Monday, March 22, 2010

A decidedly non-mad hatter

Ever wondered who actually makes the beautiful hats and headpieces that the rich and famous (and sometimes we ordinary people) wear to races and formal events? Well, they’re called hatters and they’re generally not mad. In celebration of the recent release of the film Alice in Wonderland I would therefore like to introduce you to Johanna Guerin, who got into millinery out of sheer curiosity and has been doing it for almost 12 years. Her creations have been worn at world-class events like the Dubai World Cup and Royal Ascot, and her experience shows in her beautiful, meticulous designs:

Johanna, who is your average client? 
Brides, wedding guests, race goers.

Have you had any famous clients?
All of my clients are famous when they’re wearing my hats! But seriously, apart from Tara Moss and numerous local TV personalities, none that I'm aware of. [For those of us not from Oz, Tara Moss is a Canadian-Australian author and former model.]

When and why should one wear a hat?
Whenever you feel like it, whether you’re vacuuming the carpets (it makes a typically mundane exercise just that little more fun) or attending a gala event. Hats/headpieces not only finish an outfit, they can also suggest the importance of an occasion and indicate the effort the wearer has extended as a mark of respect to a particular occasion. Like any element of fashion, hats/headpieces are also a form of self expression.

Which styles are popular at the moment?
I have a tendancy not to take too much notice. If I’m making a hat for a client, it's all about them – what they are wearing and what suits them. If I’m making a hat for stock, it’s all about my own creative style.

If I buy just one hat in my lifetime, what should it look like?
I think a hat should in some way reflect its wearer. We all feel differently from one day to the next, and change in small ways over time. Therefore you can’t buy just one hat!

What inspires you?
Texture, colour, music, theatre, costume, anything 1920s/30s/40s, the circus, my daughter, dancing, the clouds, etc.

How long does it take to make a really good hat?
I would allow a couple of days, assuming I’ve got nothing else to be doing. In saying that, if you are going to have a hat made, give your milliner the courtesy of 4 weeks’ notice.

Any advice on buying accessories in general? 
Accessories are a great, easy way to add an element of current fashion to timeless style. They are the final touch to a look, binding all elements together. I’m a big fan of mixing textures and tones. As I’ve said, I also believe accessories in general should reflect the personality of the wearer. There is no point in wearing something that makes you feel uncomfortable whether it be because of a bad fit or simply because it’s not your style. Wear what makes you feel good and what makes you smile.   

Johanna caters for clients worldwide and her hat prices range from $100 to $500 (R700 – R3500). Get in touch with her by visiting her website or sending her an e-mail
And if you get a move on, your creation will still be in time for the Vodacom Durban July, which takes place at Greyville Racecourse on 31 July 2010.

Aren't these absolutely magnificent? I found it exceptionally hard to choose my favourites from her website gallery, but I managed to narrow it down to eight, and if I really REALLY have to choose just one it would be the scarlet one at the bottom left, above. Vaudeville meets Phantom of the Opera! 

Which is your favourite? Will you be attending any races or weddings this year? Planning to wear a hat? Let us know!


  1. Oh wow, makes me want to rush out and buy one now. My daughter is having her 4th birthday (a princess party what else) on Saturday and a hat would be fantastic. I have this awesome wide brim hat made from one continuous piece of ribbon sewn together, I wear it to Kirstenbosch all the time, it rocks!! I must say that living as close to the race course here in Kenilworth does help to make me feel that every day is a race day, but I've never bought a hat from any where else than Woolies.... that is sad, I know. My daughter is a hat freek. For her wedding, we will all wear hats!!!! Thanks for an awesome blog.

    1. It's never too late, Grace! :) Cheers, Johanna

  2. Wow, these hats are beautiful! People should wear more hats! What i wouldn't do to be back in the 40's and wear hats with anything, or the 30's or the 20's...!!I wouldn't mind to attend something where i can wear a hat either!Mad-hatter high-tea anyone?

    1. I'll come to a high tea! :) Thanks for your kind words. Johanna

  3. It is like a hat of art... i find it terribly sad that hats are not worn as much as they use to be. I mean just a few years back you HAD to wear a had when you went out.


    1. How is the hat wearing going for you?? Cheers, JJohanna

  4. You know what, I think Grace should invite us all to her daughter's wedding (eventually!) and then we can all wear hats! Or we should organise a mass visit to the next J&B Met.

    1. My sister in law stumbled across this article from so long ago! Thank was lovely to revisit :)