Fashion: transform an outfit with a show topping hat

By wearing a hat, you can enliven and transform an inexpensive outfit, and try on a different personality at the same time

Straw disc hat with giant pink rose, €350

T he fastest way to a smile is to try on a hat. It’s like experimenting with different personalities. These sophisticated affairs from Anthony Peto’s summer collection have a flamboyant character all their own, their light-hearted air belying the artistry and skill that goes into their making.

They are, he says, aimed at the “wildness” in a woman’s nature. “I am interested in how modern women dress and the ways in which they can express themselves differently with a hat, and not just dressing up for an occasion,” he says.

Freewheeling in spirit, they can enliven and transform even the most inexpensive ensemble.

Bird’s nest straw topper, €280; white floral print blouse, €38, Limited at M&S
Amadeus straw hat with raffia and feather trim, €250, white and ivory shirt €179, Paul Smith at Khan

He started with the basic shapes with which he is associated which are quite androgynous – boaters, top hats, trilbys – but which are then artfully altered through the use of decoration. “The shapes are obscured by the use of raffia , for example the brim and crown are altered and little feathers are hidden in the raffia in a very natural way. It’s like having nature on your head,” he says. Everything is handmade in his Paris workshop, the only one of its kind in the French capital.


Hats crowned with a bird’s nest or a giant butterfly, another a freeform Panama, are playful and exuberant. “I wanted a different kind of glamour, a freedom of constraint and to play with size – some flowers are enormous and not what you would expect. It’s about surprise. To bring something unexpected is the essence of chic,” he says. “They are not to be taken too seriously, so that you feel at ease, and not pretentious in any way.”

Peto is known for his use of straw, his straw toppers being very much his signature. “We want to showcase our particular skills as hatmakers and we are very good at straw,” he says. Watching a straw hat taking shape in a skilled artisan’s hands as he slowly stitches and moulds plaited lengths, is like seeing clay transformed on a potter’s wheel. You can see it on Peto’s website, “These skills are on the out and I am desperate to keep them going,” he says.

This week Peto is opening a new part of his shop on South Anne Street in Dublin, which will be based downstairs in a boudoir setting, to show some of these hats along with jewellery from Parisienne maker Marie Laure Chamorel, handmade silver pendants and bracelets designed, he says, to be worn barefoot.

“It is a more discreet place for women, so they are not in the shop window. We have Louis XVI sofas, Venetian glass, and have commissioned young Irish artist Jennifer O’Donoghue to paint one of the hats. The idea is to have a more intimate, feminine and experimental space where we can show what we are capable of making.”