothes, and like to be shade-perfect for an immaculate presentation. The satisfaction that comes from seeing an idea through from concept to product seems to be what motivates Immy, and between bespoke orders, she squeezes in time for creating and innovating. She has made everything from ornate Alice in Wonderland tea-cup headpieces, to crystal crowns and pin-up influenced pill-boxes. Inspired by fantasy, architecture and literature, there are no bounds to her creativity.

I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the beginnings of Immy’s summer collection, focusing on structured florals and opulent silks; think luxury flower fairies and gilded roses; a treat for the senses! Flamboyant or restrained, wacky or refined, Immy’s “no request is too odd’ attitude shines through in her personal service. However, her most exceptional USP has to be her unrivalled pricing. These headpieces retail at prices comparable to the mainstream high street stores, even though you get so much more: personal service, style advice, bespoke design, unique outcomes, colour-matching, quality and beauty. If you want extra value for money, Immy’s stock styles are available to hire. Immy Howard’s star is rising and I anticipate we will be coveting her one-off creations in years to come, so if you want to embrace the spirit of celebration for an upcoming occasion, I recommend you book in before she’s booked up!

You can contact Immy for an informal consultation or with queries. Email immyhowardmillinery@gmail.com or search Immy Howard Millinery on Facebook and @immyhmillinery on Instagram.