“I was really cross with myself… making hats just helped me get over a hurdle in life.”

After a few weeks soaking up the bustle, the smells and the noise of London’s street markets, Dulwich Vintage Fashion Fair is a culture shock. It’s a restful place: golden light streams through the windows, illuminating the luscious vintage fabrics and clothing, all lovingly displayed around the spacious upper storey of the Crown and Greyhound, a rambling Victorian pub. Jane Fairhead’s stall is one of the busiest, as groups of two or three women fondle the hats, examining the feathers and construction, before trying them on. Hats, it seems, make people smile.

Hats are very happy objects – people seem to crowd round your stall, trying them on together and laughing.
Yes, that’s the nice things about doing the hats, I always get lots of people coming over wanting to try stuff on, there’s always laughter and giggles, it’s really nice. Though it often looks like I’m doing well and selling lots… but it’s just a lot of trying on!

Explain about you and hats and how you get into making them?
It started about 24 years ago. My mother’s best friend is quite a well known milliner, my mum started doing some outwork for her, and started getting sent over all these hats to work on. And I just thought, ‘I’d like to have a go’, and started designing my own. Shortly after that I moved up to Sheffield, there’s a university, a lot of young people and a new age movement there – and I was making these crazy hats that people seemed to like wearing. Later, I gave it up. And then I started again, about two and a half years ago. Because I’d made some plans that had gone wrong in life, had done a teacher training course that went horribly wrong. And I found I wanted to do something creative. I was really cross with myself at that time – and making hats just helped me get over a hurdle in my life.

Where does inspiration for a hat come from?
Just going to the fairs, I see what people like to wear, and I look at the old hats that people are selling. And I’ve just got really attracted to 1940s and 1950s styles. So I’m really using those decades for my inspiration. And I’ve also got some cloche blocks that I’ve had for years, so I make a lot of cloches because people will just buy them, people who aren’t into vintage.

When we photographed you in the summer you were very into feather hats.
That all changed. Now I’m doing a lot of felt hats!

Do you ever think about the fact you’re working in such an ancient, English tradition?
Yes I do, although I have to point out I’m not a properly trained milliner. Historically people wouldn’t go out without a hat on, and there’s still a lot of interest in them. But it’s also a crazy thing to be doing in a recession.

Does it ever get you down?
No! I struggle to survive, but it doesn’t. Actually, that’s a lie, it got me down this summer, I booked into some events that were disastrous, I lost money and I thought, I’ve really got to give this up now, I can’t be losing this much money with something I’m investing so much time in. Then I have a good day and I’m spurred on. I juggle the hats with the [day]job and muddle through that way. And I admit, I do get a lot of pleasure out of it.

You mentioned earlier how some of your new designs have a commercial basis, they’re designed to sell. And market people have this mix, don’t they, of hard-nosed business sense, and irrational exuberance or obsession?
Yes, they do. And I am firmly in the latter group.

Jane Fairhead can often be found at the Dulwich Vintage Fashion Fair, the last Sunday of every month. This winter she will be at the Duckie Christmas Market at the Barbican, December 13,14,15,18, 20, 21, 22, 23 & 28. www.fairheadsheadwear.com


3 Responses to “Jane Fairhead, slightly crazy hatter”

  1. Terry Fairhead on November 25th, 2011 4:54 pm

    She’s my daughter and I’m proud of her.

    There’s nothing more to say.

  2. Karen Clark on December 7th, 2011 9:02 am

    She is my best friend and a wonderful one too. She has always made fabulous hats of which I have worn one or two! Love her to bits x

  3. Anita Ribbons on December 7th, 2011 8:39 pm

    I have known Jane all my quite long life. She has always had an unwavering talent for creating. And without exception everything she turns her hand to creatively – is an exceptional work of art.