Katie Vale - Hat designer in her Barleylands store

Article by The Echo: Hats off to super stylish headwear designer Katie Vale.

She’s built up a thriving millinery and accessories business after stumbling into the industry by accident following a last-minute wedding fascinator emergency!

Although Covid-19 and the lockdown has put the brakes on most hat-heavy events this summer, such as the races, christenings and weddings, Katie firmly believes the millinery industry will bounce back.

When it comes to hats, it seems whatever floats your boater, captivates your cloche or tantalises your trilby is ok. Katie is just happy we are wearing them - and to her, how your hat makes you feel on the inside is just as important as how good it looks on the exterior.

 “Wearing a hat, really is all about confidence and I believe half of my job is building ladies’ confidence,”

Explained Katie, 40, who has run her own couture millinery and accessories store in Barleylands, Billericay, for several years.

"You can really see the difference when a lady has found the right piece. She puts it on and her face smiles, her shoulders drop, she glows.”

Katie, who lives in Stanford-le-Hope in lovely little flat shared with her two cats, got into the hat design industry almost by mistake.

“I actually trained as a dancer and was a performer for several years until some ill health dictated otherwise. I then went to work at Chessington World of Adventures as an entertainments team leader. I ended up staying with the company for years and worked my way up to deputy park manager and incident manager. I then transferred to The London Eye as duty manager. But whilst I was working at Chessy I went to a friend’s wedding and I bought a fascinator from the high street. It wasn’t in the colour I needed so I got my sewing kit out and altered it. It turned out nicely, but I couldn’t figure out how they made it to start with. So, I decided to enrol on a week’s millinery course to learn how hats are made. I fell in love with the art of millinery!”

Katie carried on working in her job and studying on hat design courses in her spare time. After several years training, she started selling her own designs and was eventually able to open her shop at Barleylands.

Katie’s business has evolved so much she now sells shoes and bags to match her hats.

“I’m a Rainbow Club stockist and the shoes and bags are dyed to match the hats I make. That has made a huge difference, whereas before I was simply a milliner. I am now able to offer all accessories for special events and special occasions too. It’s the finishing touches of the outfit that really complete it and make the difference.”

One thing that Katie hears every day are the words I’m not really a hat person.

“I hear this from 99 per cent of people in my shop but they want to have something to wear. I always explain that nobody is a hat person anymore. We simply don’t wear them all day, every day like we used to but once people start trying on pieces that I suggest for them, you can see them relax. It’s all about finding the right style for you and feeling comfortable is key. “ The summer is normally peak time for finding the perfect hat. Once things are back to normal what are Katie’s tips for looking great, hat wise? I would say, try on all sorts of styles and designs and go for what you feel excited but relaxed in,” she explains Katie sees some specific trends dominating the fashion stakes in the near future. Veiling will be big. After Meghan’s green hat that she wore to the Commonwealth service, very soon designs will be flooded with veiling in all sorts of decorative styles. Once Kate or Meghan wear a piece you are guaranteed that elements of those designs will be echoed around the world for years to come.”

Katie also thinks another royal has it spot on when it comes to headwear.

“Zara Tindall, without a doubt she is my favourite millinery fan,” she says. “She wears some utterly beautiful pieces and often steals the show for me.”

Some hats have become iconic thanks to the silver screen - Louise Brook’s cloche hate in Pandora’s Box, Holy Golightly’s black chapeau du Matin with a long silk scarf in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Faye Dunaway’s beret in Bonnie and Clyde...the list goes on. But which hats from the big and small screen grab Katie’s attention?

“I think Violet in It’s A Wonderful Life wears some incredible fashions, both millinery and clothing wise,” she said. “And The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, also has some truly amazing pieces. Apparently, they are all designed on a collection worn by an actual socialite from that period.”

Like many creative people the lockdown has been both a blessing and curse for Katie:

”The lockdown has been incredibly tough for milliners with weddings and race days cancelled. But I’ve been seeing this time as a valued break to focus on things that I’d been putting off. I have now moved studio and am working from a new unit just five minutes down the road from Barleylands as it’ll give me much needed flexibility to offer more services. “And I have spent the three months of lockdown working on brand new designs ready for next year. I have been researching and perfecting new techniques, which is both exciting and rewarding. Had I not been isolated, I would never have found the time to do these things. For the foreseeable, my business will have to run on an appointment only basis, but I’m excited to welcome people into my new studio in July offering occasion wear, mother of the bride / groom and bridal accessories."

For more information visit katievaledesigns.com

Article by The Echo