Member Spotlight: Sahar Freemantle – the modern day milliner

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June 22, 2020

Words by Abby Brennan

(Feature photo credit: Sina Bahrami)

In the first of our Community Member Spotlight series, we sit down with the rather fabulous Sahar Freemantle. Sahar is a modern day milliner, creating handmade hats and bespoke headwear from her studio in central London. With a degree in costume design from the Edinburgh College of Art and a penchant for the beauty which can be found in death and decay, Sahar’s work truly is one of a kind. 

We explore her macabre motifs and infatuation with taxidermy butterflies, as well as the importance of community within the creative industry, what it feels like to be exhibited in the V&A , designing for Downton Abbey and Sahar’s dream muse. 

Fed: Hi Sahar! So, your brand is split into two different labels – tell us a bit more about them both… 

Sahar: Yeah, so there’s Sahar Millinery and then there’s UglyLovely. Sahar Millinery actually came later even though that’s now the umbrella brand. Sahar Millinery came when I needed to make an income so as well as doing the UglyLovely stuff, I just started to make beautiful hats that were flattering and wearable and comfortable – the kind of hats that just couldn’t be described as UglyLovely. I’ve since made UglyLovely my niche, art, sub-brand and a chance to show off my portfolio transformation and give myself a chance to create just for the sake of creating. 

Fed: Where did your fascination for the macabre come from?

Sahar: I was brought up in the countryside – my dad’s a market gardener – and I was just surrounded by nature and death and decay and rebirth. Whether it’s vegetables or animals that die naturally… it’s called macabre but it’s just normal. It’s life and death. It’s just so completely and utterly normal. Things can be dead and discarded – whether it’s something that used to be alive or if it’s something like an object you found rusted at the bottom of your garden and it’s taken on a new physical form and it’s just about seeing beauty in these things really. 

Fed: Butterflies are a recurring taxidermy motif in your work, right?

Sahar: I just absolutely love the transformation of the caterpillar into the butterfly. It says so much in terms of our own transformation as human beings and the struggle that we need to go through in order to become as full as we can – coming into something completely beautiful on the other side. 

Fed: Which designers are you most inspired by?

Sahar: My all time favourite is Elsa Schiaparelli and the 1940s/1930s Surrealist artists because there’s such a sense of fun and playfulness and pushing the boundaries. Another obvious one is Phillip Treacy and the reason why it’s obvious is not because he’s famous but because he’s brilliant. He’s just amazing. Everything he creates is incredible. 

Fed: Congratulations on having your work exhibited in the V&A by the way!

Sahar: Yeah, so that was part of a really fun project which was to make hats and masks for a charity fundraiser called The Animal Ball. It was a completely mad affair. I did a few hats for them but the most popular one was the elephant hat which Ellie Goulding ended up wearing. Then,  Prince Charles and Camilla went to the exhibition and apparently – so I’m told – they were asked which was their favourite and they pointed to my hat! The people who had commissioned the hat then commissioned me to make for them so now [Charles and Camilla] have got those crazy elephant hats!

Fed: Tell us more about your recent work on Downton Abbey too…

Sahar: That was a really interesting experience actually… it was me sort of going back to my costume roots but not as in crazy costume roots, but more in the historical sense of things because [the hats] needed to be completely historically representative. It was really great to do – I got to spend loads of time researching and going back into the books which was a really nice change from making. 

For series five I did flat caps for the men and I needed to make three per hat because there was a scene where one of the characters was jumping in the river. Of course, in costume, for the scene like that where the actor is jumping into water and getting wet, his costume is going to be ruined so you have to have at least three of the exact replica costume. The other ones were just standard cloche hats, which were the 1920s shape for women. That’s now quite a popular hat shape which I do in my hat-making workshops.

Fed: This might be an obvious question now then but what has been your proudest career moment so far?

Sahar: Well, I think the two that we’ve spoken about. I mean, being exhibited in the V&A and obviously Downton – it’s going to take a little bit to beat them! I had a really great trip to Japan last year and that was fantastic because that’s been a dream for the last decade, to go and sell my hats there. It was amazing and there was this total mutual love between me and the Japanese. I was selling through a department store called the Hankyu Department Store and they do this fair where they invite British people to do traditional British… stuff. I was their chosen milliner!

(Read more about Sahar’s recent trip to Japan on her blog

Fed: Community is so important in the creative industry – is this something you try to achieve through your life drawing classes and workshops?

Sahar: Yeah definitely. I actively try to surround myself with positive people because it’s really lonely sometimes and it’s super easy to get disheartened. I’m really into anything to do with personal development and catching ourselves when we’re not being as powerful as we can be. 

The life drawing is just incredible because the artists we get coming are just amazing. Every single time I am just blown away and completely humbled by these people and how they’re coming to my events, they’re drawing my hats and they are loving it and I’m loving it and the models are loving it and the managers of the studio are loving it. It’s like, everyone’s loving this! I have to pinch myself every time because it’s been so nice to build all these different communities around me. The people that come to the life drawing – that’s definitely a community. 

Fed: Staying on the topic of community then – what made you become a Creative Industries Federation member?

Sahar: I’ve joined women’s networking groups but recently joining the Creative Industries Federation and knowing that there’s a whole bunch of other creatives out there and this other federation which exists for us is just great. I was first invited to an event that [the Fed] did about four years ago and I came as someone’s guest and there was a definitely sense of support in the room. In anybody that I spoke to I felt a sense of excitement and support for what I was saying about me and my work. Creative Industries Federation stayed in touch with me and sent a couple of people my way so it’s like I haven’t been forgotten and that actually means quite a lot. 

Credit – Kit Oates

Fed: We recently launched our Our World Without… campaign – what would a world without creativity mean to you?

Well, let me tell you a little story… Part two of my Japan blog is going be published quite soon and what part two is about is my trip to the Art Islands in Japan. It’s a cluster of islands that for a long time were derelict and used as a wasteland for industrial waste and young people all moved out. What was left was a few elderly people and this wasteland but eventually, a billionaire commissioned an architect to create museums to house his personal collection of super impressive artworks, including three moments, in the islands. Now every three years, artists take over the derelict buildings and do installations. 

So basically what’s happened is that the entire area has been regenerated by art and now there’s businesses on there thriving – it’s like there is no life without creativity. Creativity is the backbone of everything, it’s life. 

Fed: Before you go… if you had to pick one icon (dead or alive) to create headwear for, who would they be and what would you make?

Sahar: Marchesa Luisa Casati – it would be huge, an array of birds wings, beetles, crystal beads, butterflies, all delicately balanced and glistening in the sun! 

To see more of Sahar’s incredible work, visit her on Instagram @saharmillinery or to find out more about her popular life drawing classes, head to @millinersdrawingroom

For more information about the Creative Industries Federation Community membership, speak to our Memberships team today.