The Beckhams were there, the Clooneys, too… and the bride was being called “the most powerful woman in fashion”… As Royal wedding hype reached fever pitch across the globe, Angela Sara West chatted with celebrity milliner and designer extraordinaire, Louis Mariette, who commented on the Royal wedding for NBC, about breaking fashion boundaries, splurging on Swarovski, and what’s hot in hats and headpieces for the wedding and racing season.
Famed for his fabulous fascinators, bespoke hats, and sensational bejewelled headpieces, he’s known for creating the most expensive hat ever made and designs for famous faces, including Joan Collins, Kate Moss and Lady Gaga.
As the official milliner of countless quintessentially English events, he’s not only adorned celebrities and supermodels with his decadent designs for opulent occasions on the social calendar, but also co-hosted the BBC’s coverage of 300 years of Royal Ascot. He’s lent his creative credentials and flamboyant fashion wisdom to Britain’s Next Top Model, too, in his role as a judge on Living TV’s hit model making show.
Based at his atelier in Hertfordshire, England, the iconic milliner has been breaking boundaries with his fabulous designs for over a decade. The self-taught milliner is much in demand by brides, celebrities and leading brands, including Air Partner Learjets, the Platinum Guild, Swarovski, Boucheron, Links and Rolls Royce.
Specialising in “magical, fantastical and exuberant” bespoke creations, Louis is a firm favourite with the fashion press, offering a ready-to-wear and bridal collection of hair accessories and hats which capture his playful and creative, yet elegant, spirit. Whether for a wedding, a high-society party, or simply an everyday accessory, Louis’ extraordinary haute couture creations inspire an instant sense of excitement, with headpieces that are simply out-of-this-world.
His alluring bejewelled collection comprises a showstopping array of handmade statement pieces adorned with exquisite crystals inspired by nature, incorporating beautiful floral and wildlife designs, while his ready-to-wear iconic hats and exude the glamorous beauty of the past, uniquely designed to inspire a woman’s inner elegance.
Style, elegance, glamour… Welcome to the wonderful world of Louis Mariette
Exotic inspiration | Louis’ passion for fashion and design began at an early age. Born in Malawi, he grew up in Botswana and Swaziland, and his exotic Southern African childhood has hugely influenced his work. With nature as his playground, Louis enjoyed exploring the flora and fauna, collecting semi-precious stones, seedpods, cactus flowers and beads and trimmings from local tribes. The delightful palette of colours and textures presented by in Africa’s wildlife is brought to life through the exotic elegance of his incredible designs.
“My childhood in Africa consisted of a myriad of dazzling insects, birdlife, exotic flora and fauna. Unbeknown to me, this was the catalyst of an overactive mind and plays a pivotal role in my designs today. I love the freedom to express!”
Louis’ love of travel takes him all over the world, where he sources hand-embroidered fabrics, antique embellishments, porcupine quills, feathers, hand-dipped painted resin flowers and semi-precious stones. He draws inspiration from unique destinations. “I have been exceptionally privileged as I have been to some unusual locations. I was once in the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. I was invited to some rare festivals very rarely witnessed by Westerners. The headwear and costumes were stunning, with unusual techniques used, such as braiding wool into hand-woven fabrics. It was very fascinating and intriguing.”
From party planner to celebrity hat designer | Louis’ illustrious career kicked off in hotel management before he began a party and wedding planning business. His first show as a designer, commissioned by renowned stylist Michael Dye, was in Milan. The rest, as they say, is hat history…
Louis’ talent, charisma and infectious joie de vivre has since captured the imaginations of top stylists and creative directors, with his designs gracing the pages of fashion shoots and adorning the windows of Harrods and Swarovski. His exceptional pieces have been exhibited at The New York Public Library, decorated the models on former London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s official visit to India, and made appearances at countless high-society events, while designer collaborations have seen him working with Manish Arora, Qasimi and Nichole de Carle
Louis is globally renowned for creating the world’s most expensive hat. Commissioned by Harrods, the stunning £1.5m Chapeau d’Amour is made from rare platinum and studded with diamonds. “It was made out of love, an aspiration to challenge myself and creative expression. It got attention, so I guess it was an important role for my millinery.”
How does it feel to have become a go-to brand? “I never view myself in such a way. When you have a business, it is like a cherished tree you want to see grow, and with this came a few unexpected opportunities and fantastic life experiences. This included being invited to No. 10 Downing Street, when the Blairs and Camerons were in office.”
