A Q&A with Adrian Phillip Howard
In-House Milliner at Fortnum & Mason
On the Second Floor of our Piccadilly Store - between the sweet-smelling perfumery and dazzling accessories departments - sits a large wooden desk with a Singer sewing machine atop it, flanked by rows of hats. This is the home of Adrian Phillip Howard - our in-house milliner who has had an in-house studio at Fortnum's since 2009.
Highly regarded for his fantastical and elegant creations – and with customers all over the world – Adrian finds summer his busiest time of year, thanks to the arrival of race days and wedding season.
Each year, he produces one unique design in ode to the magnificent, and often surreal, show of headwear on Ladies’ Day at Royal Ascot – from a 'pasta hat' complete with a gingham table cloth, to a seafood platter with lobster trim – with this year's creation (more on that below) selling mere days after it was finished.
What inspired you to make your first hat?
I have always been interested in art and design and millinery seemed to find me, in a way. I started creating lots of different things like cushions, tea cosies and hats, but it was making hats that gave me the greatest satisfaction. Putting the right hat on a lady’s head is like framing a beautiful picture - it gives me a fabulous sense of pride that I have made a contribution. The hat is the crowning glory of any outfit!
How would you describe your hats?
Classic but with my own twist.
Who in millinery (or outside of it) inspires your work?
I am inspired by many things and many people. My other love is gardening which throws out such magnificent contrasts in colour and structural forms to fill my head with ideas.
There are many milliners whom I admire. I did my apprenticeship with Phillip Somerville - Royal Milliner to Her Majesty the Queen - and was taught good old fashioned traditional millinery methods, which has been invaluable to me. He was also a great man and dear friend whose advice will live with me forever. I have also had the honour of working with Stephen Jones who really is a milliner like no other. Nobody out there has ever created and thought in the same way Stephen has; he remains the most original and respected face in millinery for me after all these years.
What was the inspiration and story behind your burger hat for Royal Ascot?
I make one ‘off the wall’ hat every year. This is a nod to the great milliner David Shilling who was renowned for his outlandish Ascot creations, that his mother modelled at Ladies' Day. This year I made a cheese burger on a napkin brim. It was made of sinamay (a light fabric woven from the processed stalks of the abaca tree, a banana palm native to the Philippines that is three times stronger than cotton or silk)
with vintage Swarovski crystals on the lettuce leaves and cheese. It ironically sold to an American lady and was shipped by Fortnum's to the U.S. for the Kentucky Derby. I guess it went home.
Is there such a thing as a hat faux pas?
Hat faux pas? Wearing a hat grander and more elegant than the Mother of the Bride or trying to get into the Royal Enclosure in a fascinator.
What’s the story behind you working at Fortnum’s?
I came to Fortnum's shortly after Philip Somerville closed down. It was a small shop in Marylebone. Stella Maclaren, who I worked under, went to Buckingham Palace where she still works as Her Majesty’s private milliner and I came to Fortnum's. It’s good because we are still neighbours and great buddies.
What’s your favourite design you’ve ever made?
My favourite Fortnum's hat was a miniature shoe I made in F&M colours. Made of straw and appliqued lace with Swarovski crystals and hand-made flowers.
Find Adrian on the Second Floor of our Piccadilly Store between 10am - 5.30pm every Tuesday and Thursday.
To book an appointment please speak to staff in store or call Customer Services on +44 (0)20 7734 8040.