Friday, June 29, 2012

Rainy Season

In June 2006 I boarded a plane and set off for my one year adventure in Japan.  6 years later my Japanese is still shaky and there is an aisle in the supermarket filled with bags of dried fish and unidentified slime that I still run past in confused horror but I can slurp ramen like a pro, sit seiza on hard floors for hours and tie my own obi.  One skill I am yet to master however is the umbrella.

June in Japan is Rainy season.  I discovered this my first weekend here when I went for a walk around Niigata.  Half way through the day the heavens opened and the city bloomed in a rainbow of umbrellas.  Everyone from the smallest child to the oldest hunchbacked granny produced an umbrella out of thin air and went on their way.  I spent the train ride home soaked to the bone, dripping all over the carriage while being stared at by my mortified fellow passengers.

I should have expected as much as the umbrella has been a symbol of Japan since the west has known about its existence.

With such a long history of umbrella use it is not surprising that the Japanese have become masters in the art of umbrella.  Not only have they found ways to carry an umbrella without anyone knowing it is on their person,

but they have developed a myriad of one handed skills including cycling while holding an umbrella in typhoon like winds or freezing snow storms.

In fact I am inclined to believe that the Japanese continue to use chopsticks purely so they are able to eat while holding an umbrella should the need ever arise.

While this may be handy in everyday life I don't think the Japanese have truly grasped the potential of this skill.  Instead of complaining that Mongolians are taking over the sport of Sumo (because they are much, much better at it) I think the Japanese should go forth and find a sport of their own to conquer and I have found the perfect replacement.  Umbrella Bicycle Jousting.

An official sport at the Chap Olympiad in London Bicycle Jousting is screaming out for a Japanese champion.

On top of their one handed proficiency the Japanese have done what they do best and made a mundane object much, much cooler.

an umbrella that looks like a samurai sword 

 Cut outs so you don't walk into things

 Wheels so lazy children can pull the umbrella along behind them made extra funky by the fact the wheels leave smiley faces on the pavement

An umbrella with a calligraphy paint brush on the end so you can write things on the pavement with your umbrella run-off water.

 Little umbrellas for your shoes!

An umbrella with a built in cup holder

My favourite has to be the umbrella hat.

I know what you are thinking: "the Japanese didn't invent that".  I know, you would think it was someone who looks a lot like the guy in the picture above or maybe a dapper English gent trying to keep his pretty bowler hat dry...

...and I thought the same until I stumbled upon this really old Japanese guy who proves that the Japanese patented the umbrella hat long, long ago.

And like all good Japanese things it has been taken to the extreme and found its way on to the catwalks of the world.

And what do you wear with your umbrella hat?  An umbrella dress of course!

So for everyone stuck in the middle of this horrible rainy month I say take the opportunity to don a funky umbrella hat and think of the super tasty rice that comes after the rain :)

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Adventures of The Blue Felt Hat

Selling online has some major advantages but I think all milliners secretly dream of having bricks and mortar to call their own.  Personally I dream of having an oldskool millinery shop where shoppers are served tea, sat in pretty little mirrored booths to try on as many hats as they like as a hat is a luxury that should fit a person like a glass slipper and make them feel special.

The worst part about selling online is that I never get to meet my customer.  I don't get to explain the best hat for their face shape and I don't get to see them light up when they find the perfect hat.  An order comes in, I box it and wrap it as prettily as I can then put a stamp on and hand it over to the postman with fingers crossed.  And then I met Jane and Alex.

On the 29th Of August I sold my Navy Pleats felt cocktail hat.  The order was the same as all the others except the buyer needed the hat ASAP as it was for a wedding the following weekend.  I hastily boxed the hat, tied it with a bow and raced to the post office.  On my return I sent an email to confirm postage and ask for a few pictures of the hat at the wedding.  I had no idea what was to come.

The hat was for Alex but was being sent to her Mother Jane's house.  Alex wouldn't receive the hat until the day before the wedding so her mum was sending her updates which were being passed on to me.  The first email was simply to let me know the hat had arrived safely and in plenty of time for the wedding.  I went to bed that night thinking that would be last I would hear of my hat but happy that it had made its way across the pond in a mere two days.  The next morning however I was pleasantly surprised to see another email from Jane.  On opening the first email I almost spat my tea all over the computer I was laughing so hard.  Over the next few days these were the emails I received...

