The story appears on

Page B2

November 4, 2011

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » People

Koch throws her hat into the ring

ELISABETH Koch has come a long way since creating her first hat. Panicked before a high-society wedding in London in the late 1980s, she quickly improvised to create a headpiece from things lying about her house.

"I was going to a very high-end wedding, and I didn't have a beautiful hat. So I decided I could make one," Koch says. "I just looked around my house, and I ended up making this hat out of feathers, cardboard, staples, nail varnish and then a hairclip."

The American-Dutch financier did not realize her passion for hats until a decade later however, when she enrolled at Wombourne School of Millinery in the UK in 2007. The next year her husband was called to Beijing for work, and Koch saw an opportunity to begin her career as a milliner.

Koch started wearing her eye-catching designs to every event she was invited to, and the media quickly became interested in this fledgling hat designer.

"It just snowballed from there. And very soon, within being in China for a few months, I had a 10-page spread in Harper's Bazaar. It's really amazing how fast that went."

The fashion world has fallen in love with Koch's designs. Her hats have featured in Chinese film "The Message" and American film "How It Ended," celebrities and global identities from Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, to Chinese star Zhang Ziyi, Na Ying and Li Bingbing have worn them, and they have been featured in editorial photoshoots in Vogue, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and more. Koch herself was voted one of China's top 100 influential women in 2009.

It was not all smooth sailing relocating to China, however. "The number one difficulty is finding materials. I cannot find traditional millinery materials here in China, I order almost everything from Europe. Fabric, a lot of felt, a lot of tools," she says. "On the other hand I can find a lot of fun things here that I haven't been able to find in Europe."

Her latest project has been an opportunity to plunge into Chinese culture: Koch has collaborated with Intercontinental hotels to create hats capturing the spirit of eight Chinese cities where the hotel chain has properties. The hats echo unique features of each city, from Suzhou's pingtan storytelling, which Koch interpreted by creating a hat shaped as the musical instrument pipa, to Chengdu's panda and Beijing's Peking Opera masks.

Koch now sells hats in eight outlets and is about to set up an atelier in Beijing with a retinue of staff to help her meet the growing demand for her hats. However, she shrinks from the idea of churning out hats factory-style, and is determined to stay boutique, handmade and bespoke.

"I don't want to mass-produce, I don't want to go to a factory. I know a lot of designers who draw a picture, and it goes to the factory, and the finished item comes back. I don't work like that."

For this reason she looks up to legendary shoe designer Ferragamo. "He inspires me in the sense that what he did was make beautiful shoes, all hand-crafted in a workshop, so super, super high-quality. He didn't give away his quality by making himself a big brand." Her other style hero is Lady Gaga, who is famous for her love of Irish milliner Philip Treacy. "Who inspires me? Lady Gaga. I really want her to wear some of my hats. I'm sure she will in the near future."

While some of her hats might be as theatrical and avant-garde as those Lady Gaga wears, Koch insists hats can be incorporated into the wardrobe of the everyday Chinese woman. "Sure I make everyday hats, for the everyday woman," Koch says. In particular, a felt cloche perfect for winter days has proven a best-seller of hers.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend