The Libertarian turns heads with millinery masterpieces by Jayne Elwell

A FRY up and a jar of Branston pickle may not be typical inspirations for glamorous hats but Jayne Elwell’s unique creations promise a delicious alternative to the overproduced and are being devoured by her customers.

Above the Dundas Shopping Arcade in Middlesbrough is a little slice of heaven where a lampshade and a dartboard propped against a vintage mirror spring to life when they’re positioned on a woman’s head.

Already popular with the retro vocal group, The Tootsie Rollers, Jayne said her dream clients would be Lady Gaga or another British female designer like Zandra Rhodes or Vivienne Westwood.

Her flamboyant millinery masterpieces can hold their own at Ascot but she also hand makes more demure creations as well as bridal wear and pieces can be hired as well as commissioned.

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It was while Jayne, from Sedgefield, was studying Fine Art at Oxford Brookes University that she became increasingly bored with the homogenous high street and started to make her own outfits due to the lack of decent, affordable clothing.

“They were edgy, inventive, recycled and in hindsight a bit ridiculous, but I was always complemented on them,” she said. Fuelled with the self-belief that her creativity would always be free and never stifled by commerciality she launched The Libertarian making homewares, clothing and accessories which she sold at fairs round the country.

As eclectic predecessors to her hats she designed cake stands out of vinyl records, mini bars out of dolls houses and colourful chunky chain necklaces from biro pens. “I realised that I needed to specialise as I wasn’t known for anything on particular. I made a couple of fascinators and they had were instantly snapped up so I enrolled on a millinery evening class at Middlesbrough College and I remember thinking, “I could really do this”.”

SHOWSTOPPERS: The media reaction to The Libertarian at Royal Ascot

SHOWSTOPPERS: The media reaction to The Libertarian at Royal Ascot

“I learnt how to make a felt had and after learning the basic principles I ran with it. My aim is to offer an alternative to what already exists so I create each hat from scratch and hand make as much of the trimmings as possible,” explained Jayne who offers hen party fascinator workshops or basic hat blocking skills to groups and individuals.

But it wasn’t until she was made redundant from her part-time job as a receptionist that she threw herself into the business in 2010. That summer she went to Royal

Ascot for the first time with friends wearing hats she’d made and now its iconic Ladies Day is a favourite with The Libertarian.

“The next year, as a bigger group,we all wore birds and we were bombarded all day – we got so much press it went everywhere, it even made the national tv news that night. “My friend went to the toilet and someone was banging on the door asking about her hat and people were wanting pictures while we were eating our lunch.

MILLINER: Jayne Elwell working on a creation for The Libertarian

MILLINER: Jayne Elwell working on a creation for The Libertarian

But the press didn’t mention my business name so the next year, I went with the theme ‘All things British’ to tie in with the London Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. There was an English breakfast hat, a teapot, a giant stamp and an afternoon tea and this time I made sure they knew who I was.”

But her hats are certainly not exclusive to the races, whether it’s a wedding, an anniversary or you just want some yesteryear glamour, Jayne’s hats can be hired for any occasion. Her Eiffel Tower creation has been worn in Paris as well as entertaining guests at a 40th birthday party in London.

Her own personal favourite, the chessboard, was modelled at the Fashion Front Row Catwalk of which she is one of the event organisers, as part of NE1’s Fashion Futures. Made of sinamay, a straw-like fabric, and black leather, the stunning head-turner can be hired for £40. “That hat is the epitome of what I want to do, it’s classic and stylish but also quirky. It just shows how my style is changing – when I started out I wanted to make things that were different but I have pulled it in more now, without losing any of that originality,” added Jayne, 32, who is a also a freelance lecturer in art and design at local colleges.

In her large workroom in the Navigator North complex she works on several hats at once with her sketchboard, sewing machine, wooden hat blocks and enviable collection of vintage Vogue magazines all close to hand. There is also an area designated as a showroom, which is a big girls fantasy dressing up box and she is eager for potential customers to come in and have a play.

“I’m really keen for people to come in and see them, they are made to be worn after all and I like seeing people’s faces light up when they try them on.”


Jayne Elwell at The Libertarian                                 


Instagram: thelibertarianmillinery



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