Dress for the Races

TOAST Talks Millinery with the UK's top designers Bundle MacLaren

As racing season nears, The UK’s best milliners are busy designing stylish headwear to ensure their clients are race-ready. TOAST talks taffeta and trimmings with Bundle MacLaren.

Recently, students of Conde Nast’s fashion college went head-to-head in a crucial sartorial debate – is millinery a dying art? Visit Bundle MacLaren’s (BML) west London studio in the lead up to this week’s Cheltenham Festival or later this month Ascot, and you’ll have your answer.

Growing by 50% and, with a number of high-profile clients on its books, including Pippa Middleton and Clare Balding, BML’s hats are flying off the shelves. They’re also increasingly in demand overseas – the company’s stylish creations have been spotted on immaculately coiffed heads at the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup.

“Our customer base isn’t ageing – every year we see a whole new set of ladies, whose friends are starting to get married,” says co-owner Ellie Fennell. 

In fact, it was a dearth of smart yet affordable headwear for the wedding circuit that led Bundle MacLaren to pursue a career in millinery. Following an internship with Gina Foster, MacLaren set up a stall in Portobello Market in 2009. Word of her talent spread quickly  and she was commissioned to make several hats for the Royal Wedding. Two years ago, MacLaren, Ellie and their team moved production from MacLaren’s house to a showroom in Fulham. Orders for racing and weddings are coming in thick and fast – March to July is BML’s busiest period. So, what’s the secret to their success?

“Our USP is all of our hats can be done in any colour combination,” explains Ellie. “We’re very flexible with designs, too. Often a client might say, ‘I love that butterfly – can we put it on this hat?’ It’s rare any two hats are the same.” Affordable luxury is also high on the agenda. These artistes spend hours trawling Soho’s cavernous fabric shops for British-made materials and trimmings to create beautiful headwear for as £132.

Waverley Lydia And Ember Bundle Maclaren Millinery

(Images: Waverly, Lydia and Ember Bundle MacLaren Millinery Designs)

Victoria Susannah And Penny Bundle Maclaren Millinery Styles 1900X1000

(Images: Victoria, Susannah and Penny Bundle MacLaren Designs)

There are 120 ready-to-wear designs to choose from. You can order online or pop into the studio to experiment with different styles. But the commissions the team enjoy most, says Ellie, are the “slightly more bonkers ones. We’ve done everything from a gilded birdcage to a ship sailing through the sea. At the moment, we’re working on an amazing Great Gatsby piece and an incredible replica of a 1960s hat a client’s mother wore to a wedding.” These more involved designs can take up to five months to put together. Less elaborate concepts are typically available in around 2-4 weeks, with ready-to-wear hats delivered the next day, if in stock.

At this time of year, however, it’s all about standing out. “Racing fashion tends to be quite bold.” Expect to see a lot of florals on show – Dior is doing some beautiful headpieces” – with tribal and ethic motifs also trending. For the less daring, but equally style conscious, there are plenty of low-key offerings. “One of our bestsellers is Willow, a beautiful, simple saucer shape with a large silk flower on the underside. You wear it at a steep angle on the head. I’ve yet to find a client who doesn’t look great in that. It got Gok Wan’s look of the day at Ascot one year.”

Off-the-wall or understated – just how do you go about choosing the hat that’s right for you? Ellie advises make sure the brim isn’t wider than your shoulders – “you’ll look swamped”. In terms of colour, think tonally rather than attempting to match your headwear with your outfit.

“You have to be careful around patterns in hats. If you’re wearing a patterned dress you don’t want to put lots of lace and flowers in your hat. If you’ve got a block colour dress you can use your hat to bring in detail – butterflies, handmade silk flowers, feathers etc. You know how you either show off your legs or your boobs? It’s the same with hats. Either let your headwear do the talking and keep your outfit minimal and chic, or go for a bold dress and subtle on top.”

Once you’ve settled on your design, wear it for a few hours at home to the weight and feel, says Ellie. You’ll also be able to iron out any glitches with the angle.

Dahlia Autumn And Laura Bundle Maclaren Millinery Designs

(Images: Bundle MacLaren's Dahlia, Autumn and Laura Bundle Designs) 

But what if you’re simply not a hat person? Are you destined never to catch a glimpse of the queen in the Royal Enclosure?“It’s funny how many people come to us saying they hate hats and are only coming to use because they have an event coming up that requires one. We’ve never failed to find something that works.” 

Complete The Look

Open for Vintage director and co-founder Sarah Byrne has put together a selection of outfits guaranteed to turns heads at the races

  • More cover is key, as you don’t know what the weather will be like
  • Length can be an issue, especially for the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, so keep it modest
  • Patterns and bright colours tend to look amazing in photos, not to mention you’re more likely to end up on the podium for best dressed
  • If your budget is tight, invest in one key piece – the dress, the hat or a great clutch bag that will serve you time and again
  • Each of the racing looks I have chosen will translate perfectly into wedding outfits to give you value per wear

For more information on Bundle MacLaren Millinery and to get in touch with them for your own bespoke head piece, take a look at their profile in our Little Black Book


Posted in Spotlight

by Alix O'Neill
on on 13 March 2017


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