Wednesday…with Lock & Co

March 30, 2016

Filed Under : Art - collaborations - colour - London - My St James - Spring - trips

Photo 30-03-2016, 12 32 38Last week I was invited to Lock & Co Hatters in St James’s, London for part of the #mystjames project and which turned out to be a wonderful and unforgettable afternoon…Photo 22-03-2016, 13 56 30

Visiting Lock & Co., the oldest hat shop in the world, established in 1676, and which is still a family run business, is like visiting a museum intertwined with a gallery. The women’s couture hats, designed by Sylvia Fletcher, are such beautiful works of art, that you really can’t say that this is just a hat shop…Lock and Co. is a glorious world of traditional hat making, history and beauty, and also where the bowler, or ‘Coke’ hat was born…

The shop front on St James’s St has one of the oldest shop doors in London, which once opened enters you into a small, quiet and quite unassuming room, surrounded by hats and an extremely old grandfather clock…
Photo 18-03-2016, 16 22 07Photo 01-03-2016, 12 33 02There are 2 small corridors lined with hat boxes and then tweed caps…Photo 18-03-2016, 15 00 15 Photo 18-03-2016, 14 58 06…and which lead to the back room, where you discover some of the history of the shop and also where you can see some of the head shapes of prestigious customers from Winston Churchill and Roosevelt, to Jackie Onassis and Tracy Emin…as well as Admiral Nelson and his famous hat which was made there.Photo 18-03-2016, 14 49 16 ( a purple background denotes a Royal customer, red are politicians, yellow are sportsmen, green are the armed forces and the others are simply very prominent people! )Photo 18-03-2016, 14 51 39 All head shapes are very different, so to get an absolutely perfect fit for hard hats, Lock and Co still use the conformateur which was invented in 1852, and it’s from this device that these paper head shapes are made…Photo 18-03-2016, 14 59 10 …and stored alphabetically in drawers in the workshop.Photo 18-03-2016, 14 57 20When I was taken through a small, ‘Private’ door, it felt like I was going backstage at the theatre…this was the place where hard hat magic happens; just behind a door and right in the heart of the shop.

I think we’ve generally come to accept that most of our clothing and accessories, or at least many of their components, are now made all over the world, so to see hats being made in a very traditional and long standing way, only minutes away from Piccadilly Circus is really wonderful…Photo 18-03-2016, 14 53 16 Photo 18-03-2016, 14 56 23Photo 18-03-2016, 14 53 41Photo 18-03-2016, 15 01 22The shop building itself was a coffee house and Tavern with lodging rooms at the back before James Lock  took it over in 1765, and the original staircase is incredible…it’s known as a ‘coffin staircase’ because back in the 1600’s lodgings were often up many flights of stairs which were not only so steep and narrow that it made it impossible for a coffin to be removed from an upstairs room, but also you would be charged accordingly on how many floors the coffin had to travel down, so this staircase was built to fit coffins; lowering them down to ground level through the central space shaped like a coffin, avoiding any stairs. The space is actually really small which is a reminder of how much we’ve grown over 400 years!

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…and once up this staircase and on the first floor, I was basically in couture hat heaven!

I don’t think I’d realised how much I actually truly love hats; how much I want to wear them, and rather mourn their absence in general daily life. I’ve always been in awe of designs by Irene in films like Easter Parade, and stepping into a room full of Sylvia Fletcher hats felt a bit like I was in vintage Hollywood…
Photo 18-03-2016, 15 56 19Photo 18-03-2016, 15 42 27 Photo 18-03-2016, 15 31 51 Photo 18-03-2016, 15 58 22Photo 18-03-2016, 15 40 14 I’m not really a selfie person, but these hats just made me SO happy!!Photo 18-03-2016, 15 43 49 Photo 18-03-2016, 15 48 01 Photo 18-03-2016, 16 00 46 Photo 18-03-2016, 15 46 31 Photo 18-03-2016, 15 59 36 (1) Photo 18-03-2016, 15 44 43 Photo 18-03-2016, 16 07 39 Photo 18-03-2016, 16 09 29 pink without the labelPhoto 18-03-2016, 16 11 58I could have stayed in that room for hours…it was such a lovely experience, and I was incredibly lucky to have both Sue Simpson and Ruth Ravenscroft arranging and re-arranging hats on the mantlepiece for me to photograph…

Ruth then took me to the workshop at the top of the building where these hats are made…Photo 18-03-2016, 16 19 01Photo 18-03-2016, 16 18 22Again it was like entering a theatrical and magical world of felt, feather and ribbons…Photo 18-03-2016, 16 15 03 Photo 18-03-2016, 16 15 30 Photo 18-03-2016, 16 14 00 Photo 18-03-2016, 16 14 15 Photo 18-03-2016, 16 14 52 (1) Photo 18-03-2016, 16 13 04 Photo 18-03-2016, 16 16 45and even the dying room was wonderful…Photo 18-03-2016, 16 17 38 Photo 18-03-2016, 16 17 04…particularly this Dickensian London view!Photo 18-03-2016, 16 17 19 (1)I left Lock and Co with a massive smile on my face and a deep determination to acquire one of Sylvia Fletcher’s couture hats…I love original art and ceramics but only have a few pieces, but I now desperately want a piece of millinery art; a beautiful creation which I can wear!

The trip also inspired today’s table composition with the Beatrice Baker hat I wore when I got married; my Mum bought me the hat and it inspired my whole outfit design, and which I still adore… even though I’m divorced!! Photo 30-03-2016, 12 40 12From my teens and into my early 30’s I always loved wearing hats, but I’ve sort of drifted into just wearing beréts, which I don’t really consider a ‘proper’ hat; well at least not a couture hat anyway, so after my visit, I unearthed a few of my own collection and, including berets, counted over 40!

I also dug out some of my own outfit designs from years ago, which often featured a hat ( I used to make lots of my own clothes )…Photo 30-03-2016, 11 43 31 Photo 30-03-2016, 11 43 42 Photo 30-03-2016, 11 48 07and this is one of my personal favourite vintage hats…
Photo 30-03-2016, 12 47 32( The hats below include my wedding hat in the middle, my father’s school boater, my grandmother’s green feather hat which she wore to my parent’s wedding in 1968, my prep school Panama, a vintage black straw hat and a feathered creation made by me over 15 years ago! )Photo 24-03-2016, 13 51 04If you find yourself in London, in or near the St James’s area, you really must make Lock and Co. part of your visit, if not the reason for it!

( You can follow them on Instagram here and you can follow St James’s here )Photo 22-03-2016, 13 51 22…and just to finish, here’s one of my favourite clips from Easter Parade, 1948…it’s all about those ‘bonnetts’ by Irene!

You can see my Steller Story of the visit here, and I’m on Snapchat as: five5ftinf with table compositions and inspirations