Indie Of The Month: Rivka Jacobs Millinery
Written by Stella Nicholls
Hats Handmade with Love
Whether you are a regular hat wearer or not, there’s no denying that there is something intriguing about a hat. They come in all shapes, sizes and designs. Some have wide straw brims, serving as shade from the sun, whilst others are so tiny, they surely must just be there for show, and why not?
With author Martha Sliter once saying, ‘A piece of magic is a hat’ and American Stylist to the stars, Phillip Bloch saying ‘I love the drama of a hat’, it would seem that whether you love a hat or not, you definitely can’t ignore one (especially if the person sitting in front of you is wearing a rather large one!).
‘Heading’ down Fore Street recently, I was drawn to a fascinating shop called Rivka Jacobs, Milliner. Wondering exactly what being a milliner involves, I went in and met Rivka Jacobs, who was busy preparing hats for Ascot.
Rivka has been a milliner for ten years. Prior to that she worked with young people, doing community arts and she always emphasised to them how important it is to explore your creative side. One day a young person turned to Rivka and asked, ‘What are you doing to be creative?’ which left her thinking. At the time, she had made a raincoat out of tablecloth fabrics, so she decided to quit her job and start making raincoats for a living. She found a woman who was selling Mexican oilcloth tablecloths, spent all her savings on buying the material and together with her mum and her fashion designer friend, spent a week making a raincoat. Once complete, she tried it on, and thought, ‘It’s amazing!’ only to find that as she tried to take a step forward, she couldn’t move in it. It was too stiff!
Not to be defeated, her mum suggested that she make hats instead, so she began making trilbies from the oilcloth and then went on to explore other fabrics. Inspired by her hat making dreams, Rivka enrolled to do a course with a talented woman named Jane Smith, who made hats for film and theatre. She continued her studies in London doing a Kensington and Chelsea Couture Millinery course for a year and then became an apprentice for Edwina Ibbotson Millinery. She dabbled in hat making for TV and the West End before moving to Exeter around six years ago where she initially ran a studio by appointment. She has been in her current shop, on New Bridge Street, for three years in November and the business has grown to the point where she is she transporting hats all over the UK and the world. She stocks her own hats, other milliner’s goods and also some handmade jewellery and accessories.
One of the first lessons that Rivka learnt about hat making was, ‘Don’t worry what you make, because you will never make an original hat’. She says that when you look back over time, there are so many references to what has already been done. Of course, today, people put modern twists on things, there are new materials that are available, but she says that there is always a ‘nod’ to what has gone before. I think that there’s something mildly comforting about that.
Rivka also offers various workshops for all ages as part of her service, she says that there’s a real ‘cross-section’ of people that come along. These have included hen and birthday parties where various items like fascinators or felt crown and brooches have been made as well as workshops on how to make fresh flower crowns similar to those portrayed in Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits.
Rivka has found that the demand for hats has been growing each year. She recently made between fifteen to twenty hats for Ascot, which kept her busy for several weeks. The process of making a hat normally involves the person sending Rivka a photo of their dress or outfit so that she can hand dye the material to match. The customer often comes into the shop to try on the different styles to see which will work best for the occasion. Sometimes they buy off the shelf, or Rivka will tweak the hat to their own taste – some liking feathers other preferring bows or flowers. Rivka creates mood boards for her customers, displaying different colours, fabrics and images that represent the custom-made hat. It gives people a general idea of what they can expect to wear as, after all, each woman is unique and most want to stand out in their eye-catching bespoke designs. Whilst a lot of the hats that Rivka sells are ‘occasion’ wear, she has ordered in some Panama and Fedora hats, fair trade, from Ecuador, as well.
Rivka values the relationships that she builds with her customers and enjoys making them feel happy, many of them coming back for their second or third ‘Hat Occasion’. She loves that her hats, ‘make their day’ and that they feel fabulous in them. People come back with pictures of the special occasion, so Rivka really gets to see her masterpieces ‘in action’. She says that when you put a hat on somebody, you know it’s the right one because something changes in their eyes, and you can see instantly that it works.
Rivka is also passionate about keeping music and art in the community. On the last Saturday of every month, a community chalking event is held where everyone is invited to come along with their children. People chalk messages of happiness, peace and love onto the pavement of New Bridge Street. It’s about meeting people in the community, being creative and breaking down the barriers of the ‘disconnect’ created by smartphones and social media.
So, what does the rest of 2018 hold for Rivka? Well, she is due to launch her winter hat collection soon and would love to have a presence at the Exeter Christmas Market (is it almost that time already?).
To get in touch with Rivka, pop onto her website or find her on Facebook @rivkajacobsmillinery.