In an age where the 'It' crowd is more likely to don heeled sneakers than a simple fedora, Millennial milliner and Central Saint Martins graduate Priscilla Royer—who took over historic hat brand Maison Michel in 2015—is out to make caps cool again. The Chanel-owned label is now home to foldable sombreros and cat-eared caps, making it more Instagrammable than ever. We sit down with Royer to talk a few secrets and tips.
How did you first start getting into the business of designing hats?
It started as an opportunity that happened by chance, I didn’t look for it, but once I got the offer I was curious to explore the possibilities. I feel hat making is closer to sociology than making clothing. It’s ultimately object design, as we’re not pattern-making or garment-making. In the end, it has a lot to do with colours, shapes, fabrics and all that matters is style and the personality of the person wearing the hat.
What are some things people may not know about the art of millinery?
To make a hat you need a lot of physical strength. People at the workshop have to work hard on the material and really "earn" the hat. They have to work on the shape which gets steamed and put in the oven, and you have to nail every angle to get the proper curve. The process of hat making is fascinating.
How would you say hats have evolved over the years? Which decade do you think had the best hats?
Recently I’ve been looking at the '40s and '50s again, especially at musicians in the U.S. at that time. That era goes with my mood and what I want to explore right now. The hats over the years have adapted to the times a bit; the atelier is now willing to work on the flexibility of materials to adapt to a contemporary lifestyle. I myself have no shame shoving my favourite hats in my bag. I feel you have to really live with your hat, and the more you manipulate the hat, the more it becomes flexible and softer so that it molds into the shape of your head.
You spent some time working under Vivienne Westwood in London, how (if at all) has ready-to-wear informed your hat designs?
I feel that in a way, making hats is just a continuation of my experience making clothing. My time in ready-to-wear was like another arrow in my quiver of skills I can use. I brought a lot of eccentric influence from my time in London and when I had my own business, I had another arrow of entrepreneurship to draw from. Now, I’m applying all of that to new designs.
Do you feel that people in London wear hats differently than in Paris?
Yes, definitely. I feel Londoners are more eccentric in general, they don’t need a reason to wear hats. They have so many occasions like horses races and royal weddings to wear hats to. But in France people are a bit more shy. And in London the spectrum is very wide, there are people who go crazy with it or are very conservative
Is there such thing as a universally flattering shape?
There's no such thing because every face is different, there's an infinite number of possibilities to mix and match. A boater hat can look very different on an old man versus a younger man, for example.
Any tips on choosing the right hat for your face?
It works the same as sunglasses. Go into a shop with a lot of hats and place yourself in front of a mirror and try on as many as you can. You have fun with it and laugh and joke about it, but once you stop laughing that’s when you know you’ve found something that works for you.