Jewel on the crown

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Yorkshire milliner Claire Spooner creates bespoke hats and headgear. She talks to Stephanie Smith about why hats are back in fashion and finding fans of all ages.

The Duchess of Cambridge is a bit of a quaintrelle, on the quiet. Lady Gaga is most definitely a quaintrelle, although there’s nothing quiet about it, while Beyoncé and Paris Hilton also have the air of the quaintrelle about them.

Lily la Belle and Claire Spooner

Lily la Belle and Claire Spooner

A 19th-century word that has slipped from usage, when Claire Spooner chanced upon it, she decided to adopt it as the the perfect name for her millinery business.

“A quaintrelle is the female equivalent of a dandy, so it’s someone who is very concerned about how they look,” she says. “Also the etymology of the word has links to textiles and sewing – a good piece of sewing.”

Thanks in part to fashionistas Gaga, Paris Hilton, Beyoncé and Kate Middleton, hats and headgear are enjoying a revival among all age groups, becoming more statement, more popular – and a darned sight more enjoyable. The move to staging weddings outside of church has also had an impact, says Claire. “People are having a bit more fun with it and are bit more relaxed about their headgear. Plus I have seen more money going into ladies’ days at the races.

“It’s a generation thing as well. My mum loves hats but saw her mum wearing them all the time, feeling very much that you had to, so she wouldn’t so much. For people my age, it’s discovering a new accessory.”

It’s three years since Claire opened her millinery studio in the King Street Workshops in Pateley Bridge. She grew up in Bedale and did a degree in Fine Art at Chester, then worked in a number of fields, including as an administrator for an auctioneer.

“I have always had textiles running as a theme in the background, doing little projects for myself,” she says. “Then I did a day’s hat-blocking course with my mum, using wooden hat blocks – really traditional methods; it’s not changed for 200 years. Something clicked.”

Claire, now 34, decided to retrain, joining Leeds College of Art and Design to do an HNC in Millinery. “I knew straight away that millinery was it. It’s very sculptural – you’re doing something three-dimensional, and all my fine art training and background came into its own then.”

She uses a mixture of contemporary and traditional materials, often sourcing antique and vintage fabrics and trimmings.

“Saucer styles are very popular at the moment, especially with mothers of brides,” she says. “It’s not something that is fitting the crown, so you are not conscious of it in the same way. It’s off your face more, which is better for photographs.

“I have been asked for lots of Twenties’ things since The Artist, soft cloche hats.”

The hats are all one-off and bespoke. “It’s a real experience for people to come and have something made from scratch,” she says. Sometimes people bring me in pieces of fabric or lace, or maybe a brooch – something that is theirs, and we then incorporate it into the design, and it makes it really personal.”

And, says Claire, there’s nothing quite like a hat for creating a stand-out outfit. “It’s like discovering a new toy. It’s not quite on the same scale as bags and shoes, but if you’ve got the occasion, it really makes a difference to your outfit.”

Twitter: @yorkshirefashQ

Claire’s cocktail hats start at about £130, while formal brim hats range from £160 to £250. For for information see or call 01423 714893.