Simon Meanwell-Ralph, the founder of 'Marvellous Millinery' has been making bespoke occasion wear hats for discerning customers since 2011 in his rose garden studio at his home in Winchester, UK. He is happily married and has three loopy yellow Labradors. Hats have always been his passion. His hats have been worn to many elegant weddings all around the world and graced the covers of glossy magazines. He has also designed hats for the British Royal Family.
Simon Meanwell-Ralph working in his studio in Winchester
“I have always had a flair for the dramatic and a hat 'completes' an outfit perfectly like a flamboyant bow at the end of a magnificent recital onstage. It also, (pretty much) always draws attention to the wearer - a certain amount of 'look at me' because most people nowadays don't wear hats. Personally - I'm never seen without one - they're what I'm known for!”
His hobby is Amateur Dramatics - in particular Musical Theatre, and he often gets involved with helping with the costumes or set design as well as performing. When it comes to going to university, his degree was in jewellery design from where he gained many transferrable skills from his time designing wearable objects in precious metals, to now designing and creating 'jewels for the head' which often feature crystals and wires.
How did you start your millinery journey? What are your sources of inspiration?
"I have been making and trimming hats for my mother and sister for as long as I can remember - when I was in my early teens perhaps? Then, as the years went by, I was asked by other family members and friends to make hats for weddings until I was lucky enough to be able to take my passion and make it my everyday job - I love what I do for a living!"
Image: A childhood memory of Simon and his sister (aged 5 and 3)
"My inspiration lies squarely in two places - the beauty of flowers (particularly roses) which I grow in my own garden and also see when I visit National Trust gardens - particularly Mottisfont Abbey near where I live which as luck would have it, houses the national collection of old-fashioned roses - delightful! And the second inspiration comes from working with materials and objects that I amass in certain colour combinations - I then start 'sketching' ideas with my hands at my bench and see what blossoms from there. Every day is a new challenge - which I revel in."
Image by: kateizakphotography.com - The roses in the garden near his studio are his constant inspiration
Simon Meanwell-Ralph is very well-known for making practical hats because they stay put throughout the day without being knocked when greeting guests (the ultimate 'kissing brim'), they have presence in photographs without getting in the way and also they can travel safely to destination weddings - particularly when protected in a biscuit tin tucked into the middle of the suitcase! He offers a wide range of different styles and scales of hat in his studio, so that he can offer something to please most customers who visit him in his Winchester home studio.
“I make each one to order and customise it to the bespoke requirements of each individual customer; larger picture hats in various designs and crown/brim combinations, stylish saucer hats that are very popular because they are easy to wear, smaller pillbox hats for smart occasions and some headband fascinators as well.”
Do you have a signature style? Tell us more about your most populat hat style.
“I suppose I am best known for the wide range of cocktail hats that I design and make, because of their versatility, comfort and style. It has been a great pleasure to have created many of these unique pieces specifically to sell through The Hat Circle. Like I said before, these little hats are a 'jewel for the head' and they suit most ladies who try them on."
A signature cocktail hat (bespoke) from Simon Meanwell’s collection.
We would love to hear about studio time and how you connect with your clients.
“My main customer is the Mother of the Bride or Mother of the Groom. I really enjoy helping ladies who are approaching a memorable day in their lives by going through the outline of the wedding plans with them. I have found that lots of discussion is helpful when guiding a customer into choosing the right hat for the occasion, after all, ordering a bespoke hat isn't something that she would do every day of the week! I've found that having an informal conversation to try to understand each customer's specific requirements can be very helpful for both of us, so that I can see what elegant solution I can design specifically for each lady.”
Deciding the right colour with a client
We are thrilled to say that each of the Marvellous Millinery collection for The Hat Circle features a unique 'one-of-a-kind' sprinkling of 'magic’ that you simply won't find when shopping for a hat in the high street.
"My years of experience in this area has been invaluable when it came to designing my capsule collection of hats for The Hat Circle."
Colour inspiration for a THC cocktail hat in a striking colour trend for A/W 2020/21
Marvellous Millinery hats have been featured in the press and television, ordered for members of the royal family and worn to many formal state occasions.
