May 24, 2019

Jessica Rea talks great hats

As the Epsom Derby approaches, we catch up with local milliner Jessica Rea to find out how to look the part on race day.

Nathalia Anzola Photography

Did you grow up locally?
“Yes, I was brought up very close to Epsom Downs until I was about 13 when I moved to Devon. My grandparents lived very near the racecourse and would always throw a garden party to coincide with the Derby, which myself and my sisters have been going to since we were little. I remember seeing the ladies dressed in their glamorous outfits and the men in their tops and tails.

Did you always want to design and make hats?
I was studying art and design at Plymouth College of Art, doing all sorts of things like jewellery making and fashion. My Mum suggested that I try and make a hat – there was only one book on hats in college and so I applied my skills to making one. As I have more of an art background than a fashion background, everything I do is more sculptural. 

Did you study millinery at a particular institution or was it more learning on the job?
You tend to learn from an actual milliner. I was really fortunate to study under Rose Cory, the royal milliner to the late Queen Mother and Prudence, who has designed hat collections for brands such as Vivienne Westwood and Yves Saint Laurent. 

How did you set up your own business?
My parents have a country stores business and originally I had a section in one of the stores which has grown over the years. That’s where the Jessica Rea Millinery business is based now – within the Country Clothing Store in Ewell. As well as hats and headpieces, I also sell matching handbags, hand dyed shoes, bolero jackets, jewellery and giftware.  

Who buys your hats?
My customer base has changed hugely. Part of it is the younger royals wearing hats a lot more and I also think social media has helped – the reaction I get on there is amazing. 

What are you inspired by at the moment?
I like bold colours and I use a lot of different fabrics, they give my work a distinctive look – materials-wise I’ll work with anything from feathers to wire to silk abaca. 

The Derby’s coming up (on 1st June) how are preparations going?
I do have some off-the-peg pieces but my business is mostly bespoke. I will have ladies that I style and make hats for that, straight after the Derby and Ascot, will be thinking about the following year. People know I have a long waiting list but I always try to accommodate as many people as I can. If that means sewing all night, I’ll sew all night!

Once Upon A Town signature