David Shilling - Fashion Designer Encyclopedia

English milliner and designer

Born: London, England, 27 June 1956. Education: St. Paul's School, Hammersmith, London. Career: Underwriter, Lloyd's of London, 1973-75; established millinery business, 1974; established own shop for couture hats, 1976; introduced women's ready-to-wear collection, 1984; other lines include menswear collection, 1986-89, and hand-painted ties, 1988-90; fashion correspondent, Radio London, 1982-86; Senior Consultant on Design and Product Adaptation, United Nations, from 1990; created symbol for Britain's Festival of Arts and Culture, 1995; designed the logo for the Consortium for Street Children; organized a millinery course in one of Her Majesty's prisons. Exhibitions: David Shilling—The Hats, toured the United Kingdom, 1981-84; Edinburgh College of Art, 1982; David Shilling: A Decade of Design, Chester Museum, England, 1991; exhibition of paintings, Richard Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh, 1991; Unique Insight Into David Shilling, Hatworks Museum, Stockport, 2001; Mrs. Shilling Outfits, National Horseracing Museum, Suffolk, 2001. Collections: Metropolitan Museum, New York; Los Angeles County Museum; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and Musee de l'Art Decoratif, Paris. Awards: President for Life of Valdivia, Ecuador. Address: 5 Homer Street, London W1H 1HN, England. Website: www.davidshilling.com .




Thinking Rich, London, 1986.



Hickey, Ted, and Elizabeth McCrumb, David Shilling: The Hats [exhibition catalogue], Belfast, 1981.

Polan, Brenda, ed., The Fashion Year, London, 1983.

Ginsburg, Madeleine, The Hat, Hauppauge, New York, 1990.

McDowell, Colin, Hats: Status, Style, Glamour, London, 1992.


Neustatter, Angela, "Cheeky Chapeaux," in The Guardian (London), 15 March 1978.

Glynn, Prudence, "A Sense of Occasion," in the Times (London), 16 March 1978.

"The Shilling Hat Man," in the Observer, 30 April 1978.

Cleave, Maureen, "Over 21," in Woman's Day, June 1979.

"Simply Shilling, My Dear," in Woman's Day, 23 July 1979.

Clemeneigh, Mirella, "Capelli in Mostra," in Casa Vogue, December 1980.

McKay, Peter, "Man with a Head for Hats," in Woman's Journal

(London), December 1980.

Heron, Marianne, "Shilling, the Man Who Makes Headlines," in Irish Independent, Summer 1981.

Blume, Mary, "David Shilling, Wild Hatter of Ascot," in the International Herald Tribune, 5 June 1982.

Webster, Valerie, "A Shilling's Worth of Extravagance," in the Scotsman, 15 February 1984.

Mercer, Tim, "A Room of My Own: David Shilling," in the Observer, 18 March 1984.

Benchy, Maeve, "Not Like the Ones He Used to Make for His Mother," in the Irish Times, 15 May 1984.

"Hats Off to Shilling," in World of Interiors (London), August 1984.

Hillier, Bevis, "David Shilling Hat Trick," in the Los Angeles Times, 13 October 1985.

"Haute Hats," in Cosmopolitan, November 1986.

"Who Needs Money to Be a Millionaire," in the Sunday Express, 2

November 1986.

"A Head for Hats," in Woman's Journal, February 1987.

Weber, Bruce, "The Milliner's Tale," in the New York Times Magazine, 24 April 1988.

"David Shilling, Hatmaker to the Rich and Famous," in Hello (London), 22 April 1989.

"A Hat Man's Day at the Races," in the Herald-Sun, 9 September 1990.

Smith, Liz, "David Shilling," in the Times, 6 February 1991.

Kuandika, Giyil, "David Shilling," in Business Times (Dar-Es-Salaam), May 1991.

Owens, Susan, "The Item to Top it All Off," in the Sydney Morning Herald, 25 August 1992.

Gibbs, Warren, "The Mad Hatter," in New Idea, 24 October 1992.

Cawthorne, Zelda, "Hats That are Ahead of the Rest," in the South China Morning Post, 28 November 1992.

Bunoan, Vladamir S., "Hats Off to David," in Philippine Business World, 2 February 1993.

Gusman, Susan A., "Hats Off," in the Philippine Daily Enquirer, 14 February 1993.


I have chosen to communicate not in words but in shapes and tones. In the catalogue to the 1981 Ulster Museum exhibition of my hats, I was quoted as saying that the work should speak for itself, that words about it are superfluous. I still believe this is true. If I thought I could express in words any meaningful essays or insights into my work, I might be able to save myself all the hard work that goes into creating whatever it may be that I am creating in all its glorious color and form.

