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Noel Stewart's Heat Stroke

The millner showcases his S/S11 film and talks to Dazed about how he got started in fashion... and what he was like as a child

Architecture, organic shapes and contemporary art are only a few inspirations of London milliner Noel Stewart. The designer, who cut his teeth working for the likes of Dai Rees and Stephen Jones, is renowned for exploring the subjects both in his eponymous, art-meets-fashion collections, as well as in his work for other brands, which in the past has included Roksanda Ilincic, Erdem and Marc by Marc Jacobs. to name just a few. Dazed sat him down for a chat...

Dazed Digital: When did you first get interested in fashion?
Noel Stewart:
I guess it was when I first realised I was making it. The hats were initially a sculptural endeavour. I wasn’t particularly aware of the industry at the beginning, even though my grandmother was a dressmaker. But I slowly realised there was a niche for me. So I got proper training and work experience and it all started from there.

DD: What was your first job?
Noel Stewart:
My first job was with Dai Rees, who was making hats for the likes of Moschino. After I left, I went to work for Stephen Jones, but quickly realized that working for someone else was not for me. That later brought me to Royal College of Art, which gave me technical skills I didn’t have. Before that happened, I never even picked a needle… It’s funny to see how things change. Now I get to work with needles every day!

DD: What inspires your work?
Noel Stewart:
Architecture. Natural landscapes. I also find a lot of inspiration in science fiction and contemporary art.

DD: And what was was the main inspiration for the spring/summer 11 collection?
Noel Stewart
: The Isle of Skye in Scotland, which has the most amazing beaches. I wanted the hats to evoke the feel of Scotland summer, which is why I used a lot of tartans and wools, and later contrasted them with neon colours and plastic tubes.

DD: Apparently, some of your first designs were inspired by lampshades you made in the past…
Noel Stewart:
Well, at some point, I was working on a lampshade project using lots of tissue and wire. Naturally when I got my first order for a hat, those materials seemed very appropriate, because they are so light and airy. The first designs didn’t use any stitches, but it quickly changed after I did courses at St. Martin’s and Royal College of Art.

DD: Are you hoping for hats to become everyday attire in the future?
Noel Stewart:
I still think they are everyday attire. When you walk down the street today, there are at least three people wearing hats. They might not be designs I would make, but then again, I’m not really interested in casual fashion. I guess I’m more interested in creating fashion accessories that happen to be on the head. The industry also seems to changing. Back when I started there were almost no milliners from my generation. Now there are plenty of them. The course I teach also seems to be overbooked. That’s definitely a sign something’s changing.

DD: What were you like as a child?
Noel Stewart:
I think I was quite sweet and good-natured. Quite bossy as well. I have a younger brother whom I would boss around a lot! I remember getting into a lot of trouble because of that, but we’re on great terms now.