Gemma Sangwine

Unique and bespoke millinery, fascinators and bridal tiaras

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A tiara fit for a princess

Megan Markle wears Queen Mary tiaraMeghan Markle, the Duchess of Wessex, dazzled on her wedding day on Saturday, wearing a beautiful diamond tiara lent to her by the Queen.

The Queen Mary diamond bandeau tiara was made in 1932 for Queen Mary – our current HRH’s grandmother. The centre piece is a detachable brooch which was given to Mary of Teck (as she was then) in 1893 by the County of Lincoln, on her marriage to Prince George, Duke of York.


The platinum tiara is made in a striking, art deco style with eleven sections, featuring interlaced ovals and pavé diamonds along with large and small brilliant diamonds. It was made specifically to accommodate and show off the stunning detachable brooch of 10 brilliant diamonds.

It was bequeathed to Queen Elizabeth following Queen Mary’s death in 1953, and hasn’t been seen since it was last worn by Princess Margaret in 1965.


Meghan was reportedly invited by the Queen to Buckingham Palace to view the extensive collection of jewellery and to choose a tiara to wear on her wedding day.  Tradition dictates that tiaras can only be worn by married women or by brides on their wedding day, when they are seen as an emblem of the loss of innocence and the crowning of love.

Initial speculation was that Meghan would wear the Spencer tiara, as worn by Princess Diana on her wedding day. Choosing a piece from the Queens collection seems to have been another gesture to cement the bond between Meghan and the royal family. However there was a nod to the late princess’s memory when Meghan wore Diana’s aquamarine cocktail ring by Asprey to the evening reception at Frogmore House.

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Outfit styling for a 1920’s Party – Showgirl with a twist

Theatrical productions were a popular form of entertainment in the early 20th century, with lavish sets, elaborate costumes and big budgets to spend on popular stars. The most famous production names from this era were the Folies Bergere, the Ziegfeld Follies and the Ballets Russes.

Edouard_Manet,_A_Bar_at_the_Folies-BergèreYou may well recognise this painting on the left – I certainly do as I studied it closely in my Art History at A Level – it dates from 1882 and is titled A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Édouard Manet. I always though the poor barmaid looked like she was patiently listening to some predictable chat-up line from the mustachioed gent stood before her!

First opening in 1869, the Folies Bergère is a Parisian cabaret music hall, which was initially built and used as an opera house. The facade was re-designed in 1926 by the artist Maurice Pico in the popular Art Deco style, and it is still in business to this day.

800px-Baker_Banana Here’s another iconic image for you, the singer and dancer  Josephine Baker in her infamous banana costume. This outfit, which was basically a string of bejewelled artificial bananas worn around the waist, with little else, was made for the 1926 revue La Folie du Jour. As you can imagine, the shows were not for the prudish, featuring elaborate costumes and erotic dancing, with the female performers in revealing outfits,  often practically naked.

The Ziegfeld Follies was founded in New York in 1907 by Florenz Ziegfeld and his wife Anna Held, taking their inspiration from the Folies Bergère

Their Broadway theatrical revues, which ran until 1931, featured many top entertainers from Josephine Baker and Louise Brooks to Bob Hope, alongside the Ziegfeld Girls, a chorus line of beautiful young women who sang and danced in elaborate costumes, some designed by Erte.

The Charleston, an energetic dance with side kicks and exaggerated play with the knees and probably the most widely known dance from the 1920’s, was created for the Ziegfeld Follies show ‘Running Wild’ in 1923.

Despite it’s name, the Ballets Russes never actually performed in Russia, preferring instead to base themselves in Paris and tour around Europe and North and South America. Ballet Russes Anna Pavlova & Laurent Novikoff

Formed in 1909 by Sergei Diaghilev it brought together young and innovative composers, artists, designers, choreographers and performers, injecting new life into ballet and bringing many new visual artists to the public’s attention.

Diaghilev commissioned all new works from composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Claude Debussy, he turned to artists such as Vasily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse for the set design, and the bold and exotic costumes were by designers such as fellow Russian Léon Bakst and Coco Chanel.Giorgio de Chirico for The Ball 1929 Ballets Russes

Costume Design by Giorgio de Chirico, The Ball (1929). [Credit: Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, The National Gallery of Art]

The Ballets Russes productions were so groundbreaking they are still referenced today, in fashion as well as theatre and ballet.