With a discerning eye for detail which is second-to-none, Louis’ designs are the epitome of elegance and perfection. How does it feel to have worked alongside some of the world’s most prestigious names? “If your brands can complement each other than it makes sense to collaborate. I once stitched a Boucheron jewellery collection into a headpiece. I was assigned an elegant room to work in, complete with a bodyguard. I never was too sure if it was to keep intruders out or to keep me in!!!”
His favourite fashion shows and designers? “The first time I saw an Arkadius show with all the drama was wonderful, and I love the refined elegance and calmness of the Designer Wedding Show in Battersea in London.”
Louis has many style icons. “What draws my passion are ladies who have made the most of their public status by helping, or raising awareness of, issues. Queen Rania of Jordan… Angelina Jolie… Lily Cole…”
“There are many ladies I would adore to design for. I love the positive energy of Kylie Minogue, the talented actress Kristin Scott Thomas, the statuesque Nicole Kidman, Thandie Newton and the avant-garde Tilda Swinton.”
His favourite creation? “Probably the Princess Neptune hat encrusted with scallop shells. This was submerged underwater and photographed by Zena Holloway at the giant water tank at Pinewood Studios where a Bond scene was filmed!”
From Royal races to the Royal wedding… Celebrity hats & headpieces | In-demand milliner Louis is a supermodel’s dream. He has designed for numerous famous fashion faces, creating bespoke masterpieces for Kate Moss, Jerry Hall, and Jodie Kidd. “Jodie was so easy-going. I did chuckle to myself as throughout the shoot she was dripping in hundreds of thousands of couture dresses, jewellery and accessories. However, the highlight of her day was when a delivery arrived consisting of a new pair of her polo boots. Once a horse lover, forever one!”
Talking of horses for courses, as the official milliner for The Investec Epsom Derby in 2011, Louis fashioned a beautiful hat for British supermodel, Erin O’Conner, who was the face of the archetypal English racing event. His custom-made creation for the occasion was based on the lilac-breasted roller bird, one of his favourites in Botswana.
Now busy creating hats for the wedding and equestrian season, which high-society events is he most looking forward to? “Year after year, I design for the Royal Enclosure at Royal Ascot – more details soon! Cartier is always a lovely event, relaxed and sophisticated and unpretentious. I have never done Henley… time to get a boater on head and Pimm’s in hand!”
Fresh off TV screens, where he commented on the Royal wedding for NBC’s Megyn Kelly Today programme, Louis was bursting at the seams with excitement during THE event of the year. “The Royal wedding was millinery eye candy!!! I am a great believer of the Royals and what they do for charities and the rich history that we have in this country. Of course, the millinery industry they support is fantastic.”
“Meghan was the luckiest lady in the world as Her Majesty generously opened her private collection of tiara jewellery to adorn her for the big day, lending her Queen Mary’s diamond bandeau tiara. Imagine the history every piece has… It was a great day for Britain and America and, of course, a special day the world could watch. I wish them both well – they are the perfect match!”
Off to the races! Weaving the whimsical Mariette magic… | Currently working his marvellous Mariette magic on his amazing annual Ascot hat, what does Louis think the Queen will wear at this year’s racing event? “Her Majesty favours hats with a high crown and small brim, which are very much appreciated by press photographers as you can see her wonderful features. Much time goes into customizing and coordinating the colour palette of the hat and outfit. It’s always refreshing to see her and such a highlight as she always gets her ensemble spot-on perfect!!!”
Bride-to-be? Louis’ tips for a top headpiece!
With the wedding season in full swing, what should brides-to-be and their guests be looking to wear headpiece and hat-wise on THEIR big day?
“When it comes to brides, my bejewelled headpieces in frosted crystals are the elegant understated way to look graceful walking down the aisle. Either with or without a veil, and the headpiece perfectly coiffured with a hair design, it is a memorable piece to own. My choice of millinery are cocktail hats with unique decorative embellishments. The main reason being that ladies spend a lot of time, passion and money on their hair. Therefore, the synergy of hat and hair is a ‘bon marriage’.”
