Fascinated by Fascinators

Lyndon Miller Pegs the creative brain behind the sort of epymonymous hat brand Millerner is known for his fine handwork. All his hats are handmade with no machinery, and great attention to detail. As his brand has grown, so too has his following. We spoke to the master milliner ahead of this weekend’s highly anticipated L'Ormarins King's Plate.

By Ntokozo Maseko

The prestigious L’Ormarins King’s Plate makes its return to the newly renovated Hollywoodbets Kenilworth Racecourse this Saturday, January 6, 2024. True to form, this iconic Cape Town summer racing festival boasts a rich history of over 150 years and promises an exceptional blend of social and sporting excitement.

Last year, following a run of 19 years, as the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate, the event was renamed the L’Ormarins King’s Plate after the accession of King Charles III. As the pinnacle of the Cape Town racing season, the racing event brings together the finest thoroughbreds to vie for the coveted title of L’Ormarins King’s Plate champion and a share of the prize money of nearly R2 million.

A highlight of the 2024 festival is the second running of the Okapi Ladies International race. This race, contested exclusively by female jockeys, will see the 1,200m track compete for an impressive prize purse of R200,000. Inspired by the Magnolia Cup in Britain, it was a popular addition, when it was first run at the L’Ormarins King’s Plate in 2023.

Cartier, the renowned luxury brand, returns as sponsor of the Grade 1 Paddock Stakes and Best Dressed competition at the L’Ormarins King’s Plate 2024. Meanwhile luxury South African brand Okapi gets race-ready by working with Johannesburg-based milliner Lyndon Miller Pegs on a bespoke collection of headwear. For the collaboration, Miller Pegs has created a curated selection of headwear inspired by previous winning horses of the historical race, resulting in many pieces boasting fanciful names like Full Flight and Sword Dancer. We spoke to the highly sought after milliner about his craft, the most notable pieces he’s ever created and for whom as well as the top hat trends we can expect at this year’s race day. 

How did your life journey lead you to the realm of millinery?

My background is actually theater. I studied performing arts and I’d been doing it since I was a child. Once I finished school I went on to study at the Waterfront Theatre School in Cape Town. In my second year, I injured myself and was forced off my feet as a dancer for six months and it was during this time that the directors of the school took the decision to make me wardrobe master so I could be a part of productions. They thought it was the only way to keep me sane as a dancer who was injured. So I think my love for creating pieces goes as far back as when I was at theater school because it gave me an opportunity to create things with my hands and I realised how much I loved working with my hands and creating pieces for individuals to wear both on and off stage. I then moved into the millinery space,  as the rise in ready-to-wear hats at events grew in South Africa so did my love for them. I’ve always been fascinated by fascinators I like to say, and this led me to start creating them. At first it was for friends to wear at events and now I create pieces for clients all over the world.

What are the telltale signs of an exceptionally well made hat? 

I think the biggest telltale signs of an exceptionally well made hat are A) That it’s a one-of-one and not  mass produced in a factory. B) It is handcrafted, so even though there may be two of the same type of hat, because of the hand craft that goes into it, no two hats are the same. I think a fantastic hat also goes down to the milliner’s style in terms of how they interpret what the wearer is going to look like at the end. It’s not only about the hat, it’s about how the hat seamlessly integrates into the overall look of the wearer’s outfit. So the hat, and the bag and the shoes and perhaps the gloves, the dress or maybe it’s a pantsuit must all work well together. 

Have race day hats and fascinators evolved trend wise, if so can you share your thoughts on this evolution and expand on what the newest trends are? 

The boundaries have been pushed quite tremendously in the past 15 or even 20 years in terms of bespoke and curated millinery pieces. If you look at the types of pieces that were worn to the now Prince and Princess of Wales’ wedding in 2012 they were very sculpted pieces, very over the top. Then there were jokes about Princess Eugenie’s hat at the royal wedding that was actually quite a marvel in terms of its craftsmanship but we’ve seen quite a change from these very illustrious large pieces to more subtle dainty pieces moving towards the end of the 2000s leading up to 2010. Now we see a rise from dainty to more structural pieces and wide brims which would usually be seen on mothers of brides or elderly ladies, we are now seeing on so many younger people. If you look at the past three years, if you’re following the the royals of the world as trendsetters in the millinery business, they’ve opted for more wider hats, even the princesses in their 30s and early 40s, some in their 20s even, versus small dainty fascinators and headbands we’re now seeing them wear wide brimmed hats. However, quite big trends at the moment are also pieces that just float around the head and from my collection, in particular, you’ll see a lot of nods to these trends from a wide brim and a structural shape perspective, as well as these pieces that elegantly float above the head. 

What are some of your most memorable creations?

