French milliner Maison Michel has, for the past 82 years, established a strong reputation for head-turning hats — not just for its eponymous label, but also for renowned brand names such as Chanel.
What do celebs like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Cara Delevigne, Victoria Beckham, Lady Gaga, Jessica Alba, Alexa Chung, Kate Moss and Selena Gomez have in common?
Aside from being considered among the most stylish women around today, they’re fans of Maison Michel’s head-turning headgear, which range from whimsical conversation-starters such as bunny-ear headbands covered in black lace and cat-eared felt cloches, to classics such as jaunty straw Panama hats, evergreen felt berets and charming, multi-hued tweed sailor caps.
Founded in 1936 by Frenchman Auguste Michel, Maison Michel came about during an era where “fashion” and “bespoke” were practically synonymous with the moneyed set. By the ‘60s, however, social changes and the emergence of ready-to-wear led to a sharp decline in the demand for custom creations in favour of “cheaper” and “store-bought”; fashion had also become more pared down, meaning hats were no longer considered necessary for completing an everyday outfit. This led to many hatmakers closing down.
Maison Michel was sold in 1968 to entrepreneur Pierre Debard and his milliner wife Claudine, who went against the tide of democratization, pitching Maison Michel as an atelier specialising in head accessories boasting superior design and craftsmanship. Their bold gamble paid off: from the 70s on, it became the go-to hatmaker for couture houses such as Christian Dior Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, and Chanel.
In 1997, it was acquired by Chanel, joining other renowned speciality ateliers in the Chanel Metiers d’Art portfolio, such as feather and flower maker Lemarié, embroiderer Lesage, and costume jewellery and button maker Desrue.
Maison Michel then went on to launch its very own RTW hat label in 2006, while still producing hats for Chanel.
In 2015, the French fashion powerhouse approached French fashion designer Priscilla Royer, a graduate of London’s Central Saint Martins and former designer with Vivienne Westwood’s Red Label, to become Maison Michel’s artistic director.
Aside from fusing Parisian classicism with a debonair London vibe in her hat creations for Maison Michel, Royer also introduced hats for men (Pharell Williams owns several of the brand’s Virginie fedoras), and expanded the product offerings to encompass knitted accessories and seductive “coquetteries” such as veils and jewelled headbands.
“For me hats are an affirmation of who you are: emphasising the message you want to send to the outside world, whether it’s a cap, a beanie or a fedora. In the end I think people want to find individuality, and hats help somehow,” she has said in past interviews.
A quick visit to its website shows that almost everything is sold out, but fret not: Maison Michel has just landed on the shelves of luxury shoe and accessory emporium On Pedder — our top picks from its latest FW2018 collection?
The Jamie AnticPink, a cap that incorporates the house’s longstanding reputation for producing straw hats with invisible seams, with its charming and distinctive cat-ear cap design; the Jamie Dark Navy with its playful scatter of white bows adding a touch of feminine whimsy; the New Abby Multi, with a colourful tweed calling to mind the house’s association with Chanel; and the New Billy Red, a slightly more structured version of the French beret in a rich crimson shade that adds a much-needed pop of colour and finishing touch to our usually too-drab winter wardrobes.
And for those who are already planning your holiday season outfits, here’s a preview of the Cruise 2019 collection to come.