Alexandra Harper designs and produces statement hats and headpieces, garnering a global fanbase in the process. Here she reveals what it’s like to collaborate with Disney, why Star Wars is a big thing and how it all starts in Angel, Islington
First things first Alexandra, where do we find you at the time of this interview?
Well, I’m currently in Hong Kong – a stopover on the return leg of my flight from Australia back home to London. I was in Australia to catch up with family and friends, grab a touch of sun and beach, and do a little business with my Australian suppliers.
London Fashion Week is fast approaching, so how big a time is it for you?
It’s huge! Not only am I preparing my AW15 collection and providing headwear for other designers’ shows, it is also the unofficial start of the spring/summer social season – my busiest time of year.
How often do you spend time at your Angel-based studio?
I am usually based there 4-5 days a week, although that can be more or less depending on the time of year and how many off-site appointments and meetings I have scheduled. I try to spend as much time in Angel as possible – it is my favourite part of London and a huge source of inspiration – I love living and working in Angel.
Why was it the ideal location for you?
Well for starters the space is gorgeous. It’s a listed building and it just oozes charm and history. It has a great feel and vibe and is completely conducive to the creative process. It also offers a really flexible space – the front half of the studio is a dedicated shop-front where ready-to-wear pieces are available for sale and where client appointments take place. The back half is the workroom/atelier where all of the designing, hand-crafting and manufacturing takes place. I’m very proud that all of my pieces are one-off creations, hand-made in London.
How would you describe the studio to someone who hasn’t visited before?
I’d say it’s an historical space with an industrial vibe, where antique fittings, swathes of fabric and racks of millinery materials meet avant-garde, original and exceptional headwear design.
It’s not been too long since your second collaboration with Disney went public. How did you originally get involved with working alongside Disney and how exciting is the collaboration?
The collaboration is truly exciting. It’s such an honour to be working with a company like Disney that is so innovative and open in so many ways. The relationship came about when I met some Disney folks at a fashion event. I was of course wearing a headpiece, we got to chatting about the fashion-based relationships Disney fosters and the rest is history! It has been amazing to join the list of designers that have collaborated with Disney like Givenchy, Stella McCartney, Valentino and Christian Louboutin. I was thrilled to get involved and be in such terrific company.
What can you tell us about the Tinker Bell collaboration?
The AHM x Disney Tinker Bell Collection is a five-piece celebration of the original Tinker Bell, and the cheeky, charming and effervescent elements of her personality. Three feminine, sparkly and colourful pieces sit with two more tom-boyish and darker hats to form a wearable, accessible and fun collection of headwear.
How do your ideas for designs tend to form?
There’s no fixed method. My inspiration comes from all sorts of things – design, art, architecture, nature, travel, my surroundings – so the idea for a particular piece or collection usually starts small, maybe based on one particular element of something that has inspired me, then the piece or collection forms from there and is usually based on a material or colour that I am especially keen to use or develop.
We also heard about your bespoke hat made out of chocolate. Why keen on taking on such a commission?
A hat made out of chocolate? Who wouldn’t be keen! The opportunity to use a non-traditional material like chocolate to create a wearable headpiece was too good to miss, and I was enormously excited to work on the commission. I was also very interested in working with one of London’s top pastry chefs, to see if we really could take hats out of the studio and into the kitchen!
What has been the most fun thing you’ve worked on?
My most favourite pieces to work on are bespoke creations for clients who have an extra-special event – it is so much fun and so fulfilling to create an occasion hat for a woman who is commissioning the piece for a meaningful event in her life. Whether it’s for a bride, her mother or someone attending a Buckingham Palace garden party, it’s a joy to get personally involved and provide that client with a piece they will treasure forever.
Looking back Alexandra, what have been the three most important commissions in your career to date?
That’s a hard one to answer, as so many pieces have lead to so many different opportunities and exposure. I think one of my most important commissions was a number of pieces I created for a very loyal client in Australia who is an exceptional ambassador for racing fashion globally. She has such a vivacious and infectious personality, it is an honour to have her proudly wear and promote my headwear on the world stage. Secondly (and although not technically a commission), my first collection after the re-branding and re-designing of my label and website was extremely important in cementing my reputation in the UK and securing an amazing stockist in Fortnum and Mason. And thirdly, purely personally speaking, the piece I created for myself for my wedding was a real statement and truly reinforced my personal style, the essence of my creations and my design aesthetic.
Has your brand been everything you dreamed it would be when you first trained as a milliner?
More! I never imagined I would have a successful shop and studio in London, and have my hats stocked in the London institution that is Fortnum and Mason. The next few years will be hugely exciting, and I can’t wait to see where the business goes!
Is the industry thriving today?
Absolutely, and particularly in the UK. We are a nation of hat-wearers, whether it’s fashion headwear or winter warmers, and even for men hats are everyday attire. It’s very exciting to see hats-as-fashion become more and more popular and I have every confidence that the industry is going from strength to strength.
What else does 2015 hold in store for you?
Alongside my usual autumn/winter and spring/summer collections, there’ll be two more collections for Disney – one in March inspired by the new Cinderella film, and another centred around Star Wars, due for release in September. We’ll also release an extensive bridal collection this year, and we’ve got some other exciting collaborations with fashion designers in the pipeline.
Interview by Mark Kebble
Find out more at alexandraharpermillinery.com or by calling 020 7833 5948