You can get the look today with trompe-l’œil dresses, black and white harlequin or pierrot costumes, sequin and bejewelled showgirl outfits with feather headdresses to match, or go DIY and channel Josephine Baker with a string of faux fruit covering up your modesty!


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Outfit styling for a 1920’s Party – The Flapper


Peaky blinders LizzieI make a lot of headdresses for clients to wear to 1920’s parties – the Great Gatsby, Peaky Blinders or Speak Easy theme is always popular for dressing up in style!

As original vintage clothing from this era is hard to come by and very collectible, it makes sense to just get an outfit together which ticks all the style boxes but is still affordable, practical, and you can wear again.

First up we are going to look at the iconic Flapper Girl. A bright young thing, with bobbed hair, she wore make-up, which she wasn’t afraid to apply in public, drank and smoked and danced energetically to the new jazz music. Mattita, 1920's Fashions changed dramatically in the 1920’s as women were exploring new, post war freedoms, including the right to vote.

As clothing evolved the restrictive corset was cast aside and women were able to enjoy more activities which were previously impractical or difficult to participate in; sports such as tennis, golf, swimming and cycling were popular.

Young women were gaining more independence, the world was changing, with the evolution of new technologies came new jobs, typists, bank clerks, telephone exchange operators, as well as factory production line work.

These young women had more disposable income and they looked to movie stars and magazines for their style inspiration; public figures such as actress and original ‘It Girl’ Clara Bow, singer, dancer and entertainer Josephine Baker, actress Tallulah Bankhead with her brash personality and acerbic wit, and socialite, novelist and painter Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F Scott Fitzgerald who captured the highs and lows of the roaring 20’s in his novels the Great Gatsby and The Beautiful and the Damned.

Great Gatsby 1974 This era has been referenced time and time again through the decades, most notably in the 1974 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby with Mia Farrow and Robert Redford, and Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film version with Carey Mulligan and Leonardo DiCaprio.

The iconic flapper dress is essentially a simple, loose-fitting, straight up and down sleeveless dress. It had no zipper or fastenings and was simply pulled on over the head. The ideal physique was slim and boyish, so minimal curves here – the ideal look was ‘le garconne’, short hair and flat as a board!  These dresses initially had a dropped waist, which then evolved so that by 1927 waistlines had gone altogether and hemlines rose to just below the knee. Covered in beads, or sequins, usually in a geometric, Art Deco pattern, they would shimmy and glisten in the light, tiers of fringing moving with the wearer as they danced. They were usually made with embellished silk, but with the advent of new materials, such as rayon – a cellulose based fibre usually made from wood pulp – more affordable versions were available for those who couldn’t afford couture.

Nowadays many high street fashion stores have a 20’s inspired look for their party dresses, look to labels like Kate Moss for Topshop, Reiss, Hobbs, Phase Eight and Karen Millen.

If you don’t mind wearing second hand then you can pick up preloved dresses from dress agencies or online from eBay, better to buy a well made dress in good quality fabrics which will look good and last a long time, rather than a fancy dress costume which is designed to be worn once then thrown away.

Finish off the look with a headband with feathers and a beaded or diamante motif, a string of long beads or a tassel necklace, long gloves, and mary jane or t-bar shoes with a small heel. Cigratte holder is optional!


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Royal Women – Queens and Princesses and their dresses

This week got off to a good start, with a trip to Bath with my studio buddies Nick and Victoria, to see the Royal Women exhibition at the Fashion MuseumRoyal-Fashion-MAIN

On display were dresses and gowns from four recent generations of the British royal family, Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and Princess Margaret.

For these women it was important to support British designers and materials, as a way to show patriotic loyalty to their new role. “In 1863 Alexandra brought her own beautiful Belgian lace wedding gown, but was forced instead into a blizzard of Honiton lace and swags of orange blossom: the exhibition demonstrates how as soon as she could she had the gown drastically remodelled, stripping off the frills and abandoning the giant crinoline.” 

By 1910 Alexandra preferred French couture houses, and the dress that I would have taken away was a purple embroidered chiffon evening dress by Doeuillet, Paris. The colour is a deep, regal purple with the most exquisite embroidery and bead work, including tassels of beads cascading from the cuff on the short sleeves.

There were two dresses from Queen Mary, both from the 1930’s, my favourite era, one a floor length fully beaded gown, the other a devore velvet dress with built-in cape.

Queen Elizabeth Queen Mother If you’ve been watching The Crown you will have had a window into the world of the royal family, and looking at the dresses from Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother I was reminded that Edward and Wallace called her as Cookie, a reference to her rounded build (like a cook, not a biscuit!).