Begin forwarded message:  Well the hat has caused quite a sensation here already!  It arrived here at my house for my daughter and as you can see from the picture I made sure it had a good nights rest !! 


Begin forwarded message: ..... and a good breakfast!

Begin forwarded message:  All ready for the Toronto Marathon on Sunday!

Begin forwarded message: Oh and SOMEBODY could not wait to wear it! Alas ALex has now picked up and opened this treasure from the east, so hopefully she will send you pictures of actual HAT!  Thanks though we had fun!  Jane

A while later I did indeed receive an email from Alex with photos of the actual hat (Alex is super pretty and reminds me a little of Kate Middleton don't you think?).

Note her man in also wearing a hat as explained in the email - a photo of me and my man, so you can see the full effect! You'll note that he is also sporting a hat-when he saw mine, he realised he had to keep up. Total hat jealousy right there!

I like to think all of my customers are this enthusiastic about receiving their hats!  

These emails really made me smile so I would like to thank Alex and Jane for being so much fun :)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Diamonds, Union Jacks and Hats, Must Be The Jubilee

And so its all over.  The Union Jacks have been packed away, Brits are grumbling about going back to work after a 4 day weekend and thousands of people are nursing runny noses after being drenched by the ever present British rain.  All that is left to do is settle down with a cup of tea and review the hats (yes it has taken me a full week to get through them all).

Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mother at the Epsom Derby 1991

The Queen and Prince Philip at Epsom Derby 1948

The weekend started with the Queen attending the Epsom Derby which she did in a bright cornflower blue ensemble.

I have to say this was a bit of a meh outfit for me.  I am not a fan of blue in general, I think the dress underneath is pretty but you can't see it because of that horrible coat.  The hat is very classic Queenie, though I don't think the black and white bits add anything to the look except to try and tie in the black from her shoes.  One is decidedly underwhelmed.

I did however think that Prince Philip looked like a true Dickensian gent in his top hat.

Princess Beatrice played it safe if a little dull with a very Jackie O pillbox with a Japanese origami flower accent but in my opinion sister Eugenie wins today's sister duel with a blue/black straw hat adorned with an oversized blue and navy ribbon. I was also loving her union Jack nails which she sported all weekend.

Other note worthy hats on the day were courtesy of The Countess of Wessex

Princess Michael of Kent

And singer Katherine Jenkins who was wearing a hat designed for the love child of Camilla and Lady Gaga.

Next up was Sundays river Pageant where the city of London in an attempt to make everyone feel like a river provided lashings of rain.  Being British however we never let rain get in the way of style.

Queenie looked as if she had literally caught the raindrops and decorated herself with them leaving her all sparkly and diamond like.

I only wish that instead of sticking some bland feathers on the side Angela Kelly, the Queens designer, would have rummaged through Queenies jewellery box and stuck one of those amazingly big brooches on instead.

I LOVED the shape and texture of Kate's hat which was bold and structured without being overpowering.  I also liked that she chose to use the oldest milliners in London, Lock and Co. to make the hat. Very fitting for the occasion. 

Camilla once again went for her trademark side sweep, upturn in white/beige.  I admit the style suits her but I think she needs to separate herself from milliner Philip Treacy before the public get too bored of the same thing done a little bit differently.

I think Princess B was going for a classic vintage look with this hat but it didn't quite work.  I am really surprised at how badly made this hat is as it is a Stephen Jones creation but looks like the fabric hasn't been draped at all just stuck on in a hurry and I have no idea what is supposed to be going on at the side?  How many bad hats by the same milliner does a girl have to wear before she decides that the label on the inside may look good but the hat sure as hell doesn't.

Maybe Mr Jones simply likes sister Eugenie better as her hat was bang on with understated sparkle and just enough colour to make it interesting.  Can't say I am a huge fan of crinoline used in this way though.  For the cost of a Stephen Jones hat I would be expecting something more than polyester especially with the advent of new millinery fabrics like jinsin which are basically a much, much, much nicer form of crin.

A hat made from jinsin

Sophie Countess of Wessex was a bit bland hat wise but had maybe taken note of my last blog in which I explained that a plain colour hat can help balance a busy dress and I loved her dress though strangely it seems to be covered in prints of the Eiffel tower.  I thought Rule Britannia was the theme of the day?

