The Interview: Lady Laura Cathcart
Lady Laura Cathcart of Upton Cressett Hall in Shropshire is one of the country’s top society milliners. She spoke to Historic House magazine about creations good enough to eat, where a lady may safely remove her hat, and how to ‘block’.
Historic Houses: How did you get into millinery?
Lady Laura Cathcart: I come from a very aesthetic family; I learnt to sew as a child. I also loved wearing stylish hats to weddings and Ascot, so learning the trade seemed quirky and offbeat.
HH: What is the most extraordinary hat commission you’ve ever had?
LC: The highest profile was the black pillbox hat I made for Princess Olga Romanoff (a Historic Houses member, as it happens) for a service in St Petersburg on the 100th anniversary of her family’s murder. The footage of my hat was broadcast all over the world.
The most fun was probably the Royal Ascot window I did for Charbonnel et Walker – hats that looked like giant chocolates, inspired by Cecil Beaton’s My Fair Lady set. Some people thought the silk was real chocolate and tried to eat it!
HH: What part does living in a historic house play in your work?
LC: I named my first collection after I moved here after the new garden we planted – it was inspired by the borders. My studio in the grounds – a former carriage house – was a wedding present from my husband William. I take Invitation to View groups round it on tours – they learn about millinery and hat etiquette. I always remember – and pass on – Julian Fellowes’ advice: 'The only time a lady ever takes off her hat is in the bedroom!’
HH: What is the most difficult part of creating hats?
LC: People have no idea how much strength is required to ‘block’ a hat!
HH: What’s the current trend in hats?
LC: The fashion now is for headbands which I have been pioneering for the last year or so. My bestseller is called the Tatyana; it’s very popular right now and has been called in by the editor of Vogue.
HH: Whom would you most like to make a hat for?
LC: The Duchess of Cambridge. I’ve always admired her classic English style.
Tours of Upton Cressett Hall, including Laura’s studio, can be booked through Historic Houses Invitation to View. View all our tours here.