What's your proudest moment in your millinery career? What makes you a happy milliner?
I think the proudest thrill I get is when a Mother of the Bride or Groom catches herself in the mirror just after I have placed her new hat on her head and she realises, perhaps for the first time "...this is really happening, and I look and feel marvellous!" Ladies hold their head up and really revel in the moment - that is very special.
Or perhaps the pinnacle, is to serve a customer who has been personally recommended to come and see me by a previous happy customer, and purchase one of my hats for herself - I'd say that is the greatest compliment I can receive and the one I am most proud of.
Two customers enjoying their 'Marvellous Millinery Moments'
What's your hat styling advice for your clients?
"The other 2.5% is about wearing the colours that suit you, the appropriateness of the hat for the event you are attending and most importantly scale (in comparison to your silhouette and the size of the venue you are going to)."
What skills are necessary to be a successful designer? Do you have any tips for the aspiring milliners who want to start their own millinery brand?
I would say that I do have a 'style' and 'look' in my designs that has grown and developed over the years, and it's what I have come to be known for and what my customers expect. It has taken careful nurturing, feeding and exploration - with perhaps a few wrong turns along the path (learning from my mistakes)! In millinery, although certain trends come and go, 'fashion' is very slow-moving, and many customers enjoy classically styled hats that are tailored to their specifications by colour, trimmings or scale. I don't see it as a seasonal or even yearly cycle - I can say with confidence that one of the first hats I designed all those years ago is still as popular today as it was when it was featured amongst the pages of Vogue magazine over 10 years ago!
What's your prediction on trends for hat wearing? What style or colour would you recommend for 2020?
Due to the current legislation about smaller-scale weddings, I feel that 'quality over quantity' will become the order of the day. For that reason, I predict that smaller Cocktail hats, or neat Pillbox hats will be de rigueur for both the Mother of the Bride and Groom, as well as many of the significant guests at the wedding.
As for colours, I am seeing a lot of rich jewel colours going into the Autumn/Winter season such as Sapphire, Amethyst, Jade and Garnet - perfect for a sumptuous Winter Wedding. And moving forwards into Spring/Summer 2021 the depth of the colours will continue as a form of celebration in challenging times, but the tones will change to the exotic fruit palette of Lemon, Grapefruit, Apricot and Grape.
In these times, the rarity of a wedding needs to be celebrated by everyone attending and I really hope that most ladies present would be wearing something on their heads - simply to make the spectacle of the occasion even more delightful.
Many customers have complemented Marvellous Millinery on the fine quality of the material and the exceptional finish of each unique piece. Meticulous attention to detail has often won repeat business.
“I really LOVE my job - I hope that comes across in this interview! I take such great pride in everything I design and make.”
Do you have anything else you would like to let The Hat Circle customers and partners know about you and your brand?
Customers seem to really love visiting me in my new air-conditioned garden studio. I think it's because it's private - I only see one customer at a time (by appointment) and the personal 1-2-1 design service I give them makes them feel very special and particularly valued. A little moment of calm just for them, enabling them to really enjoy selecting a hat and have it specifically made to complete their look for the special day. Ladies often take advantage of the complimentary accessories I can also design and make for them too, such as clutch handbags in the same materials as the hat, freshwater pearl jewellery in tonal shades and silk opera-length stoles to keep the chill off. This enables them to complete their look effortlessly from top to toe, all in one fell swoop!
I always find it such a joy being able to help ladies, just at the right time in their lives. Like I said, many of my customers are Mothers of the Bride or Groom and this might be the first time that they plan to wear a special occasion hat like the ones I make. I work hard to ensure that this process is as painless for them as possible, and I try my utmost to ensure that my customers look and feel their very best on the special day. My customers seem to really appreciate that.
Time to share some fun images from Simon's life:
A fancy-dress school project aged about 10
A bit of fun - three of these ordered for a singing trio to wear on stage
And last but not the least, meet Anna, Edgar and Rosie - the three cute loopy yellow Labradors
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The Hat Circle Team