Sarah Cant is the rising star of millinery, her fine head-pieces toy with fluid and organic shapes which are the result of combining traditional techniques with fresh innovation. Her feminine head-pieces are delicate yet quirky and give those who adorn them – a strong look. As Course Director for the renowned HNC in Millinery at Kensington and Chelsea College, Sarah’s style has had a positive influence on the new wave of young milliners.
We were lucky to hit down with Sarah and discuss her work:
- Was training to become a milliner at Kensington and Chelsea College, always a dream?
I became a milliner by accident, really. I trained as a costume designer, and as part of that I thought some specialist skills in millinery would be useful. The more I learned about millinery, the more it took over my career plans. After 2 years at Kensington & Chelsea College, I could only see myself becoming a milliner.
- What was the most important thing you learnt working for Stephen Jones?
I learned so many specific, technical things from working at Stephen’s and also I had the opportunity to glimpse into how a big, multi-faceted fashion millinery business works. In my own development, I learned it is really important to me that the hands of the designer and the hands of the maker are the same. That was a really important lesson for me to learn early on, and has become one of the most important aspects of my work.
- How do you build inspiration?
Inspiration is usually the easy part of my job. With my collections it comes from everywhere – buildings, nature, art, etc. With a bespoke order, the inspiration comes from the client herself, from how she wants to feel on the specific occasion, and from the details of the day – the outfit, the setting, the time of year.
- How does the design process begin for a brand new collection?
I start with my sketchbook, and a glimmer of an idea for a theme. For Spring Summer 2014, I spent a lot of time looking at photographs of cities at sunset – all the glass and metal reflecting the setting sun. For Autumn Winter 2014, I was obsessed with patterns of dots and dashes – in road markings, morse code, mathematical graphs… So, the theme can be anything - as long as it sets my mind racing with ideas. From the theme, I sketch and sample and gather materials and shapes together until I have far too many. Then I sit down with all the ideas and pick the best combination of 20-25 pieces, with a good spread of size, shape and colour. Once this collection plan is put together, I make the collection.
- The fashion and commercial world are wearing millinery more often, how do you see the industry evolving over the next ten years?
It has been such a pleasure to see more and more people becoming comfortable wearing ‘proper hats’ – which is to say, more than a little feathery hair accessory. I would love to see this to carry on – to see more and more people of different ages and styles feeling comfortable wearing hats, and in doing so, bringing a little more elegance and sophistication to the world.
- As a huge name in the industry and a recognised teacher are there now young milliners you would recommend as the ones-to-watch?
I am probably very biased about upcoming milliners, as I get the pleasure of teaching so many at Kensington & Chelsea College. At the moment, I am really enjoying seeing the work of Sophie Beale, Mary Franck, and Keely Hunter develop. They are, in very different ways, making collections which are inventive and fresh, and at the same time, grounded in the most traditional millinery techniques.
- What is your favourite material to work with, and why?
If I had to chose only one material, I suppose it would be felt – I love the way it handles. It is a dream to shape and to manipulate. It can be transformed in so many ways, and it so forgiving. And, it is super easy to make stitching invisible with felt.
- When you’re creating your work, who do you envision wearing the headpieces?
I don’t imagine a specific person, but as a hat develops, I start to think about the shape of face that would suit it, or the kind of style it would go well with. I try to make pieces which will flatter a wide range of women. I want the hats to flatter the shape of the face so that the wearer feels it is a part of her. The last thing I want is for someone to feel that the hat is wearing her, rather than the other way round.