Fresh from being named The Best Bespoke Hat Making Company in London and the South East by Prestige Awards, Rickmansworth’s Oana Gheorghita takes us on her journey to the top
Looking at your background Oana, it sounds like the arts were all around you as a child…
I am lucky to come from a talented family, where the military, law and engineering careers were balanced with playing viola, sculpture (my grand-grandmother), piano, painting in oil, acrylic or watercolours, and even photography. I could add here that all the ladies in my family were sewing beautiful and unique clothes – in the 80s there were not too many options for fancy dresses. So, art, beauty and crafting, all of this was around me.
When did you move to Rickmansworth?
I moved to the UK at the beginning of 2015, with my family and my Yorkie. I was a category manager for one of the biggest FMCG companies in the world, which at that time had their HQ in Rickmansworth. I had never been to the UK before this job, and moving to this amazing town convinced me that I took the right decision to bring my family with me.
When did you first become interested in making hats?
Creativity is so important to a balanced life, especially when my whole professional life was about spreadsheets and numbers. When I decided to start making hats and fascinators, it was a difficult time in my career, when I had to take bold decisions to safeguard my mental health.
But the real trigger was when Catherine Middleton and Prince William got married in 2011 – I was thrilled with all the hats! I decided to learn more about the history of royal hats, the etiquette of wearing one, and how to create a design and collections. It involved so much research, and it is a continuous process, especially when new materials and techniques are developed – and, of course, new trends are emerging in fashion.
How did you learn the craft?
When I first started, I had an intensive five-day course with Sahar Freemantle of Sahar Millinery. I studied her style (she made some of the hats in Downton Abbey) and I loved it, so I contacted her to see if she was teaching. I was so happy when she offered me a week of intensive training, as the only thing I knew was how to sew. It was good enough to get me started. She had taught me in one week the main techniques of making felt, buckram and sinamay hats and fascinators. With what she taught me, I was good to go and practice myself, and this is how I have created my first five hats.
Not long after, I went to different masterclasses with the royal milliner Rachel Trevor-Morgan, where I learnt a very old technique in making straw hats. Then there were other masterclasses with Noel Stewart and Edwina Ibbotson, and I’ve been to a curation about the work of Philip Treacy OBE and Stephen Jones OBE work.
I am so obsessed with hats now, so much so that when I am watching movies, I am paying more attention to the costumes, hats, and décor, than the movie itself!
During your learning process with other milliners, was there one piece of advice that has always stayed with you?
Practice, practice, practice. I understand it, because it is so obvious – practice makes everything better.
When did you decide to start your business?
I decided to take it seriously, moving from a hobby to a paid service, at the beginning of 2018. It made sense, especially as I was creating so many hats – with new techniques – that I did not have any place to store them in the house any more! And after my first clients, with the word of mouth and recommendations, I have got more and more requests for wedding, bridal, cocktail, Ascot and even funeral hats. I have done some crazy hats as well, with LEDs blinking number 50 (for someone’s 50th birthday).
Your bespoke approach is understandably popular. Can you create anything within reason?
I strongly believe I can create almost anything I want to create. There are still hundreds of techniques and materials to explore, but with my skills and my ability to understand how a headwear works, I can transform a sketch into reality.
What has been your favourite creation to date?
I have made some nice hats, I can say that, but closest to my heart is the Hot Poppy Fascinator. I made it for the 2020 capsule collection, which is a free-formed red and black tulle fascinator, with some red sinamay going wild on top. I love it because it incorporates my personality and being different – standing tall and out from a crowd is my style. Red takes courage to wear, to attract attention. And because is all hand free formed, it took me some time to make it and to find the right balance and shape. I would wear it at Ascot, and I would feel excellent!
Have you still been busy during lockdown?
The lockdown was very unexpected for everyone, especially for the events and wedding industry. All the associated industries stood still, everyone now was concentration on staying safe, saving money, and even trying to keep their jobs. As my hats were mainly for weddings and events, people postponed their hat making sessions, and even cancelled their plans overall. The last wedding hat I have made before first lockdown was in March, for a wedding planned to happen in August 2020. I am not sure what happened with that event.
But then my need to keep creative and, at the same time, to help the community, made me buy my first sewing machine. So, I have started to make facemasks: three layers of cotton, for men, women and kids and I have donated to the people in Rickmansworth that needed them the most. Additionally, I have created little stuffed hearts and donated them to the Harefield Hospital for the ICU Covid patients, to share with the family home – one for them in hospital, and one for the family, to have a connection. I felt like I could make a difference.
Photos: McDowall Photography Instagram: https://instagram.com/mcdowallphotography
And Duncan McDowall: https://instagram.com/duncan_mcdowall_photographer
Model: Ivana BuenoInstagram: https://instagram.com/ivanabuenog
MUAH:Emma Baber Instagram: https://instagram.com/emmababer.hmua