Grazia's 'Girl On A Bike' Horses Around at Royal Ascot!

21 June 2010

Designers may have Fashion Week twice a year, but for milliners their once-a-year day of glory is Ladies Day at Royal Ascot. From giant plumes of feathers to coral formations and elephant trunks – if it exists it can be made into hat form for this extraordinary cranial parade.

Lucky then, that I had my hat made by bright new talent Mark T Burke (apprenticed to one Philip Tracey) for my day at the races, so I was suitably capped for my meeting with the maddest hatter of them all, Stephen Jones.

Surrounded by a bevy of beauties all sporting his extraordinary creations, he told me that he used to come to Ascot every year as a teenager and drink in the fantastic hats on display. “It was my early education I suppose. Now I come and look around and so many of the hats I see are mine – it’s a very strange feeling.” Jasmine Guinness was wearing one of his pieces - a delicate frond of white flowers perched on her head, (which was inspired by Coworth Park, the Dorchester Collection’s new hotel based in Ascot) “I don’t know which is more difficult to balance with – the hat or my bump!” she said, gesturing to her six-month pregnant bump.

We were treated to a series of fashion shows throughout lunch – the Westwood girls came down the catwalk with the usual attitude, chomping apples and glaring at the audience. Guests were enjoying salmon sashimi and flowing champagne, and in between courses I took the opportunity to chat to designer of the moment Mary Katrantzou, who was also sporting a Jones creation.

Mary Katrantzou ascot

“It’s the first time I’ve ever worn an “occasion” hat,” she told me, “and it’s a Stephen Jones one! I feel like I could be in an exhibition!” Fresh from staging her own show the day before, she complemented me on my pleated wool dress before I told her that it was made by Kirsty Doyle, a classmate of ours at Saint Martins. Fashion is a very small world.

With the sun splitting the stones outside I took a quick turn around the Royal Enclosure to see if I could spot the Queen, but had to settle for a long distance shot of her heading for her box instead. Some relationships just weren’t meant to be. However I did have a little brush with Princess Anne at the parade ring later on, when she swept past me with a very polite “excuse me please”  - about as close to a royal pardon as I’ll ever get.

Later on I was lucky enough to be invited into Amanda Wakeley’s large and salubrious box. She was all a-fluster as she’d just presented a prize to horse-riding hotshot Frankie Detorri. “Everyone was telling me that he was a bit of a charmer, so when he came up to the podium I got a bit embarrassed,” she confessed. I asked her if she had any tips for the next race, but she told me she’s not a betting gal, so I had to resort to my usual tactics of betting on the horse with the cutest name. Needless to say I didn’t fare well.

All the flowing champagne and Pimm’s made for a long hazy afternoon in the sunshine, but as the crowds spread themselves out on the grassy lawns I had to do a quick change in the ladies’ toilets and bolt for a flight to Barcelona. From the sublime to the ridiculous, such is the life of a dedicated party girl…

- Alannah Sparks


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