Behind the scenes at milliners Lomax and Skinner

Picture: Jacqui Mcsweeney
Picture: Jacqui Mcsweeney

Charlotte Harding finds out more about a very special Lewes millinery business.

Woolly hats aside, headgear usually reserved for those big events where you want to look your best, and for something special a bespoke hat or fascinator can lift any outfit and make you stand out from the crowd.

Picture: Kate Vandyck

Picture: Kate Vandyck

While many of us wear them once for a wedding or race day for Rachel Skinner, one of the designers at Lomax & Skinner, she wishes there were more reasons to wear them.

“Frankly there are not enough occasions for our hats,” she smiles.

“Many people are starting to wear them to cocktail parties now, or rather than put them in a hat box out of the way they are displaying them in glass domes for all to see which is just fantastic.”

Milliners Rachel and Sarah Lomax have been making hats for more than 20 years since they met while working as apprentices with Frederick Fox, who was milliner for the Queen at the time.

After stints working with Stephen Jones, who has worked with John Galliano at Dior and Vivienne Westwood, the pair went off to do different things which saw both launch their own businesses.

While running a shop in Primrose Hill, Rachel had children and decided to relocate the family to Lewes.

It was here she reconnected with Sarah and in 2013 they launched Lomax & Skinner, which is based in the town.

“I think because we come from different design backgrounds it has definitely influenced our work,” explains Rachel.

“Sarah did an art degree so her work is more intricate and fiddly with a lot of beading whereas I did fashion so my work is a lot more freer and structural.

“If my work needs something a bit fiddly I just pass it on to Sarah.”

Because of their backgrounds Rachel admits that she sees their bespoke creations as ‘wearable art’.

“We both love sculpture and art which I think helps with what we do,” says Rachel.

“I love that it is 3D. When I was doing my fashion course it was very 2D and looked at patterns, which doesn’t work for my brain.

“When we did millinery on the course it just clicked and I fell in love with it, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.”

Offering a bespoke service each hat is made to measure taking into account the fit, how the fabric works, how it will sit on the head, how it will stay in place, the person’s hair and hairstyle.

“There is so much to think about that people don’t realise,” reveals Rachel.

“Some people have one or two fittings while others will have more depending on how complex the hat is.

“We get people asking for things they think will work for them but we have to advise them and talk to them as we don’t want them to look silly, we want them to look and feel great when they wear one of our hats.”

The hats and headpieces are handmade using the highest quality materials, hand dyed silk flowers and feathers using traditional millinery methods, taking inspiration from a combination of influences from classical art to the natural world and contemporary fashion.

With one of the most popular occasions to wear a hat being for a wedding.

“For a mother of the bride or groom the wedding is an important occasion,” says Rachel.

“They want to stand out from the crowd, so they bring in their outfit and we match the hat to the outfit, and we can also change it afterwards so they can wear it again.”

Although bridal head wear usually means a tiara and/or veil, Lomax & Skinner is seeing many wanting something a bit different.

“Brides really love the 1940s or 1920s style of hats,” reveals Rachel.

“Pill box hats are still really popular.

“The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, has really helped with hats, she has made really bold choices which has made people keen to try similar styles.

“We are starting to see people move away from small hats and fascinators and wear larger more daring pieces.”

With plans to do more courses at their Lewes workshop and a book in the works it is certainly an exciting time for this designing duo.

To see Lomax & Skinner’s portfolio, visit lomaxandskinner.co.uk

This first appeared in the February edition of etc Magazine, pick up your copy now.

Pictures: Kate Vandyck and Jacqui Mcsweeney