Hot hats… and how to wear them! | What’s hot in hats and headpieces? “Headbands are the rage. Especially when made with semi-precious stones within intricate jewellery creations. They are popular because you can accessorize them with both couture outfits and casualwear for both day and eveningwear. Hats don’t follow trends as much as main fashion. Milliners tend to create from a mood and feeling that they are expressing at the moment. Each creation is unique, I love that aspect.”
His top tips for wearing a hat?
- Don’t be a shrinking violet; a hat is the most prominent accessory so let it be an extension of your personality.
- If you visit a hat department, staff are there to assist and they know their job. Take their advice on the creation that is framing your look well, the angle that flatters, along with complimenting colours. Take your time until you feel the design is for you and try on as many as possible.
- Most ladies think hats don’t suit them. Totally not true. When you put on “the” one, you will know instantly that it belongs to you!
Sparkling Swarovski & elegant embellishments | The highly acclaimed hat-maker relishes pushing the boundaries of his craft, describing his style as “Romantic, elegant, escapist and avant-garde.” Unusual embellishments are his favourite materials to work with. “Semi-precious stones, objects that I have personally sourced around the world… they are my love and exploring for them is such a thrill. I once found giant snail shells from a palm forest on Bird Island that I used on a headpiece that Alec Wek wore.”
His ubiquitous use of Swarovski crystals adds high-spirited sparkle to his showstopping pieces. “Swarovski crystals are objects of infinite beauty and clarity, delivering a kaleidoscope of colours that bring my Louis Mariette bejewelled headpieces to life. The light reflects and illuminates these intricately-cut crystals, making them perfect for the most cutting-edge catwalk.”
Next Top Model tales… | This impressive hat-maker to the stars has featured in numerous high-end publications, including Vogue, Vanity Fair and Tatler, and has also starred as a TV judge on Britain’s Next Top Model, alongside model-turned-TV presenter, Lisa Snowdon, and former supermodel, Huggy Ragnersson.
“Being a judge on Britain’s Next Top Model was so exciting and fun! I always tried to motivate the girls to stay on top of their dream and reach their goals by staying positive, no matter what! It was an emotional rollercoaster of fabulousness, outrageousness, gorgeousness, tantrums, divas, catfights and amazing fashion. If I could bottle all this up, I would have a hit perfume! It was a magical experience that I cherish and I am grateful to have had such an amazing opportunity.”
He says the show was a journey of learning about the magnificent energy and positive enthusiasm the girls had for making a career for themselves. “It was full of joy, laughter and tears every day, as you saw girls getting closer to their dreams. What I wasn’t expecting was the emotion I would feel when the evictions arrived. I guess they all knew the deal, but it still came as a blow.”
“What also gave me my creative adrenaline was meeting the huge talent out there from designers, photographers, makeup artists, hair stylists… you name it. As well as being flown to Argentina, one of my highlights was when they recreated the underwater shoot. I was both excited but terribly nervous watching each girl submerge into the water, being given only one shot to get it right. You need nerves of steel, and trust me, it is so much harder than it looks!”
Louis also featured on Channel 5 TV’s How The Other Half Live, where Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford explored the lifestyles of the super-rich and showcased Louis’ much-loved Chapeau d’Amour. “Firstly, being elevated high up in the Shard in the Shangri-La hotel Penthouse is a treat. Being trapped in a penthouse with Ruth Holmes is like having your feet tickled! She is outrageously fun and a true professional.”
Magical Mariette jewellery | Along with spectacular headwear, Louis designs unique jewellery. “I begin the process myself by hand drawing a very technical design. As the creation is produced by my team, they have to know each crystal style, colour shade and colour of plating. The pieces are made and I give the final okay on design before it goes to plating. The only opportunity to adjust, it is a crucial stage as the items are in their “raw” state before crystals and plating are applied. After this, there is a quality control check, stress testing and the crystals are meticulously polished.”
New York highlights | With several exciting projects in the pipeline, what has been the highlight of this inspiring milliner’s amazing career so far? “Being awarded “Best Accessories” by the Tanzanite Foundation. They flew all the winners in the selected categories to New York to an awards ceremony at the incredible New York Public Library. It was a spectacular unveiling, consisting of thousands of violet candles (matching the Tanzanite stone) festooned down the entrance steps and tribal dancers with copious amounts of bubbly and frivolities…. a joyous New York evening experience.”
Hats off to him!
Watch this space for Louis’ amazing hat for Royal Ascot!