Crowning glory

Well it’s got to that time of year again where we finally have some sunny English days (if we are lucky) and with Royal Ascot round the corner I thought it only proper to look at some show stopping hats for this season. For those history-minded folk Ascot was first realised by Queen Anne in 1711, who saw the potential for horse racing at Ascot while out riding from Windsor Castle. She saw the land and in her own words said it was “ideal for horses to gallop at full stretch”. She was right. For the last 300 years it has been the centrepiece of the British social calendar.

The dress code for Royal Ascot is notoriously strict and is a fashion event galore. If one is going into the Royal enclosure then midriffs must be covered, strapless, off the shoulder and halter necks are also not permitted. Dresses must be knee length or longer and hats should be worn but they need to have a solid base of four inches. Then if one is going into Queen Anne’s enclosure the dress code is “one that befits a formal occasion”. Hats and fascinators are required to be worn at all times but there is no restriction on the base and finally if you are going into the Windsor enclosure then there is no formal dress code but attendees are asked to wear smart clothes.


With Ladies Day being a big event at Ascot and woman keen to outdo each other with their show stopping hats and head pieces there’s nowhere else I personally would go than Pearls & Swine Millinery, with her out of this world head pieces from giant cherries to unicorn headdresses.  I caught up with Bink, the lady behind all the magic.

You have such a creative flair, when did you decide you wanted to channel this into millinery?

The truth is I have no idea why I became a milliner, I didn’t dream about it as a career, I didn’t even want to be creative. I wanted to be sensible and have a ‘real’ job because everyone knows the life of a creative is hard work. I literally have no idea about who’s who in the millinery world, I don’t follow fashion, I didn’t study at all after I left school. I was waiting to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was a live-in carer for the elderly, disabled and terminally ill in my 20s because I just couldn’t find myself in the pages of the A-Z of careers. I turned 30 and freaked out as there was no more avoiding I was a grown up and I STILL didn’t know what I was going to do with my life! Circumstances just brought me to a place where millinery just happened, millinery is how I tell my stories. I dabble in other crafts but I always come back to millinery. Millinery is my true love, I crazy love it so much it’s hard to put it into words.

Where did you learn all your wonderful skills in millinery, did you train anywhere or are you self-taught?

I am self-taught, Pearls & Swine has been going for almost nine years now. I have noticed that people who do courses are given techniques and skills but they are taught rules and generally by one person so if you look at millinery it seems most people are doing similar millinery. Personally, I feel I am free of those limitations. I have done a degree in millinery but I learnt my craft at the School of Me. I am not afraid to make mistakes and to try different things.

Last year I decided to get private lessons to learn traditional blocking techniques. I had already been blocking some of the headpieces I made but I was ready to learn ‘the rules’ and take my millinery to the next level. It’s interesting that learning some of the traditional hat blocking techniques spilled over into my Pearls & Swine and Temptress of Waikiki hats. I can see the finish and quality has stepped up to a new level which I am much happier with as I like to see progress in my creative journey.


Your creations are just out of this world, where do you get your inspiration from?

Everywhere! There are reoccurring themes in my head where I can’t escape; I am a storyteller whose stories are hats. I live with social anxiety and depression, I burn negativity as creative fuel. I create what I feel but it’s not literal, when I am happy my hats are often every dark and Gothic and sometimes when I am unhappy the headwear comes out colourful, loud and joyful. I will see something out of the corner of my eye and it might not be the thing I think I am seeing. For example, I was watching Penny Dreadful and a lady was wearing a hat that I thought was made out a skull on but there was no skull, it was a trick of the light. I thought that would be amazing as a hat so I made it! Or I was walking down the street and saw the remains of a car crash, pieces of the car light all over the road. I immediately needed to collect those pieces as I knew I wanted to make a headpiece. “Can I put that on my head” is how I view the world, I am always looking. I will be out with my partner Trafford Parsons and I will be putting things on his head to see if they would work as a hat. I am not limited by only buying from millinery suppliers, I can find materials in all sorts of shops…  as Henry David Thoreau said “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

Once your eyes are open, the possibilities of inspiration are endless! HOWEVER, as Picasso said “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”. Without any fake modesty, I do not believe in talent, I believe in hard work. Creativity is a muscle, if you are motivated to exercise it, it will get stronger. What you put in is what you get out, sadly there is no magic talent fairy who just waves her wand! We all have a creative spark in us, it’s our job to turn that spark into a fire.

All your hats are amazing and I definitely have a soft spot for your flamingo pieces. Do you have
a favourite?

My favourite is the hat I am working on, once it’s made I move on. I am fickle in my love but constant in my love for creating. The way I describe my motivation is it’s like reading a really wonderful book, I enjoy the process of ‘reading’ and not knowing the end of the story until I reach the end. Remaking my own hats to order is like reading a book that I know the end of, I am grateful for orders and most people like to see what they are going to buy before they buy it but for me making something new is the most fun on Planet Earth. I am incredibly lucky, I have a partner who is very understanding and a big studio completely stuffed with materials and because inspiration always finds me working I live in a state of constant inspiration (at the expense of everything else in my life!).