I didn't watch the concert on Monday night as I live in Japan and really couldnt be arsed getting up at stupid o'clock in the morning to watch Cheryl Cole and Cliff Richard but I gather the highlights were Grace Jones due to both Hula Hoop and Hat, Annie Lennox's wings and Charles calling the Queen Mummy.

And so on to the big Millinery event of the weekend.  St Pauls.  There is nothing I like more than watching thousands of hats competing for attention in a massive church.

Queenie went for mint green and silver which I thought looked lovely and soft however I feel the crown of her hat is a little big which spoils the look a little.  Big crowns on hats seems to be a new trend developing in millinery if the hats worn by non royals at St Pauls is anything to go by.  I hope it dies a fast death as I think it makes your hat look top heavy and clown like.  While Quenie's wasn't that bad I didn't think it was one of her best.

Camilla went guessed it, up turned big brim, swept to one side in a neutral tone by Philip Treacy.  I am not even going to bother commenting any more.

Also sticking to the same stylists Kate wore Alexander McQueen for a third time and topped it with a Jane Taylor hat.  While I like the hats beading and netting I wish she would lop that flower thing off the top.  It looks like tights pulled over some wire.  If however you disagree you will be happy to know that you can now buy this hat in a variety of colours from Jane Taylors website for a mere 790 pounds.  Think I will pass.

Princess Anne however seemed to totally step out of her usual style box.  Having been stuck in uniform for most of the weekend Anne wowed in a bright turquoise outfit with matching big hat adding some much needed colour to the royal line up.

Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie stuck with Stephen Jones millinery and again Eugenie came out tops (see above comment Princess B).  I loved Eugenie's mad men style dress and thought the colouring of the hat was good but it seems that she stole the shape Beatrice was trying out at the river pageant and again I am just not sure what it is suppose to be.  Whatever it was it was better than Beatrice's hat which would have been lovely if she had removed the unnecessary meters of badly draped tulle.

The Countess of Wessex went for a deep blue straw hat which reminded me a little of the red velvet Rose Cory hat Kate wore earlier in the year.  Don't love it don't hate it.

I thought that Sophie Winkleman looked very stylish and chic in her simple tailored jacket and cream hat.

However Lady Helen Taylor looked as though one of her children had decorated a paper plate with macaroni and bits of colourful string and made it into a hat for her.  This would win worst hat in the Church if it wasn't for Zara who took inspiration from a mountain goat.

Ok maybe she wasn't the worst...I will give her joint last place with Marina Johnson wife of London Mayor Boris Johnson.  I don't even know where to start with this outfit?

Not all political other halves got it so wrong however.  Miriam Gonzales (wife of Deputy Prime minister Nick Clegg) paired her hot pink dress with a subtle grey felt fascinator which helped mellow the whole look.  Compared to her Will and Kate wedding hat though it is a little bit of a let down.

Having bucked convention by appearing hatless at the Royal wedding Mrs Cameron tried to make amends with a subtle black topper covered in ivory veiling.  I appreciate the gesture but she needs to find a new milliner as the veiling was very badly finished at the edges of the hat giving me the impression she knocked it up at the kitchen table the night before.

Frances Osbourne, wife to Chancellor George Osbourne, went for a simple yet chic little beige percher to match her coat.  I thought this looked good but again compared to her hat at the royal wedding is a bit bleh. I also think it ages her quite a bit but I guess beige will do that to a person.

 Royal wedding hat
St Paul's hat

And lastly we have Mrs Milliband. I have left her for last as I think it is a good example of  a nice hat which matches the outfit well but not the person.  Small people should not wear flat hats!  It makes you look like a button.  A hat should balance a figure.  If you are tall wear a wide brim to stop you looking like a stick, if you are short wear something that gives you height even if it is only a few feathers sticking up in the air.  This hat would look a lot better if the angle was different so instead of sitting flat across her head making one side seem very flat it should be at a much greater angle sticking up in the air a little to give her a nicer flow and much needed inches.  A milliner can make you a great hat that matches an outfit perfectly but it is up to you to play about in the mirror to make sure that the hat matches you perfectly.  

And so the hat parade comes to an end.  Well almost.  In conjunction with the Jubilee, How to Hats and Dillon Wallwork held a millinery competition inspired by the Diamond Jubilee and Queenie in general.

The winner was Vlad Straticiuc with this purple number.

I don't quite get what it has to do with the jubilee though so I have put my favourites from those entered below.

God Save Millinery!