John Boyd MBE is one of Britain’s most loved and longest serving milliners. With a career that spans over seven decades, Boyd began his millinery training after the Second World War and has since become one of the industry’s most celebrated hat-makers. Testament to his talent is his lengthy list of well known clients, Boyd has created designs for some of the UK’s most famous residents, including several members of the Royal Family. He chats to us about highlights from his incredible career and his most unusual request: a hat for The Egerton House Hotel’s Milly the dog.
You’ve been a renowned milliner for over 75 years. How did you get started in the industry?
“As a young man, I worked in The North British Rubber Company in Edinburgh. I was constantly sketching fashion drawings. An acquaintance spotted them and suggested I meet her friend Aage Thaarup, who was the most famous milliner in London at the time. I served an apprenticeship with him and then opened my first shop soon after being demobbed from the Navy after World War II.”
Why do you think Britain is so well known for its milliners?
“When I first started, you wouldn’t leave the house without a hat. Beauchamp Place had 44 milliners tucked away in attic rooms and basements. So, we have a good history of wearing hats. I love the saying ‘the French have the style, the Italians the flair but only the English have the audacity to wear it’. It sums up why we are so well known here, it’s all about the customers.”
Can you tell us about some of your career highlights?
“I have had the honour of making hats for so many glamorous and interesting ladies. Of course the late Princess Diana was very special, and also did great things for the millinery industry in general. At the time, hats were out of favour as big hairstyles became more fashionable, but she really helped in the resurgence of hat wearing, saving many millinery careers.”
Where do you get your inspiration for the hats you design? Do you have a muse?
“I am often inspired by the woman I am making the hat for; her face shape, the occasion and even personality. I have always enjoyed picking up a new scrap of material and seeing what I can turn it into. During the Second World War, it was hard to get ribbons, straws and felts, so milliners had to be inventive and use all sorts of items to make hats. This has stayed with me and I see the potential in lots of different materials which might otherwise be discarded.”
What style of hat should every woman own?
“I love a woman in a fedora hat for everyday wear. The masculinity of the style suits most women and highlights their femininity. I also think that you can’t go wrong with a simple pretty beret with an eye veil. I have a style called ‘The Rose Beret’ which I have been making since the 1940’s and suits everyone; it is a very flattering hat.”
Why should women in 2017 still be wearing hats?
“Wearing a hat can change your whole outfit, the way you look and the way you feel. You stand taller and feel more confident in the right hat. I always say that the hat should flatter a woman and bring out her best qualities, but you can also be someone else for the day. In the end, it is great fun to wear a hat and brings joy to the wearer and those around her.”
Talk us through your process when making Milly the dog’s couture hat?
“That was one of the most unusual requests I’ve had! We were told that her favourite colour was red, and then it was just a matter of making something cute and playful. I hope she liked it!”
What can we expect from your upcoming Autumn/Winter 2017 collection?
“I have collected a lot of beautiful felts over the years, many which are not made any more, so I will be making a collection of wonderful, one-off winter hats in deep rich colours, pillboxes and floppy brims, all very feminine.”
You’ve been making hats for members of the Royal family for years. Can you tell us a bit about what it has been like to design hats for Diana, Princess of Wales, Princess Anne and HRH Duchess of Cambridge?
“It has always been, and still is, a great privilege to make hats for any member of the Royal family. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity.”
Pick up a flattering fedora from John Boyd’s iconic Beauchamp Place boutique, just a short walk from Egerton House Hotel.
Image Credits: All images courtesy of John Boyd.