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
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.
“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