Uma Turan

Uma Turan

Working from her studio in London, Uma creates wonderful headpieces made entirely by hand, using techniques such as hand blocking. Rather than purchasing factory made silk flowers she hand stitches each and every one. Uma began by studying etching and sculpture at art school in London, but her love of fabric and jewellery led her to study theatrical millinery. Uma completed her formal education in millinery at Kensington and Chelsea College with Kirsten Scott, former milliner for Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. She then went on to work with celebrity milliner Stephen Jones. Uma is dedicated to creating gorgeous and eye-catching pieces, each made to exceptionally high standards and using only the finest materials.


An Interview with Uma Turan

(By Kat Brown - Courtesy of The Times)

My love of art began young. My mother was a teacher and very much into art, she just loved galleries. She took me to lots of exhibitions, and that’s where it all started.

I was born in Ancora, the capital of Turkey, and every summer mum, my younger sister and I would go to the south of our country to see the ruins of gorgeous old civilisations: the Romans, Byzantium and the Phoenicians. We would look at these crumbled buildings, the city under the water at Kekova; we would climb up, have a look around and mummy would tell us about it all. When you see all these lovely sculptures, you get very influenced by them all.

My mother’s best friend was an artist in America. Whenever she came to Turkey, she would bring materials with her, because she knew how much I loved drawing. In those days, you didn’t get American or British art products that easily in Turkey, particularly for little girls. I had wanted to study art since I was very little, but in Turkey people would say, “Oh no, study economics, become an engineer or a doctor!” In those days, people thought art was something to do in your spare time. Now people think differently.

When I was 20, I came to London to learn English and take etching lessons. I found settling in very easy, which was lucky given that when I arrived, I barely knew any English, just “hello,” “hi,” “my name is,” and “very nice to meet you.” I rented a room in Battersea with a teacher and her writer husband. She would correct my English – “Darling, don’t say toilet, say loo” and that sort of thing! I lived with them for many years. When I look back, I was very lucky that I came to that really lovely family.

When I discovered London’s museums – oh! The V&A is such a big influence on me, it’s just amazing. Then you have incredible places like the Wallace Collection, the John Soane museum and the Saatchi Gallery. I also started working as a gallery assistant at Christie’s; you see beautiful things each weekend and another world opens up. I was just in heaven.

I worked hard, but I carried on making things and started getting into hats. Hats are much more interesting to me than other clothing because they’re so small, it’s like sculpting. You don’t have to stick to rules: to call something trousers, it has to have two legs. But hats you can make from anything. I just thought, “I have to do it.”

I researched how people become hat makers as I didn’t know any, and found a course at Kensington and Chelsea College. My teacher there, Kirsten Scott, used to be the milliner for Chanel. She had really gorgeous skills and I got on very well with her. Another tutor, Jane Smith, made the most incredibly theatrical pieces for film and theatre, and then I had another wonderful teacher working for Philip Somerville, who makes hats for the Queen.

My first commission was for Migi Coyle, a director of Christie’s, to go with a Dolce and Gabbana dress with cherries on it. I made a lovely white pillbox hat with cherries and handmade leaves – it looked so pretty. When I graduated, I sold two hats to Peter Jones and they sold immediately, but at the time I preferred to work one-on-one with clients.

I loved the milliner Stephen Jones, everything about him from his work to the way he looks. I really wanted to work for him, so I thought I would drop off a CV, go to Turkey for a holiday and see what happened. When I got back I had a message asking me to come for a week’s trial. I worked there for two and a half years which was an incredible experience – and different.

When you’re studying, all you are making are things that you like. At Stephen Jones I was making 20 of one style for Comme Des Garçons, or 30 of another for Dover Street Market. It was very good for me because I learned all those skills and timing that you don’t develop when you are working for yourself. But when you start repeating constantly, you start losing a bit of yourself and after a while I found doing the same thing over and over a bit difficult.

I was very lucky. My husband, who I met in London four years ago, is in finance and he suggested that I give it up and do what I wanted to do. I had also been working on my own hats the whole time I was at Stephen Jones, so now I could concentrate on the clients I had built up privately. I started making collections and did a couple of exhibitions. I did some hats for some charity events, but it was mostly word of mouth. My personality is such that I love keeping in touch, so I’d go out and meet people, make something for them, then someone else would see the hat and it goes from there.

If a hat is something I am designing out of my head, I never sketch – I just start playing. Sometimes I have something like a little stone that I think is amazing and want to build around. With one hat, I had a fabric which cost £300 a metre. It was incredible and I wanted to make it look special just as it was.

If a hat is for a client, you want to make something flattering. If someone was very tall, I would give them something that is more flat, maybe with a wide brim. Or if someone is short or a bit chubby like me, I would choose an asymmetric shape so it draws the eye. I do bespoke hats as I really don’t like making things twice, and over time I’ve been featured in Vogue, the Financial Times and Brides magazine as well as some of those nice arty magazines, like Papercut. I love working with those gorgeous, up-and-coming photographers, like Paulina Otylie Surys.

My husband and I live close to Petersham Nurseries which is seriously inspiring, all those lovely flowers. Then you have Richmond Park with all the beautiful things like snowdrops and hyacinths. We’re members of the National Trust and go to Ham House all the time. It’s incredible, with its gorgeous orangeries, herb gardens, and then the formal gardens. Great Britain is so inspiring, isn’t it? How would you not be able to make something beautiful?

We would never leave the UK. We’re here because we love it and we really enjoy every bit of the country. I hate it when people come here and just moan or go, “Oh it’s raining.” We try to give back. And maybe one day, a museum might want my hats! 

  • Uma Turan at home in Petersham with one of her hats
    Uma Turan at home in Petersham with one of her hats John Dunster

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