Meeting Andrew Wilkie – the man who makes hats for Margaret Howell

— by Alyson Walsh

Black and white photos: Lucie Bressy

When he moved to the South of France from London in 2002, Andrew Wilkie intended to leave the fashion world behind. The aim was to focus on renovating an old house he’d bought in the 1990s and to find work locally. Possibly teaching English as a foreign language, armed with an English degree  – and a more recently acquired TEFL qualification. On Saturdays from a small market stall Andrew started selling cut flowers from his garden and sun hats created from artist’s canvas. Having previously made hats for Harvey Nichols, Whistles and The Hat Shop on London’s Neal Street, had his handiwork featured on three Vogue magazine covers and archived by the V&A, of course, the orders kept rolling in. An ongoing collaboration with Margaret Howell has proved increasingly popular and Andrew has spent six months of this year producing berets, caps and Fedoras in suede and suiting-weight soft cord for Howell’s autumn/winter collection (now available at, by hand. ‘The problem was that I never really had chance to concentrate on a productive flower garden,’ he tells me over the phone from France, ‘The flowers have faded as the hats have taken over.’

Andrew Wilkie’s studio – and hats featured in Elle magazine


Living very close to Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes-country in rural France can be tough Andrew admits, ‘I love the peace and tranquility but it’s very rural here. You can’t live here without a car, and it takes 45 minutes to get to the nearest supermarket – so you can’t forget anything when you go to the shops.’ With his enduring career in mind (over 40 years and counting), the 63-year-old hat maker is now considering a move to Paris, ‘I feel like I’ve lived the dream, retired at 46, and now I’m focusing on work again.’ Age is a contributing factor, too, ‘When I turned 60 I started to think how am I going to live the next 20-25 years. It’s quite isolated here being pseudo-self-sufficient. I’m getting older, it’s a very physical life and I know I won’t be able to keep it up forever.’

One of Andrew’s brilliant sun hats (bought at the Badgers Velvet Underground designers and makers sale in Brixton), has accompanied me on holiday to Greece and Italy over the last few years and garnered many compliments on Instagram. During this summer’s heatwave in Italy, the cotton canvas hat barely left my head and the Provencal striped band is looking a little bit salty as a result. The fabric is sturdy and sun-proof and the hat maintains its shape well; I usually wear mine to travel in but Andrew assures me that it can be packed by folding lengthways like a Panama and then across the middle ‘so that you have a shape like a flattened ice cream cone.’

Andrew in his sun hat at the French market

Before heading back to complete his Margaret Howell order, Andrew modestly insists that I mention Lucinda Chamber’s contribution to the artist’s hat, ‘ Lucinda used to use hats a lot in her wonderful photos; she gave me one she’d found in Arizona and that was my starting point. I found some artist’s canvas – and it did really well. Her support during my London years may very well be the most important single element of a successful career.’


From mid-September, Andrew Wilkie hats will be available from Lucy Barlow’s shop HATWORKS in Lewes (Needlemakers, West Street, Lewes BN7 2NZ) And in November he’ll be back in London at Badger’s Velvet Underground design fair (the weekend of 16 and 17). For further information and artist’s hat orders please contact Andrew via email on [email protected]

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When he moved to the South of France from London in 2002, Andrew Wilkie intended to leave the fashion world behind. The aim was to focus on renovating an old house he’d bought in the 1990s and t…