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06 November 2012

Milliner Piers Atkinson gets inspiration from 'walking down the street in Hackney'

WALKING into milliner Piers Atkinson’s Hackney Downs studio is like entering one of Roald Dahl’s fantastical sweet shops.

Shelves are stacked with boxes of brightly coloured ribbons, buttons glint like jewels, and rolls of soft fabrics line the drawers. But look a little closer and you’ll find baskets brimming with vintage Barbie dolls, oversized exotic fruits and cuddly toys.

“I want women to put my hats on and feel fabulous,” Piers explains, adding: “I’m not making hats to keep the rain off – I want people to put a hat on and feel good about themselves.”

He describes his designs as ‘whimsical, flamboyant, camp and fun’, citing celebrities such as Paloma Faith, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Tim Burton among his clients.

But he also makes more restrained hats for landed gentry, royals and Ascot-goers, having twice made hats for princesses Eugene and Beatrice, most recently over the Queen’s Jubilee weekend.

“We make some tame hats, we make some more medium ones, and we make some show piece ones. We always wonder what we are going to sell,” he says.

Piers’ work first found the spotlight at fellow milliner Stephen Jones’ exhibition at the V&A Museum in 2009, called ‘Hat: an anthology’.

He was included in the ‘new milliner’ section, alongside Noel Stewart, Justin Smith and Nasir Mazhar, which led to him getting featured in London Fashion Week and being approached by Fenwicks department store.

Indeed, it is little surprise that Piers fell into the hat making business because he comes from a long line of creative women. His mother was a milliner, his grandmother an artist, and his great-grandmother an Edwardian dressmaker.

“Creativity and ingenuity has been in this family for at least four generations – that’s 125 years,” he muses.

“With my mother working for the English National Opera, the hats I grew up with were huge, theatrical feather-plumed numbers that were practically show girl hats. That is where my love of flamboyance came from.”

As to where he gets his inspiration, Piers is clearly passionate about where he lives. He says: “I get inspiration from walking down the street in Hackney.

"Ridley Road Market has kept me going for five years now. I love it down there – you see everything.Who knows what will come up there next time.”

In fact, Piers has even made a hat dedicated to the area: the 'Dalston cap', which has a permanent archive space at the V&A. Other Hackney-inspired hats include the ‘Dalston hat’, with the word Dalston lit up in Hollywood-style writing, and the ‘Lower Clapton’ – which is a re-make of the original Dalston cap.

Piers says: “I live in Hackney, my studio is here and all my friends live here. I think Hackney is a real melting pot and a very broad-minded place to be. There’s a real mix of cultures here and I find it a very vibrant place.

“It feels like there’s room for growth, movement and innovation – it doesn’t feel static or stale. Everything is happening here, isn’t it? There’s a boom in the creative industries, the Olympics and the new East London line. In terms of growth and change it feels very exciting.”

Piers’ Spring/Summer 2013 collection, ‘Director’s Cut,’ which is inspired by Hollywood glamour, is out next month.

For more information, visit: www.piersatkinson.com

Milliner Piers Atkinson at his Hackney Downs studio

Milliner Piers Atkinson at his Hackney Downs studio

Milliner Piers Atkinson at his Hackney Downs studio The Dalston hat by milliner Piers Atkinson

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