I think there are many pieces that I personally have poured so much love and time into but one of my pieces that I feel is memorable is one that I created in 2023 for King Charles’ coronation. It was one of those pieces that I had such limited time to put together and it was a piece that started being made in Johannesburg, had a fitting in Bloemfontein and then ended up being finished in Dallas and posted through to London. It arrived the day before, just in time for the wearer. So I think that’s definitely one of the most memorable hats, it wasn’t just about creating the hat it was about creating it for such a momentous occasion but also the excitement of how it all came together in so many different places was just so much fun.

King Letsie III and Queen Masenate Mohato Seeiso of Lesotho attend the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla

Can you name some notable heads your hats have adorned?

I’ve been privileged enough to be able to put hats on so many incredibly prolific women and men and I’m so grateful that in the short span of my career, I’ve been able to do this. Some of the notable heads are definitely Her Majesty Queen Masenate of Lesotho. She was in fact the person who wore the fascinator I referred to previously for King Charles’ coronation. It wasn’t just about creating an amazing piece to complement her outfit, but it was about creating an amazing piece for the most amazing woman. It was just such a great collaboration between us and her, I loved her kindness and guidance throughout creating the piece for her which was perfectly paired with a gown so beautifully created by David Tlale. I would say, probably, she is the most notable person and a huge highlight for me.  

My clientele are quite high end both locally and throughout Africa, I also have nobility and royalty clients in Europe and the UK but also create for the mum who just wants to look incredible at her daughter’s wedding or the granny who wants to look amazing at a ladies’ lunch. I feel like even though I get to create these pieces for incredibly grand people, every client for me is notable because there’s so much passion that we both put into the piece together and they make every hand making experience an absolute pleasure and delight.

Do you remember your first L’Ormarins race day creation? 

The first then Queen’s Plate experience for me was quite interesting because it was the first one coming out of COVID. I found myself starting to create for the race in January 2022. I created one for a dear friend of mine, who at that stage, was creating and currently continues to create an exceptional brand of accessories, Okapi. I had my own collection of fascinators out of particularly a rattan material and I said to her I know that the race is coming up, would she be interested in me making her a hat and she said she’d be absolutely delighted. So I got the rattan together, she sent me some leather from her handbags and I created a rattan tiara, with leather orchids floating off the top of this tiara. 

When I created the piece, we were actually at a function together and there were other friends visiting and they were all attending the race and they said “wow, you’re a milliner do you have anything else that we could wear?” Very luckily, I had some stock in Johannesburg at that time so I furiously, while I was on holiday, arranged for the stock to be sent down and what started as making one bespoke hat for a dear friend was fortuitous enough for me to end up having about six hats at my first Queen’s Plate which was absolutely marvelous. 

Your brand Millerner has now collaborated with Okapi on a bespoke collection of headwear for this year’s L’Omarins King’s Plate, what is the inspiration behind this collection? 

The inspiration for this year’s race was not only just to stick with the traditional blue and white of the King’s Plate, but also to explore the various hues of blue and white, so from creams to periwinkles to navys, royal blues and ice whites,it’s about the incredible smorgasbord of whites and blues if you will. This year, I’m also experimenting a lot with elevated pieces, so pieces that are crafted not as a traditional hat but more as a wired piece that’s elevated off the face. I’m also using other materials and not just the rattan and leathers, so sinamay straws, buntles, silk abacas and then fabric as well. And I’m also playing with shapes by using more vintage style berets and pill boxes but also contemporary designs adorned with feathers, bringing back some of that leather and and including feather flowers but also porcelain flowers which have been made by a local ceramicist, the porcelain flowers are definitely a highlight for me.  The other thing that I’m quite excited about is the fact that I’ve dedicated each hat to a winning horse of the historical race. And so each hat will be named after a winning horse of the race over the past 100 years. 

What do you personally enjoy and look forward to as a guest at the LKP? 

The L’Ormarins King’s Plate is just the ultimate fantasy day. The blue and white in my opinion just enhances the feel of the race, you almost feel like you are stepping on bubbles and a cloud and I just love the beautiful fashion, entertainment, decor, food and hats. And then obviously the whole reason why we’re there is because of these magnificent creatures, the horses, the excitement, the rumble of them on that track. It’s just the ultimate day out and really in my opinion, one of the do not miss events of the year, it’s simply marvelous.

What does luxury mean to you? 

I think luxury to me can be broken down into a few pointers, firstly luxury to me means supporting local luxury, handmade luxury, one-of-one pieces and I think luxury is also about the greater brand experience for the end consumer. Luxury to me isn’t a price on a price tag, it’s a feeling and if a brand can harness and bottle that feeling into their product then I think they’ve got it for the win.

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