In comparison Princess Margaret’s dresses were tiny, her Dior dress from the early 50’s practically looks like it’s got a handspan waist.

She certainly seemed to be able to have more fun with fashion, and didn’t feel the need to always buy British, though she did follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and wear Norman Hartnell dresses. In fact Hartnell designed the wedding dresses for both Margaret, in 1960, and her sister Queen Elizabeth, in 1947.

Interestingly, many of these garments have survived because they were passed on to ladies in waiting or friends of the family. Some are on loan from our current Queen and others were purchased years ago by the museums founder, the costume historian Doris Langley Moore, as she discovered them squirreled away in a boutique in London.

The dresses which belonged to Margaret were acquired when one of the curators at the museum was invited by the Queen to come to Kensington Palace, pieces from Margaret’s wardrobe were laid out on a bed and the curator was motioned to pick one or two…well they cheekily asked if they could take them all, and, after some consultation, they did!

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WedFest April 2018

With the promise of spring in the air, last weekend I packed up lots of my sample stock and trundled over to exhibit at WedFest in Cheltenham. It’s a wedding fair with a difference – set in an old barn on a farm in the lovely Cotswold countryside – and as well as showcasing wedding suppliers there’s also food and drink vendors on site so you can sample their catering and grab a spot of lunch in one go.

Well, in true British style the weather on the day was cold and raining, but that didn’t dampen our spirits. The barn was beautifully decorated with bunting, fairy lights and blossom trees.

I was showing my accessories alongside Jan Knibbs on the Atelier 19 stand, we both love all things vintage and work so well together that it’s sometimes hard to tell who made what!
As well as meeting lots of brides-to-be I also caught up with other suppliers, old and new, including Charlotte Parker Bridal Hair, who I have worked with on several photo shoots, Victoria Abbosh Makeup Artist, who I’ve been stalking on Instagram for a while, next to us were The Flower Girls with their signature elegant floral display, and Aisle Hire It who supplied lots of the venue props for the day including their distinctive Love light – they hand make all the props themselves so can pretty much supply anything you want!

The next event you can catch me at, with Atelier 19, is VOW Live in Bristol on the 29th April.

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Call me sentimental….

There’s lots of benefits to working directly with a bridal client on a bespoke piece, but one that brings immense satisfaction is being able to incorporate items of sentimental value to the bride. This can be anything from a treasured piece of heirloom jewellery to a scrap of fabric or even a feather picked up from the ground at a special place.

Below are a few examples of commissions I made whilst working closely with the bride. Sometimes only she knows what the significance of a treasured object is, but if it brings pleasure and reassurance on the day then it is well worth it.

Caroline keepsake bouquetAlex bespoke bridal fascinator

Martine bespoke hair vine with shells and frangipani flowers

If you are interested in having something truly unique custom made for your wedding day then please don’t hesitate to get in touch! No matter how near or far you are, it can be done face to face or via email and post.

I look forward to hearing from you!

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Parkin Roadshow – a sort of convention for Milliners!

This weekend I took a rare Saturday off to visit the Parkin Roadshow in Bristol.

Parkin Fabrics are a family firm based in Lancashire. 14484959_1327825540569693_7383953612802224056_nThey sell mail order, so the roadshow is a great chance to see lots of millinery materials and supplies up close in real life and quiz the team about any technical issues regarding using them.

I also learnt more about the history of the company and the lengths they go to to source materials from the UK and around the world. For example, in 1993 renowned milliner Mitzi Lorenz gave Parkin a small sample of woven fabric which she said was called Cinnamon, and asked if they could source it ….this turned out to be Sinamay, which is made in the Philippines from the Abaca plant. weaving-sinamay

Parkin work directly with the Filipinos who harvest and process the Abaca leaves to make a fine, strong yarn which is knotted together and hand woven to make sinamay. This is an incredibly laborious process, all done by hand, and is a craft which dates back centuries. It also ticks the eco-friendly box as Abaca is a renewable resource and the production process is carbon-neutral – completely fossil fuel free!

But it’s not just about sourcing materials from overseas, at Parkin their Buckram is 100% cotton and is woven, bleached and starched here in the UK, in the North West of England.

So, all in all, I got to go shopping and learn a bit more about the craft I love. Being able to label my millinery products as Made in the UK, or carbon neutral is a great bonus too!