The top hatter. Meet Eda Rose. Couture milliner extraordinaire

Inventive, original, glamorous.

Three words that describe not only the millinery creations of Eda Rose but also the very lady herself. Over her incredible career Eda’s exclusive, bespoke designs have adorned and delighted a veritable who’s who of clients. Her hats have turned heads at almost every big society occasion you can think of – both in the UK and much further afield. No wonder she has become one of the country’s best-loved and highly respected couture milliners. So what started her on this path? How did it lead to where she is today? We’ll let Eda Rose tell us in her own words. Just hold onto your hat!

“A hat is more of a flight of fancy. You can do anything with a hat as long as it sits comfortably on the head.”

After leaving Cyfarthfa Castle Grammar School in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, I went to the renowned Goldsmith’s art college in London during the 1960s. Embroidery, dress design, millinery and sculpture were all on the syllabus, however I found dress design too restrictive. The three- dimensional form fascinated me, I felt that sculptural design could be reflected in the way you look at hats. To me a hat is more than a flight of fancy. You can do anything with a hat as long as it sits comfortably on the head.

“Treading the boards with Kenneth Branagh”. 

I taught art at the Elmhurst Ballet School in Camberley, Surrey. I made a hat for a production and someone saw it – and really that’s how it all started. (In fact her first customer was the Australian operatic soprano, Joan Hammond).
Theatre has always been a great love of mine but more of a hobby than a talent. However I did tread the boards in AmDram fashion alongside Kenneth Branagh with the Berkshire Shakespeare Players and at the Progress Theatre in Reading. My husband George says that I’ve been a thespian ever since. Maybe that’s what has helped my ability with presentations and as a public speaker.
For a while I put all my artistic side on the back burner and became an RSA TEFL (Teacher of English as a Foreign Language) and went to Germany. However the lure of the fashion and millinery world eventually called me back.

“I want a woman to feel fantastic and confident.” 

My then widowed mother and I lived in Henley-on-Thames at the time and I staged an exhibition of my hats at the Town Hall. A Harrods representative attended and, as a result, became my first wholesale customer. I have to say that back then I was producing two collections a year of around 40 to 50 hats with a team of up to five assistants. Royal Ascot, Henley Royal Regatta, the Kentucky Derby and the Melbourne Cup were the key annual events. My relationship with Harrods lasted for twelve exciting years until I felt the need to work solely with my private clients.
For me designing and making a hat is a totally hands-on, 100% dedicated experience for each client. You have to get the right style, colour and material that is best suited for the individual and the event. I want a woman to feel fantastic and confident and that means getting everything right in every single detail. So I retained my small, very busy design studio, not wishing to expand and risk losing that highly personal touch.

“Great hats are wearable sculpture. You have to have the courage to do things that may seem wild to others.”

In the 1970s Lucienne Phillips in Knightsbridge was a doyenne of the London fashion scene. I took my work to the boutique but Lucienne wasn’t buying. It was sale or return only. However, as luck would have it an American lady breezed in grabbed one of my hats, tried it on and paraded around the shop from one mirror to another.” How much is it?” whispered Lucienne. I told her and the sale was done. So began a very prosperous relationship and customers, via the boutique, as high profile as Diana, Princess of Wales.

“Only the second female Master Feltmaker since the 1600s.” 

I’d been a member of the Worshipful Company of Feltmakers since 1997. So it was an immense source of pride to be awarded the prestigious position of Master Feltmaker in 2011 – only the second woman ever to receive the honour since the inception of the Company in the 1600s! This was a year-long role helming the Worshipful Company – one of the livery companies of the City of London, a crafts-based trade association steeped in the history, tradition and preservation of the exacting standards that are equally dear to my heart.
Naturally, I made my own ceremonial Master’s tricorn hat. I also made and presented the mayoral tricorn to my friend Dame Fiona Woolf when she became the Lord Mayor of London in 2013. She greatly appreciated the more comfortable and much lighter version than is traditionally made.
Thanks to the organisational skills of my husband, my tenure became the best ever in the Livery’s history of fundraising, realising £87,000 in that year!

“A client would have five hats. One for each day at Ascot. Then Covid put a tin hat on it.” 

With all sporting events cancelled for two years, lockdown meant people dressed down. The millinery trade was decimated. This was my cue to retire.
Glamour, I’m pleased to say, is now starting to re-emerge as events begin to open up. I have closed my Oxfordshire showroom but still have a few Eda Rose hats with me in Stow should anyone be interested.
There are simply so many wonderful stories in my life in couture fashion. However my most precious memory has to be the satisfaction I’ve gained from my clients. They’ve told me how my creations transformed the way they looked and felt. I’ve literally helped them turn heads.