The passion has always been there; as a child I knew what I wanted to be. I redesigned my room constantly but I didn't earn a penny from my designing until I sold soft toys to my local toy shop at 13. From then on I was hooked on fashion. I am very motivated by the challenges of my work, whether in art or design, and I always want to do better than before. I challenge myself; I love what I'm doing, and I guess if I find that much pleasure in it, so will my clients.

I knew my work would change over the years. What I had not expected was that enormous changes would occur at the heart of fashion itself. When I first started, you thought of fashion as clothes. Now, in every consumer purchase there is an element of fashion.

Success has not been an end in itself but the key to other things. Although I received no formal art education, it has enabled me to work in all sorts of areas, from interior design to working with the United Nations in developing countries.

I particularly enjoy innovation, but novelty alone is never enough. One of the keys of successful designing is getting your timing right. When I started designing hats commercially, I never dreamed they would have the global and continuing influence they have, but I knew I was on the right track. I knew women should enjoy again the pure indulgence of wearing hats. What I didn't foresee were the generations of young people who would imitate my success. Luckily, I still love making hats.

The deeper messages of my work I express in my paintings, examining conflicts and relationships. The message when I design is simply that to be alive is a gift, so every day should be a celebration.

—David Shilling


David Shilling's interest in millinery was first inspired by a visit to his mother's hatmaker at the age of 12. He resolved to design a hat for his mother to wear to that year's Royal Ascot. Mrs. Gertrude Shilling, who was already noted for her eccentric and flamboyant taste in occasion dressing, caused such a sensation that her appearance made front-page news. The press adored her, and for 30 years her appearance at Ascot was a national institution until her death in 1999. "Once my mother had got into the papers, she was determined to be in each subsequent year," Shilling later recalled. To gratify his mother's determination, Shilling was faced with the task of creating gimmick after gimmick, a process that led him to establish his own millinery business in 1974.

In contrast to his extravagant creations, Shilling has a vulnerable and sensitive approach to his work. This attitude led him to anonymously send his first collection of millinery to the London department stores Liberty and Fortnum & Mason. He opened his first shop in Marylebone High Street, London, where everything was designed and made on the premises. Noted for always looking in on his shop to see the results of his efforts and to advise anyone unaccustomed to wearing hats, he has an eye for detail and design flair that ensures that many of his devoted clients return each season.

No two Shilling hats are ever made exactly the same. Bloomingdale's, Bergdorf Goodman, and Nieman Marcus have all bought collections from Shilling in the past. The volume of work requested by his private clients, however, led Shilling to stop the wholesaling of his hats. Shilling's hats are more than fashion accessories; they are works of art and as such they have been exhibited in art galleries and museums around the world. According to Elizabeth McCrum from the Ulster Museum, "His hats have achieved the status of objects d'art… They also function most effectively, being both flattering and comfortable for the wearer."

Actress Susan George declared, "I only wear hats if it is a hat occasion; otherwise I tend to feel rather self-conscious." She was so overwhelmed by her choice of a Shilling wide-brimmed, veiled hat for Ascot that her self-consciousness quickly gave way to enthusiasm. As Shilling himself acknowledged, "I love women to look beautiful and could never let a woman walk out of my shop wearing a hat that I didn't think suited her." In contrast, another customer, journalist and painter Molly Parkin, admits to being a hat fetishist. "I wear hats all the time, even in bed," she said. "In fact, I can't do anything without a hat on." Shilling saw this as an ideal creative opportunity to encourage Parkin's idea that her hair is an accessory to his hats.

Shilling's basic design philosophy is simple. He believes if you pay attention to every detail of the hat from the initial design to the finishing touches, the hat will flatter the customer. His hats are created from a variety of fabrics and trimmings, including black lacquered feathers, felting, antique velvets, silk veiling, tulle, and artificial flowers. In many ways, he established a niche in the British millinery market for fantasy, with fashion hats that were witty yet stylish.

Shilling's hats reflect both a sculptural and architectural quality. In the early 1990s when he started working with all-white canvasses, his paintings were also more like sculptures. Shilling soon moved away from works with fabric and trim to create his sculptural designs. He now works with large, freestanding, mirror-polished stainless steel and a blowtorch. He completed his first commissioned sculpture in 1999, Between the Two Blues, in Nassau, Bahamas. Shilling's most recent commissioned sculptures are both in France.

Although Shilling never had any formal education in art, he has lectured all over the world on art and design at public gathering, art colleges, and universities. He has also worked with several government agencies, such as the United Nations, to promote the importance of excellence in design worldwide. His touch of design can be seen in the British Festival of Art and Culture 1995 symbol and in the logo for the Consortium for Street Children in London. He also served on the development committee for the Royal Academy.

"I'm the best hatmaker there is," Shilling once declared, but added modestly, "I don't know whether it is a good thing or not."

—Kevin Almond;

updated by Kim Brown

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