From the revival of the fascinator to Lady Gaga, young milliners are emerging to adorn the heads of the fashion-forward with contemporary pieces that seek to redefine tradition. It’s no surprise then that Harvy Santos, a classically trained ballet dancer-turned-designer, is throwing his hat into the ring. Coming to London via the Philippines, Santos has been quietly gaining a cult following while making commissioned hats out of his home studio for nearly three years. After touring with the Hong Kong Ballet, Santos worked on costumes and fashion pieces. He also started a design business in Hong Kong in 2005, turning out bespoke costume and couture commissions for individual clients to large-scale projects for stage and television. When he moved to London in 2008, the goal was to immerse himself in the art of millinery. He studied with Rose Cory – legendary milliner for the late Queen Mother – and won prizes at Royal Ascot a year later, and, most recently, the Worshipful Company of Feltmakers. Santos is more poised than ever for the spotlight, having just finished a year of intensive study at Kensington and Chelsea College while working at Noel Stewart Millinery. Santos works in structures, creating pieces that define not only our current cultural obsession (as led by the royal family and fashion’s starlets), but also call inspiration from the original rise of headwear. His inspiration also comes from unlikely places. “I’m a bit of Scrabble freak,” he says, “and odd words and letter combinations can generate new ideas.” Well that’s something I’ve never heard before, and, much like his work, it couldn’t feel more refreshing.
What inspires you?
Everything around me: art, fashions of the past, contemporary architecture, winter trees, even the costumes I make for young cousins in a summer play from paper plates and bin bags. My friends also push me in unexpected directions. I was having a pint one night when a friend asked, “Why do you always put a hat on the head? Can’t you put it somewhere else, like the knee or the shoulder?” I think the idea of a “shoulder-hat” is brilliant, so that’s next!
You’ve built a professional name for yourself now. When can we expect a full brand?
I’m currently focused on building my reputation one project and one client at a time, and I’m still considering exactly how and when I’ll be launching.
So how has your business shifted since you started?
Business is growing slowly, but steadily. Traffic on my website is increasing and I’m getting more and more enquiries. Still, I think part of me is really scared of standing on my own two feet.
Were you surprised or shocked by anything when you started taking on clients?
I am always surprised and delighted that people will pay me for my creations!
Who do you usually end up designing for then, do you have a specific customer in mind?
She is stylish and can spend money on beautiful things, and is strong enough to never feel guilty about it. She’s old enough to have the confidence to stand out and young enough to always spice tradition with a hint of anarchy.
Where do you want to take the brand in the future?
I dream of someday having my own atelier and shop here in London, and seeing my work stocked in specialty shops all over the world.
Any dream collaborations?
Mugler and Gaultier.
Your fashion dinner date, past or present, would be…
I’m very greedy. Why have a dinner date when you can have a fabulous party? The guest list would include McQueen, Mugler, Victor and Rolf, Lagerfeld, Stephen Jones, Noel Stewart, Formichetti, Wintour, Erdem, and the list goes on!
What’s one piece of advice you’d share with someone wanting to slowly start out in the business?
I’m not really in the position to give expert advice to aspiring designers, so I’m going to share what a mentor and friends have told me: Always be happy for other people’s achievements, believe in what you are, be fearless, and for goodness sake don’t work when you’re on holiday!