As world-class milliners descend upon the UAE ahead of the Dubai World Cup, Panna Munyal looks at the painstaking cra smanship that hat-making entails, and how headwear is evolving to appeal to a younger audience
As world-class milliners descend on the UAE before the Dubai World Cup, we examine how headwear has evolved
When it comes to race-day hats, sumptuous fabrics, luminous ornaments, ostentatious feathers, flowers and even fruit are all par for the course. Case in point: Princess Haya bint Al Hussein’s bespoke Philip Treacy hat with a vertical black straw design, edged with a stripe of white and trimmed with a silk rose under the raised brim, with a cluster of feathers on top, worn at the Royal Ascot races earlier this year; and Anabella Pribylova’s winning creation – a jagged wave pattern in metallic rose gold – at last year’s Dubai World Cup.
Pribylova is a milliner herself, and her hats are a regular feature at the Meydan racetrack, seen alongside the colourful creations of the hordes of other international designers who descend upon Dubai at this time of year. Horse-racing season sees milliners such as Asim-Ita Kingsley from Nigeria, Edwina Ibbotson and Lee Edmondson of Designs by Christiane, from the United Kingdom, and Australia’s Liza Georgia, displaying their wares at pop-ups and exhibitions around the emirate. Most of them are set to return for the March 31 World Cup event, joined this time around by Emily Baxendale of EmilyLondon, who is a milliner for the British royal family and also counts a number of celebrities as her clients. Baxendale was in Dubai last month to showcase her latest collection, which will be displayed at Harvey Nichols - Dubai at Mall of the Emirates until the end of March. She was also on-hand to offer styling advice for the upcoming race and to take bespoke orders.
Unlike the over-elaborate head baubles one has come to associate with Dubai’s racing set, a quick glance through Emily-London’s in-store and online collections reveals a cleaner, more classic aesthetic. “I’m a huge equestrian enthusiast, but o en at the races, the press only zoom in on hats that are more like showpieces. These aren’t necessarily representative of the general aesthetic of the time,” says Baxendale. “I think a hat should complete an outfit, without being over-the-top gaudy. To me, having feathers and beadwork and multiple colours all together would be a big no-no. It’s all personal taste, of course, but we usually design pieces we would like to wear ourselves.”
By we, Baxendale means the team of five women in her London studio, each in charge of a different aspect of the hat-making process. Everything, from the moulding of the base to the dyeing and draping of the fabric, is done by hand, as is any crystal or beadwork. Emily-London sources its handmade wooden hat moulds from Luton, the heart of hat-making in the United Kingdom, and the only “gadget” the ladies use is a simple sewing machine. In that sense, millinery seems to have retained some of the old-school workmanship that translates into individually cra ed, hand-worked pieces.