How is the Millinery Business Coping during COVID-19?

The quintessentially British series of society events know as the Season is one of the other casualties of the global pandemic. The Season runs between April and August, and it includes a series of world-renowned events such as the tennis championships at Wimbledon, Henley Royal Regatta and of course Royal Ascot. In attendance, is not only the British royal family with its nonplussed aristocracy in tow but also an international audience all too pleased to adhere to the strict dress codes that some of these events impose on guests, like Royal Ascot, where top hats for men and of course extravagant millinery is de rigueur for ladies. 

 

According to the latest reports, the global industry for hats and millinery is worth €7 billion, with the high-end market relying on social events – including society weddings – as a relevant source of income and an essential promotional tool to generate interest in casual and ready-to-wear creations. In this context, the Season has the same influence that couture shows have on the turnover of larger companies. 

 

London is the epicentre of creativity and tradition for hat-makers and milliners. Lock & Co., the oldest hat shop and hat-makers in the world, home to the iconic Coke hat, commonly known as the bowler hat, is quite the destination. Ben Dalrymple, managing director of the company, tells NOWFASHION that despite the sad aspect of having to close the iconic store on St. James Street for the first time in 344 years, the online business has been very buoyant. Customer loyalty is a strong element for such a small brand, and the ready to wear lines have been performing very well across channels, 50% of which is generated abroad. To a hat-maker, the lost Season of 2020 is tantamount to cancelling Christmas. 

 

The ready-to-wear ranges, including a wide selection of revisited baseball caps in plush fabrics, have proven that there is an appetite for headgear around the world. Due to their ubiquitous use, from street to couture, baseball caps represent the best-selling category into the broader hat market. The company enjoys a special relationship with its clientele, one that appreciates Lock & Co.’s high-end creations although social events will unlikely take place. “Our clients enjoying owning a Lock & Co. hat, a beautiful and unique object per se, knowing very well that, sooner or later, it will be time again to wear these pieces in public”. Not many companies can claim that. Awon Golding, the creative director of the company’s millinery department, tells NOWFASHION how creativity was not affected by the pandemic but how this unprecedented situation has activated her and other milliners of the British Hat Guild to redirect their vision to create PPE for essential workers. Lock & Co. has donated 10% of the sales of its high-end ranges to the NHS. 

 

Royal Ascot is such a joyful and of note appointment on the Season’s calendar that the British Hat Guild has teamed up with Stephen Jones to launch a campaign designed to inspire racegoers while raising funds for four frontline charities operating in London and around the country. Mr Jones is reassuringly positive on the fact that despite the inability to meet at race courses, the need remains to be entertained: “I think certain elements of the Social Season are happening because people are trying to be creative, because the reason why those social events happen anyway is to provide entertainment and culture to people, and at the moment that’s even more important at this current time.”

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