Thursday, January 13, 2011

Holly's Hats

A Cornish fashion student using her grandfather's feathers to make hats

“'Hello, I'm Holly and I make hats,” Holly Young said to the bespoke milliner Justin Smith when he came into the fabric shop she worked at in Soho. “If you want any help here's my number.'” She smiles. “Then I went went bright red! But a week or so later he phoned me up - you have to do it. I worked for him during busy times on and off for about 2 years.” Determination to succeed is vital in business nowadays, and Holly clearly possesses not just a quiet perseverance, but great talent.

Holly, now 26, studied Costume Design for the Performing Arts at the London College of Fashion. “I was wavering into fashion but I didn't know what I wanted to specialise in,” she says. “Costume Design is very heavily on the making as well as design, whereas Fashion you can pay people to make your final collection for you. With fashion you get marked on design and research whereas costume you get marked on technique and sewing ability. It was quite a tough course.”

Holly has worked with Kneehigh Theatre, English National Opera and English National Ballet. “English National Opera was in my 2nd year at uni after I'd done a course in millinery. I worked in the hat department and it was so much fun. I just loved it more than making costumes and I found it easy which helps. It's sculptural as well.”

Holly, from Devoran, graduated in 2006 but found life in London difficult. “I found it really hard to find time to do my own thing because you have to work all the time to pay the rent.” She came back to Cornwall in 2009 and now has a workshop in The Old Bakery in Truro. “I wasn't intending to stay down here but because I've met so many helpful people I've decided to stay - there are loads of creative things happening here.”

Setting up in business was a gamble for Holly but “it's what I've always wanted to do so in a way I feel there wasn't a choice,” she says simply. “It was accumulative – one thing led to another and everything's been positive along the way so I'm keeping going.”

According to Holly's mother, she has always loved hats. Holly laughs. “I always used to wear them when I was younger. I loved dressing up and wearing slightly unusual things, but I don't tend to wear hats that much myself - I just really enjoy making them.”

Holly is quietly spoken, but her huge eyes light up when she talks about her work. “What I love about making hats is that each one can be totally different, and you can make one in a day rather than a dress which might take 5 days,” she explains. “It's quite satisfying because it's relatively instant - the finishing touches take the longest time.”

People are defined by their hats, as Holly explains: “If you wear a hat that's what people always notice because it's at eye level. You could be wearing jeans and a plain top but put a hat on and you look dressed up.” Holly smiles. “That's what I did for a book launch on Friday.”

I was confused about when is a hat not a hat. Holly picks up a chic red felt number, with a beautiful ornate hat pin stuck through the rim at a jaunty angle. “I call them hats but really they're accessories. In my mind a hat has its own shape like this one. A fascinator is either on a band or clip or elastic. Fascinator tends to be a little thing on the side of your head and more fancy.”

Holly's hats are quite unique, a point she is rightly proud of. “There's nobody in Cornwall doing quite the same thing,” she says. “My stuff is quite fashionable with a quirky twist and because I've been lucky enough to have very good training, everything is as high quality as possible and hand stitched.” She shows me a piece of intricate stitching. “My commissions mean I can make something that matches people's taste. I really, really enjoy doing stuff that makes people happy. ” She sits back and sips her tea. “A lot of commissions are very different from stuff I've designed myself. I enjoy that because the design has come from the customer.”

Since returning to Cornwall, Holly has attended various courses which have helped her tremendously. “The Princes Trust course gave me a grant of £250 which funded several hats and all the material, and the Empowering Smart Women course run by Truro College was heavily subsidised,” she adds. “There were times when I thought 'I can't do this,' but the support from those courses made me realise I could. I hope I will be inspiring to other young people of Cornwall and prove that you don't have to leave the county to be successful.”

Most of Holly's work is for special occasions and weddings, but she has started selling hats in Opium in Truro and a specialised vintage boutique in Brighton. “Charging varies from £60 for a simple fascinator or for a full-on hat a commission would be £250-300 depending on how long it took me – the average price is about £100,” says Holly. “Hats make people look and feel special. It's quite a simple way of making your outfit look more expensive.”

An unexpected legacy came to Holly from her family. “I inherited a box of all kinds of feathers from my grandfather – he collected them to make flies for fishing. I wouldn't look for feathers for ethical reasons but these have come to me just at the right time.” Never one to turn down an opportunity, Holly has used the feathers in several of her hats, to stunning effect. “I'm sure grandad would be pleased that they're being put to a good use. It ties in nicely with the whole vintage fashion thing at the moment.”

Looking to the future, Holly says, “I'd really love to have my own boutique selling hats and fashion.” But for now she is happy in her workshop in Truro, turning out these eye-catching, witty hats. She looks up and smiles. I've learned that everyone can do whatever they want if they're determined enough.”

The Old Bakery, Blewetts Warf, Malpas Road, Truro, Cornwall TR1 1QH
Open Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Sat and Sundays.
Ring 07968 783320 – appointments recommended

Cornwall Today January 2011

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