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Hat Chap: J Smith Esquire

September 12th, 2011

J Smith Esquire’s owner and founder discusses his newest exhibition launching during London Fashion Week. Here we discuss his creative process as well as his new collaboration with the Guoman Hotel Group.


Justin Smith is the creative director and owner of his millinery brand J Smith Esquire. Smith was recently commissioned by the Guoman Hotel Group to create five bespoke hats for the doormen of their London hotel collection, which sparked an exhibition entitled “Guoman presents J Smith Esquire – Five.” The exhibition will run for 5 weeks across the entire Guoman Hotel Group, with concentrated exhibitions at The Royal Horseguards and Charing Cross Hotel this Friday, 16 September.

Explain your design process.
I start with a seed idea, sometimes it’s an idea for a whole collection, how I want to develop a technique with a fabric, like the THREE collection that was all denim, and other times it starts with an idea like, “Wow, that would look good with a parrot on it!’ and I get carried away from there. I live in my own little fantasy world, having it take over for a while by something that inspires me, and go for it. Mostly, it’s the desire to keep learning, growing and keep pushing the millinery craft to the limit.

How long does it take to complete an intricate couture piece like the one you showcased at the exhibition Alta Roma?

For the Couture Parrot Headdress that I showed at Limited/Unlimited at Alta Roma, I worked on the technique for about three weeks to a month, then the actual piece took about two months to make. It’s made from layers of suede, hand cut into individual feathers, to replicate as much as I possibly could the exact measurements of a Red Macaw parrot in real life. It was a great challenge.

Why are hats so important – both every day and in formal occasions?

Hats create a character, they protect you, you can hide behind them, you can shine under them. In the ever changing fashion world, you can create a new look everyday by only changing your hat! When I was growing up, my nan used to say: “Don’t wear your hats indoors.” It’s a respect thing. Hats always symbolise something. I love the tradition of that.

Is there any one celebrity you’d love to wear your hats?

There are a lot of celebrities that have one of my hats in their personal wardrobe! I have to say I am always happy if the person who sees it falls in love with it and wears it with pride.

Are there any other milliners you look up to or admire?

I respect the craft very much, so look up to all milliners, as it’s a real labour of love.

What is this new project with the Guoman Hotel group?

Guoman Hotels came to me and asked if I could make a hat for the doormen of the hotels. Of course I said yes, as I love the uniform aspect, the element of prestige, and this is the creme de le crem of that. They have five hotels in central London, so we set out to make one hat shape that covered all five hotels, but five different trims for the hats for five different hotels. I looked thoroughly into the hotels, and took inspiration from the architecture for the trims. As there were five hats, five hotels, it’s five years of J Smith Esquire, so we decided to do an exhibition to launch the doormen’s hat with a great exhibition to accompany it.

Will the doormen be wearing the hats as part of their uniform from this point forward?

Of course.

Interview by Eunice Jera Lee

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