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

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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.

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