Sahar Millinery founder brings a wild side to creative hat design as she prepares for Ascot

By Tempus | 14 Mar 2019 | Style

London milliner Sahar Freemantle tells Tempus how she is combining costume design with traditional hats for women

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* Sahar Millinery has attracted famous fans including Ellie Goulding, Paloma Faith, Charli Howard, Georgina Campbell [© Sina Bahrami]

Sahar Millinery founder Sahar Freemantle is well known for her unique hat designs, pushing the boundaries of shapes, materials and themes to tell an imaginative story with each headpiece. Wearing her stand-out butterfly saucer, with its contemporary material, sleek finish and fluttering butterflies rising from the base, it's easy to see why her designs have captured the imagination of a generation of women enjoying the unique fashion runway of Ascot's Royal Enclosure.

Based in London, Freemantle specialises in handmade hats for women that focus on shapes that complement the wearer and, perhaps something of a rarity, are comfortable to wear all day. She creates them using traditional methods, popular shapes include saucers and pillbox styles that are bang on trend for 2019, with bespoke, contemporary finishes that often aim to capture stories that mean something to the wearer – whether that's colour, lace or individual details.

"My clients will come to see me in my studio in Piccadilly, or make a 'mobile millinery' appointment for me to come and see them in their home or place of work (in which I bring a selection of hats)," Freemantle says of her bespoke approach. "If they have their outfit, they will bring it and start by trying on all the hat samples they like. Taking inspiration from their favourite elements from each hat, the client and I will together start to design their final piece, of course taking into account the colours and style of their outfit. Depending on the complexity of the piece, and how many fittings are required, it can take three to four weeks to have a hat made."

Freemantle's creations – both from Sahar Millinery and sister company UglyLovely – have been exhibited at the V&A museum, featured on screen in Downton Abbey and worn by celebrities including Ellie Goulding, Paloma Faith and Georgina Campbell. With events like Ascot on the horizon, she says that trends in millinery are often led by the royal family.

"The royals are pivotal in influencing styles and also millinery and other fashion brands - they are the ultimate influencers," she says. "It's great to see the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, be slightly bolder in her hat choices then the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, who I think has an expectation to be a bit safer in her style. >>

Related: The queen of green: How Artist Jeweller Ute Decker is spearheading the fight for sustainable jewellery

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* Sahar Freemantle makes the final touches to a headpiece in her studio [©Edmund Dabney]

"As for trends, Boaters seem to be coming back! I have few in my collection, they're so much fun. I did a trail run of oversized panama's last summer, and they went down really well, so I've got a couple of new shapes and styles this year," she says.

Freemantle says she prepares for events like Ascot "all year round", and approaches the millinery craft with a costume-makers' eye for imaginative design. "I did my degree in Performance Costume at Edinburgh College of Art, where I learnt the basics in millinery. Upon graduating I worked under some Scottish milliners and furthered my skills, before moving to London and setting up my own Atelier," she says. "Over time, my collection has increased to include not only occasion-wear, but also winter hats, summer panama hats, and daywear turbans."

Now, Freemantle splits her time between her two labels and specialist workshops teaching the craft of millinery. "I'd say use of metallics and distressed gold leaf are pretty signature to Sahar Millinery. The bestselling hat are comfortable and make an impact, such as the muted blue pillbox piece, or the butterfly saucer piece is great because it doesn't flatten your hair as it sits up above the head. It's important to think practically as well as just about the style," she says.

"UglyLovely is a lot more experimental with shapes and designs, and I only do collections every few years. But I'm pleased to say I'm working on a collection now. The inspiration is around mistakes, emergence, and shining through!"

Freemantle has also worked closely with performance-based projects, including creating headpieces for the cast of Vox Vanguard's Carnival of the Animals performance at 2018's Tempus Earth Conservation Gala. "The gala was all around animals and earth conservation. The designers wanted to create elegant and chic, fashion-focused animal costume pieces," she says. "The zebra piece was fun, because it was done as a Mohican-style headpiece, with beautiful gold pheasant feathers mounted on a piece of wood which sat around the head – it was minimal while still having an impact."

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* Milliner Sahar Freemantle models one of her butterfly-inspired headpieces [© Sean Afnan]