HAT WEEK: Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau and David Roberts’ previous life as a milliner

posted in: Andrea Beaty, David Roberts | 5

What’s a life without love, even if that love is a bit wonky and not quite what you expected?

1403988049Madame Chapeau, the latest creation from the finely paired team of Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, does her best to send little flights of joy and love out into the world, by making hats that perfectly match each of her clients. She’s imaginative, attentive and playful with what she creates, and her customers are delighted. However, poor Madame Chapeau lives alone. There clearly once was someone important in her life, but now, on her birthday she is left dining without close company.

What makes it even harder to bear is that her most treasured hat has been lost en route to her solo birthday meal. Passers-by try to help by offering their own hats to Madame Chapeau, and although their kindness is appreciated. nothing is quite right.

But then up steps a secret admirer, who has been watching Madame Chapeau for some time. A young girl, clearly fascinated by the hats Madame Chapeau creates, offers the milliner a little something she has been working on. It’s rather odd, but this gift has been made with much love and turns out to be the best sort of birthday present Mme Chapeau could have wished for. A new friendship is formed and – one suspects – a new hat maker begins her training.

Detail from Happy Birthday, Madam Chapeau. Note the hat that Madame Chapeau is wearing and compare it with the hat in the photo below of David Roberts' mum.
Detail from Happy Birthday, Madam Chapeau. Note the hat that Madame Chapeau is wearing and compare it with the hat in the photo below of David Roberts’ mum.

This is a whimsical and charming book which celebrates creativity, generosity and thoughtfulness from start to finish. Beaty’s rhyming text tells a heart-warming tale, but Roberts’ detailed and exuberant illustrations steal the show. With lots of famous hats to spot (look out for Princess Beatrice’s hat, for example, or Charlie Chaplin’s Derby) and fabulous fashion, food and architectural details to pour over, this book rewards repeated readings. Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau is a joyous, life-affirming read and if that isn’t enough of a reason to seek it out, do read Maria Popova’s commentary on the subtle message this book has about diversity and cultural stereotypes.

We brought Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau to life by customizing our own hats with pom-poms (these play an important role in the book).

chapeau1

Beanie type hats, plus some colourful craft pompoms make for some enjoyably silly headgear – perfect as winter approaches 😉

chapeau2

chapeau3

I wonder what David Roberts would make of our hats? I ask this because it turns out he was himself a milliner before he became an illustrator. From a young age he had an interest in fashion, making clothes for his sister and her dolls, before going on to study fashion design at college. From this, a special love and skill with hats grew – a love and eye that can clearly be seen in his Madame Chapeau illustrations. I asked David if he would share a little about his love of hats, how it developed and what he finds so enjoyable about making hats. Here’s what he had to say:-

One of the first hats David Roberts made  - for The Clothes Show competition in 1993.
One of the first hats David Roberts made – for The Clothes Show competition in 1993.

“As a kid I was fascinated by Mrs Shilling, and the hats her son David made that she wore to Ascot. They were so theatrical that it would make the news! I loved how she wore these amazing and often bizarre creations with such style and elegance – even if the hat was ridiculous she never looked ridiculous in it.”

David Shilling with his mother Gertrude Shilling. Photo: Sidney Harris

“So when I had the option to do a course in millinery while studying for a degree in fashion design at Manchester Polytechnic, I jumped at the chance, and from then on I was hooked.”

David Roberts' sister in the hat he made her for her wedding day.
David Roberts’ sister in the hat he made her for her wedding day.

“I love the sculptural aspect of millinery; a hat can be so individual, so singular, a one off. It’s so exciting to have all your elements to create a hat, cloth, wire, glue, buckram, feathers, beads, tulle, net and just let something evolve in your hands. It can turn in to anything really – an abstract shape or something natural like a plant or a flower.”

Stephen Jones, surrounded by some of his hat creations, London, circa 1985. Photo: Christopher Pillitz

“I worked for Stephen Jones for 5 years make his couture hats , where I learned so many skills. And although I loved making his imaginative creations, I stared to realise that I wanted to try my hand at illustrating children’s books – the other great passion in my life.”

This hat is one David Roberts made for his partner Chris (modelling it here). David used this as one of the hats in Madame Chapeau's shop.
This hat is one David Roberts made for his partner Chris (modelling it here). Do look out for it in Madame Chapeau’s shop!

“I am glad I made the step in to illustration, but I do still love to get the wire and beads and feathers out to make a hat once in a while. Madame Chapeau came about when the author Andrea Beaty heard that I had once been a milliner: She wrote the text for me and sent it from Chicago in a hat box! I was utterly captivated by it and enjoyed illustrating it and indulging myself once more in the wonderful world of millinery.”

This is the hat David Roberts gave to Madame Chapeau to wear. It is one David made for his mum to wear at his sister's wedding.
This is the hat David Roberts gave to Madame Chapeau to wear. It is one David made for his mum to wear at his sister’s wedding.

My enormous thanks to David for sharing some of his millinery background with us today. His passion for hats shines through in his gorgeous illustrations for Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau. Don’t take my word for it – go and find a copy to enjoy yourselves!

5 Responses

  1. I am rather fond of this book too! Thanks for posting all these hats!
    Julie Rowan-Zoch recently posted..‘Halloweensie’: Too Big for His Boots

  2. SIMONE FRASER

    Madame Chapeau’s eye’s have such sweet melancholy. And as usual, Zoe and the girls have shown us their joy-inducing creations.
    I think it’s quite normal for creative people to want to make hats… or be a hat?! Do chek out Phillip Treacy’s creations, if this world fascinates you.

  3. thanks Julie and Simone. Simone – yes I think you’ve got it spot on with her eyes. And I love your comment “I think it’s quite normal for creative people to want to make hats…”. Definitely!
    Zoe recently posted..HAT WEEK: Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau and David Roberts’ previous life as a milliner

  4. This is a fabulous book! So many details to look for! A great book to share with a friend!
    Rhythm recently posted..Augustus and His Smile

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