Australia’s Amazing Hatmaker

Jonathan Howard hits the headlines

When the Duchess of Cambridge commissioned Jonathan Howard’s atelier, Hatmaker, to design a hat for her 2014 Royal Australian Tour, it catapulted him to even greater worldwide attention than before. Gone are the days when the word ‘milliner’ referred to an old-fashioned skill from a bygone era: some of today’s cultural heroes are defined by their hats—think Pharrell Williams, Lady Gaga, Johnny Depp, Leonard Cohen—the list goes on. Jonathan took a rare break from his hectic schedule to talk ‘big hat moments’.

Jonathan Howard hits the headlinesHow did you first get into millinery? 
Millinery started as an apprenticeship opportunity, a case of the right place at the right time—hat making was never on my radar until that moment. I immediately became obsessed with the whole process, and the endless possibilities, of making hats. 

Did you have any formal training? 
I apprenticed under milliner Neil Grigg (respected Australian milliner) for around ten years. While I was working with him I was fortunate to share the workroom table with fashion milliner Jenifer Nairn. They mentored me and encouraged experimentation, giving me confidence and knowledge. All these influences have helped hone my skills. 

Do you come from an artistic background? 
I’m the first in my family to have a creative occupation. They encouraged me. I think they’re very proud.

Do you see hats regaining their status as an essential part of the well-groomed person’s attire, despite the rise of leisurewear? 
Given the Australian weather, a hat is a practical part of everyday attire, whether it’s a casual or a dress hat, so providing a bespoke service for everyday hats is a major part of our business. The service we offer is niche and specialized, and luckily there’s demand all year round, so we’re busier than ever.

You’ve designed for the Duchess of Cambridge. Was the process enjoyable? 
Designing a hat for the Duchess of Cambridge’s Royal Australian Tour was a highlight, and certainly the most famous head I’ve dressed. The subsequent ‘Kate effect’ gave our social media a boost, introducing Hatmaker to a new audience. It was enjoyable and rewarding, and it was really nice to get a letter of thanks and appreciation. 

Do you ever collaborate on designs? 
We look forward to Fashion Week each year: collaborations are a great way to explore new directions—plus I love a project. 

How do Swarovski crystals feature in your designs? Do they appear at the sketch stage, or later? Do you have favorites that particularly lend themselves to millinery? 
Choosing crystals is such a process that I’d say they alone can dictate a design. Working with them is a new medium for me: sometimes the process has been about problem solving because of their weight, the way they’re attached, or the mix of mediums. Then there are hats where the crystals have become part of the trim, as a final flourish. I’m enjoying the technique we use to incorporate cup chain crystals in creating our star headpieces—it allows for limitless shapes and drama. When I’m working with crystals, it’s important to keep it ‘millinery’ and not let it become ‘head jewelry’. 

Give us an idea of styles, themes and shapes for Spring/Summer 2016. 
The smaller headpiece/headband has become a replacement for the fascinator, and I believe it’s the perfect opportunity to incorporate Swarovski crystals into designs. We’ll definitely be seeing this trend in 2016 and 2017. Also, sparkle is becoming more daytime—the girls are loving Swarovski this year! Sparkle and shine! 

Do you find it easy to switch off? 
Well, the last two nights have been filled with millinery dreams. There’s no let-up at the moment. I’ll switch off when I go on holiday, which I get to do a couple of times a year. Recently I went on a ten-day yoga retreat in Bali where I switched off completely. Heaven! 

Any remaining ambitions still to fulfill? 
Nothing to do with hats: the next dream to fulfill is a beautiful country property, vegetable gardens, chickens, a handmade cottage, a little stream close by… I haven’t thought about this much, haha.