A tip of the Derby hat to Fielden Willmott ’07
May 2, 2013 By Cindy Long
around. Photos credited to Emily Moseley Photography.
Through her business, Fielden Willmott Millinery, Willmott
explores trends in hats. “My favorites right now include British
feather flowers and antique French veiling in crème,” she says.
Willmott studied at Couture Millinery Atelier under “millinery
superstar” Anya Caliendo, who has called Willmott “brilliant.”
Much like the myriad hats at the royal wedding of William and Kate, perhaps nothing says “Derby” in the Bluegrass quite like the fabulous headgear race-goers sport at the most famous horse race in the world. Like a parade of peacocks, men and women display finery small and large, feathered and jeweled, bowed and brimmed. And many of those looking for a unique and individualized style for the event will turn to the talents of Fielden Willmott ’07, owner and designer of Fielden Willmott Millinery. And the timing couldn’t have been better to follow her dream.
“I have absolutely seen an increase in hats since the Royal Wedding—they were Vogue’s Must Have Accessory for 2012,” Willmott says. “Hats are enjoying a prominent presence in fashion editorial, television, movies and award shows—Taylor Swift’s white-and-mirrored top-hat at the Grammy’s? Fabulous.”
And there’s the Derby, of course.
“Wide brim, fascinators, boaters, cloches—all handmade, couture, from the finest materials I can source from around the world,” she continues. “My favorites right now are British feather flowers, black-and-white polka dot Italian silk, and antique French veiling in crème.
“I also design men’s Derby hats. I’ve been selling a lot of straw and parabuntal boaters and fedoras. My clients bring samples of fabric, dresses, shoes, pictures, etc., and I design custom pieces that fit their style and proportions.”
And her sassy designs are generating a lot of notice. In March, she won the Most Glamorous Hat Award at the Millinery Guild’s Bonnet Bash at the National Arts Club in New York City. She was featured in the spring issue of Story magazine, and the headpiece on the cover of the sophomore issue of Cake and Whiskey magazine was Willmott’s design. She was chosen as a contestant on the competitive reality series TOPHAT on LX.TV 1st Look, where professional milliners from around the country vied for top hat-maker honors.
But the road to one’s dream isn’t always a straight one.
“I started sewing quilts and clothing when I was at Centre, but I’ve always been interested in needlework and embroidery,” Willmott says. “When I was a senior, I did an independent study on quilts and their historical significance, especially in relation to the Underground Railroad.
“After Centre, I received a Masters of Arts in teaching in secondary English from Morehead State University. Still sewing in my spare time, I became really interested in the construction of hats. Always one for a challenge, I enjoyed the sculptural aspect of millinery,” Willmott continues. “After I finished my master’s I began to teach, and though I loved it, what truly kept me awake at night were the hats that needed to get out of my head and into my hands.
“I wound up in New York studying with a millinery superstar, Anya Caliendo, at her Couture Millinery Atelier.” Caliendo called Willmott “brilliant” in a recent blog post.
Willmott returned to Lexington and began the process of opening her first studio and building her business. She won a loan from the competitive Bad Girl Ventures, a micro-lending organization in Cincinnati, and opened studio space in downtown Lexington with clothing designer Sarah Jane Estes in April.
Willmott seems to be an example of if you follow your passion success will follow.
“It was a daring jump out onto the limb, but I am happily finding the branch holding my weight and growing in strength daily.”
So, if you’re at Churchill Downs on May 4, pay close attention to the hats. Your favorites may have been made by Fielden Willmott Millinery.
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Centre College, founded in 1819, is a nationally ranked liberal arts college in Danville, Ky. Centre hosted its second Vice Presidential Debate on 10.11.12, and remains the smallest college in the smallest town ever to host a general election debate. For more, click here.