Turning heads

Turning heads
Milliner Mandy Pan's creations are inspired by UK Royal Milliner Rose Cory's classic template, and entirely forged by hand.

Blame it yet again on Kate Middleton, the relatable trendsetter who doesn't so much as break fashion rules as quietly puts her own spin on classic favourites.

Thanks to the Duchess of Cambridge, headwear has become stylish statement-makers rather than traditional accessories, fit only for royalty.

"Demand for hats has grown after the Royal Wedding," observes homegrown milliner Mandy Pan, who picked up the craft after coming across the works of Jane Taylor, the go-to milliner for the Duchess.

"Many people think that you can only wear a hat to special occasions but that's nonsense. You can wear a hat anywhere. It just depends on the hat design."

Apart from major horse-racing events such as the annual Singapore Airlines International Cup, during which eye-catching hats are usually donned, an increasing number of women are sporting loud toppers for themed parties, company dinner-and-dances, and weddings.

In fact, there are at least four locally based hat-makers who craft the accessories by hand - despite the less-than-mainstream appeal of headgear here.

"I am getting more and more customers who are placing custom orders for hats to wear to special occasions such as weddings in exotic locations," says Chee Sau Fen, who has worked for more than 15 years in the visual arts and events industries before starting her hat label Heads of State Millinery three years ago.

"Other customers are fashion leaders who usually grab our first prototypes in every collection and keep close tabs on the 'works-in-progress' photos from our sewing table which we post on our Instagram feed and our Facebook page."

The self-taught designer creates hats by sewing upcycled materials such as men's ties or abaca, a handloomed fabric that can be shaped by folds and stitches, rather than traditional hat-making methods of applying heat, moulds, glues, stiffening chemical sprays and wires to shape designs.

Ms Pan, on the other hand, picked up her more classic hat-making skills from Rose Cory, a one-time Royal Milliner in the UK. "I have lived in Australia for eight years and worked in the tourism sector. Very often, I was invited to horse-racing events such as the Spring Racing Carnival," recalls Ms Pan, who stitches and creates all the trimmings on her hats by hand.

"This was to be my first exposure to race hats and I started buying and wearing them. And when I saw (British milliner) Philip Treacy's gravity-defying hats in magazines, I was intrigued and started searching for hat pictures online."

While outre, intricately-crafted hats might be experiencing a fashion moment only now, homegrown hat-makers have been developing a love of pillboxes, fedoras and fascinators for years.

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