Lewes hat-making duo discuss their first book

Sarah Lomax (left) and Rachel Skinner in their studio. Photograph by Peter Cripps
Sarah Lomax (left) and Rachel Skinner in their studio. Photograph by Peter Cripps

Rachel O’Brien talks to bespoke milliners Rachel Skinner and Sarah Lomax following the publication of their first book

Special occasions, be it a wedding, graduation or raceday, call for that extra something to lift an outfit.

Two of the hat projects in Millinery: The Art of Hat-making. Photographs by Neal Grundy

Two of the hat projects in Millinery: The Art of Hat-making. Photographs by Neal Grundy

For many, such events are an opportunity to wear a hat or headpiece.

“Everyone seems to have quite a fascination with hats,” says Rachel Skinner, co-founder of Lewes-based bespoke milliners Lomax & Skinner.

“Many people have a story about a favourite hat, or maybe a lost hat. They bring back so many memories,” she continues.

Rachel and Sarah Lomax have both been designing and making hats for more than 20 years.

In October, they published their first book – Millinery: The Art of Hat-making. It features 12 step-by-step projects – there’s a twist on the classic trilby, a feathered cocktail number and a bridal headdress with a detachable trim. There are also sections with advice and tips on equipment, materials and techniques.

They launched the title at the Depot cinema, on Pinwell Road, on September 30.

“Our book launch was absolutely standing room only,” says Rachel. “We were gobsmacked. We were totally overwhelmed with the support and interest, and we sold out of books that night.

“It was so well received,” she adds.

Lomax & Skinner was born in 2013, but Rachel and Sarah have known each other since the eighties; they met while working as apprentices for Frederick Fox, then milliner to the Queen – a role he had for some 35 years.

Sarah secured the role after art college; she went to London planning to knock on the doors of all the milliners, starting at Stephen Jones and then Fox. Jones was out, but Fox was in and interviewed her on the spot.

“I think he was probably quite astonished by my approach, even then,” says Sarah.

Rachel, who had been studying at the London College of Fashion, was put forward for an interview by a tutor.

“You couldn’t really believe some of the things you were working on,” she says of the apprenticeship.

After working with Fox, they had stints together working with Stephen Jones, who has created hats for designers such as Vivienne Westwood, and then went on to pursue different things.

Sarah moved to Lewes around 20 years ago; Rachel, who was running her label, Rachel Skinner Millinery, with a shop in Primrose Hill, relocated to Lewes in 2013 and the pair reconnected.

It is on the first floor of Sun Studios, on Mount Place, that they welcome customers, design and make their bespoke creations and host workshops. They say their work is a ‘labour of love’ and that their main clients are mothers of the bride or groom and race-goers.

Depending on trims and details, the starting price for a bespoke hat is about £300, with the average £400 to £450.

Writing the book was a new challenge. They were approached by the publishers, but say it felt like a natural step as they are passionate about sharing their knowledge and keen to keep the craft alive.

“We wanted to put forward ideas and suggestions to inspire people as to how they could make hats at home – that it doesn’t have to be something you’ve got to be in a workroom for, or do a college course,” says Sarah.

“It was a whole new learning curve,” says Rachel, on the process, which also saw them have to learn about photography to capture the step-by-step shots.

“It was great working with the publishers and finding out how a book goes together,” she adds.

“That was fascinating,” says Sarah. “We had no idea how they would bring all this information together and put it into a book.”

Most of the designs were created especially for the title; one or two were designs they had made before that were evolved, or simplified.

“We were trying to cover as many different materials and techniques as possible and still try to keep it simple,” says Rachel, on the projects. “So, it was a lot of careful thought.”

Are there plans for a second book? “We’ve certainly got more than enough ideas for another book,” says Sarah.

“It would be nice to do something concentrating on the trims and things like flowers and bows. Having said that, we could do another book full of projects – it is limitless.”

Millinery: The Art of Hat-making is published by GMC (£16.99, www.thegmcgroup.com). For more on Lomax & Skinner, see lomaxandskinner.co.uk