Your company seems to be going from strength to strength, what would you say is your biggest achievement so far?

I am pretty hard on myself, I move my goal posts constantly… when I reach a goal I never pat myself on the back. I just see all the things I still need to do. It’s really not good but I have come to realise there are very few milliners who make a living solely from millinery (I guess this applies to all creative areas). I always assumed everyone else was doing better than me, that if I could just make more mainstream head wear I would do better in business. Coco-3

But I have come to really appreciate that I have survived nearly nine years as a full-time self-employed creative against the odds, I sell frivolity, we live in a world where people don’t really wear hats so I am selling the almost impossible.

I am not rich but I pay my rent on time every month, I have no debt and I owe no one anything in any way. I am grateful for that and everything. I am supported in every possible way, I feel like I am and I am surrounded by people who are rooting for me and are with me every step of the way. I try to be upfront and honest about where I am at but I also try to keep it positive when I talk. When things are slow or tough, and believe me, those times come, I hustle just a bit harder. If this was easy everyone would be doing it… this is a war on reality, reality is the arch nemesis of all creatives.

And finally, what are your plans for your wonderful company in the future?

I am in the process of setting up the new Pearls & Swine and Temptress of Waikiki sites, I have learnt a LOT of lessons over the last eight years. It’s not enough to just be creative, I need to be good at selling too and to understand all the aspects of running a business.

I am very excited that later this year I will be launching my couture collection. I have been making my own hat blocks. I feel I am completely ready to allow myself to spread my wings as wide as possible and to see how high I can fly. I am not in competition with any other milliners, I have no interest in being inspired by other milliners work, I only want to be the best milliner I can be, I go within for my inspiration. The real fun is creating what you have never seen before and knowing you did that all by yourself!

I have recently done my first workshops at the V&A and that has helped me to realise I would like to do more workshops, though they were completely terrifying and out of my social anxiety comfort zone… that is good for me.

I need to be pushed out of my comfort zone to grow. I preach creativity, not copying, I believe we need to create in some capacity to be happy. I guess maybe what I am saying is we don’t need anyone’s permission to create, we don’t need a fancy expensive piece of paper to say we are who we are, we just need to allow ourselves the take a chance on succeeding. I live in fear of failing every single day but I can’t let that fear stop me. And when I fail, I dust myself off and take a chance on trying again.


If you would like to find more out about Pearls & Swine then you can visit the website or find them on Facebook.

As always to round off my article I asked some very lovely vintage loving ladies their thoughts on hats which I personally believe is a lady’s crowning glory.







Natasha Welch


I’m not sure where my love of hats came from but one of my earliest memories is riding round on a bike at nursery wearing a giant sombrero. I can still remember the confidence it gave me! As the years have passed I realised that hats can be so much more. They can be a statement of confidence or, it appears, they can be a sign of respect. Perhaps harking back to days when respect was a little more common, as were hats. I find that when I’m wearing a hat people are more polite, they ask to sit next to you on the train instead of sitting down straight away, and if you’re lucky a fellow hatter may even ‘tip’ a hello. I’m not sure how many hats I have now but to celebrate them and encourage more people to wear hats I hold an annual ‘Hatters’ party. The rules are simple; ‘wear a hat’. This has evolved over the years to be something of a competition amongst the regulars with homemade hats that light up, can be eaten, and even smoke! Hats are such a wonderful expression of your mood and personality and can transform the moment. Where my passion of hats comes from I’m not too sure but I hope it never dies.


Joanne Webster


My name is Jo Webster and I live in Lancashire. My love of hats started when I was still living in London with my mum and dad ,my mum used to help out at school and church jumble sales, so we would go along and pick up items from our pocket money , when I think of some of the vintage items we saw given away! It was then that I knew I’d fallen in love .So any opportunity to wear a hat whether it’s a vintage flat cap, headdress or woolly hat, I’ll wear it!

Lucy Stanton


from North London, vintage enthusiast and part time blogger at

If you are never fully dressed without a smile then you aren’t totally topped without a hat. Whilst I have a few everyday hats that I occasionally wear there is something special about donning a show stopper. Since hat wearing is not the norm for many these days you can instantly make a wide brimmed statement with your choice of head wear. The right hat can take the simplest of outfits and give it an instant upgrade on the scale of smartness. I rely heavily on vintage and classic style finds, but it’s worth exploring millinery in the modern world too, which has become an art form of its own, with design and construction more ambitious with every season.


Coco Von Vintage is a vintage blogger and model whose passion is the 1950s. You can catch up on her blog over at