A chat with milliner Robyn Coles and her 2013 hat collection

Interview with hat designer and maker ‘Mad Hatter’ Robyn Coles

Millinery makes me think of old ladies smelling vaguely of lavender working on their hats while sipping hot cups of teas; maybe, sewing tightly with their small, small hands and talking in just as small voices.

Robyn Coles' voice is full and her hands move to put the stress on concepts, words and passions. Being a young, glamorous woman with a contagious laugh, impeccable taste and strong thoughts. Her three-month-old studio is filled with stunning hats posing better than models through its clear windows. People stop, stare and leave; others take a leaflet, many smile at the elegant yet different creations and very few walk away without much of a peek.

Located in Cardiff's precious Castle Arcade, the studio is luminous and modern, far away from my lavender dreams of millinery but still fascinating.

I arrive at her studio early and while we are both sitting at a table covered by just as much hats, with Olive, Robyn's princess-like Labrador puppy, playing in its corners, I switch the recorder on and start our chat.

The first thing I learn about Robyn is that, despite being an exquisite milliner and having worked for the big names in fashion, she hasn't got a fashion degree.

"I have a degree in Politics and Economics," she tells me while keeping an eye on Olive who seems busy with a new toy. After working for many well known brands such as Armani and Liberty, she finally launched her own business last year; an experience which has been described by herself as being both fulfilling and scary.

"After I left university, I worked as a buyer assistant for Armani for a few years and then I worked for Liberty for a while and up until last year I was the head of buying and merchandising at Browns. This has been a good experience but I think that this has come at the right time to be in charge of my own business and to be on the other side as well, to actually be designing and to put things out there. It's really weird to be on the other side of it. It's strange but really fulfilling; but scary."

But with her beautiful hats slowly taking the world, it is almost impossible to believe she has anything to be scared of; especially considering that she has been in the business for quite a long time:

"I have always been quite an accessory fan even though most of my merchandising career has focused on ready to wear," she tells me. "I guess one of my earliest memories was trying on hats with my mother at the department store and I was always really happy with that. I do like accessories and I think sometimes accessories are more easily identifiable and some people can just pick something and style with many other things."

If her accessory passion played a great deal in pursuing her hat dreams, losing her job at Browns did the rest: "Things just happened really suddenly so I said to myself: 'right we need to do something new'; and I looked on the London College of Fashion and that was the first thing that came up and it just happened. I am not a big believer in faith but I think that there was something there that made that happen."

Faith or not, one thing is certain, her London Fashion Week debut made quite an impression with her models walking the catwalk completely naked except for wearing Robyn's hats, of course.

"I didn't think it was that big deal," she laughs. "It wasn't meant to be groundbreaking, avant-garde, or provocative. It just meant to be light hearted, tongue and cheek, a bit of fun, this is just, I think, how I approach life in general and it was a very natural thing."

"It came together surprisingly easily, you will be amazed to learn how many people are happy to take their clothes off," she adds showing me the "light hearted, tongue and cheek," attitude to life she was talking about before. "We had a wide range of people from Sophia who was pregnant to Alex who was in her 60s and burlesque dancers. I liked that personally," she admits. "After so many years of seeing always the same things on the catwalk, I liked to see something a little different; something to spice it up a little bit."

Sending naked models on the catwalk wasn't just for pure fun, of course, it translated into a direct message for fashion lovers out there; "Sometimes it doesn't matter what you are wearing an accessory can be the very "piece of resistance" of your outfit, of your look," Robyn says and she also adds that it doesn't matter if you are a size 8 or a 14 because accessories are a safe ground where you can always play and look good.

But, she also adds, being comfortable is a mayor issue when people are trying to buy the right hat:

"Hat wearing is not natural to many people," Robyn says. "So you have to find what makes you comfortable; otherwise you are going to feel awkward and you are going to look awkward. When people come in, I just say try as much on, even if you have to go to Debenhams or Accessorize, find the things you like and the ones you don't like, find the things you are most comfortable with. I had a lady coming last week, who had been brought by her daughter. She went all like: 'oh she is getting married, she told me I have to wear a hat, I don't wear hats, I don't like hats…'and I said 'OK, we will go for something different'; and she walked out with the most elaborated piece, she walked out with a giant leaf that was attached to the cone; and as soon as we put it on her, she just started laughing and she said: 'It's bonkers but it just feels really right.' Being comfortable is the most important thing."

With a new sparkly collection inspired by flowers, it looks like 2013 will be a very busy time for Robyn who hopes to show her creations during Premiere Classe, Paris' most important fashion accessories trade show, next March.

With a thought or, maybe, two to finally get to try on her wonderful hats, I wrap up our interview, thanking Robyn for her time and Olive for being so good. She might not reflect that millinery image in my head but to have a 'Robyn Coles' in any wardrobe would be an absolute privilege.