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Mad Hatter: Hayley Marsden

London Fashion Week might be over, but Hayley Marsden’s ability to continually push the fashion boundaries is not

Written by . Published on October 10th 2011.


Mad Hatter: Hayley Marsden

Hayley Marsden – a milliner who began her passion for textiles as an assistant on her Nan and auntie’s market stalls in Liverpool – is proving that she has creative drive like no other. With hats made out of disco balls, trainers and even dead birds, it’s no wonder she is turning heads. 

“…after her baby was born, the nurse showed us the ‘bag’, which comes out during the birth. I asked ‘what happens to the bag?’ and when the nurse said it gets thrown away, I couldn’t believe it. It seemed such a waste! My instant thought was how I could make a bag out of the remains!”

The milliner, who was once branded ‘bizarre’ and ‘over-the-top’ by the national press, has continued to drive her vision forward for transforming unusual everyday objects into creative headwear. While her latest catwalk show at the capital’s Pacha nightclub saw Hayley showcase a glittering spectacle of disco balls, re-shaped records and brightly coloured Perspex, her London Fashion Week show at the 02 arena was perhaps one of her most ‘controversial’ yet.

The 31-year-old has such a fascination with how nature and fashion combine that she focused her headwear collection on the topic of taxidermy. With models wearing hats made out of real owls and other ‘lifeless’ animals, she approached her most daring show with an air of trepidation. “I don’t set out to be controversial,” Hayley says, “but I knew this one was going to be quite risky and I didn’t know how people were going to take it. The show was called ‘The Spirit Lives on’ and no animals were obviously hurt – they’d all died of natural causes – but I wanted to show how even though something is dead, it can be beautiful.”

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It’s Hayley’s constant appreciation of the world around her that gives her continual inspiration. While she passionately teaches art and creative textile at Holly Lodge Girls' College in Liverpool, during the week, Hayley passionately fills the rest of her time turning life events into her next design.

“My friend asked me to be her birthing partner recently,” Hayley says enthusiastically, “and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. But after her baby was born, the nurse showed us the ‘bag’, which comes out during the birth. I asked ‘what happens to the bag?’ and when the nurse said it gets thrown away, I couldn’t believe it. It seemed such a waste! My instant thought was how I could make a bag out of the remains!”

Hayley hasn’t quite followed through with her ‘baby bag’ idea yet. But her hilarious ability to inject humour and personality into her designs make her light-hearted fashion identity stand out. Having been recently snapped up by fashion agency, 410,  (a company which has a strong influence in California) Hayley has already arranged for one of her hats to be given to US-born star, Beyoncé. And her dream customer, she says, would be the queen of extreme fashion, Lady Gaga.

“[My hats] do have a strong identity but I love it when I hear someone say ‘that’s a Hayley Marsden hat,’” she says. “Many of them are big and bold and you need to be confident to wear them. Lady Gaga would be perfect! She pushes fashion boundaries to the limit, and my hats are like wearing a piece of art.”

While many of Hayley’s designs have made newspaper headlines, others fit into a more mainstream fashion category with Hayley successfully selling a range of fascinators and headpieces to order and in a number of boutiques across Liverpool.

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It was while she was helping out in her auntie’s boutique clothes shop, she experienced a ‘light bulb moment’. Customers were looking for elegant headwear to accompany their outfits for the Aintree races and her auntie spotted a potential business opportunity for Hayley.

“I come from a creative family,” she says, “My Nan used to sell curtains at the local Great Homer Street market and my auntie sold clothes. I started off just helping on the stall and helping my Nan make cushions on a Friday night and it went from there."

As Hayley progressed onto making headpieces for her auntie’s customers, her creative talent didn't go unnoticed. After designing some pieces for Liverpool's Fashion Week the designer was spotted by a boutique owner in Liverpool city centre. 

This led to Hayley later designing hats for the X Factor’s Rebecca Ferguson, and soon she found herself thrust into the limelight. "Rebecca wore one of my hats to a rugby match at Twickenham Stadium in 2010," Hayley says, "and the public interest grew." At first, Hayley’s hats sparked mixed emotions with one national newspaper even branding the X Factor’s headwear as a ‘fashion low’. Hayley went on to design several more headpieces for the singer and soon, Hayley Marsden the milliner was getting column space for all the right reasons. 

“It took me a while to win some people over,” Hayley says. “The press were calling my hats bizarre but it was a real compliment to me. People were starting online debates and my hats became a real talking point. Better that way than to fade into the background.”

Now, Hayley's iconic collections are continuing to grab attention. Her latest collaboration with Norwegian jewellery design label SO-B has earned her a spot in Scandinavian Vogue. And a crown designed by her and the designer at SO-B will also be presented to the winner of the gay, lesbian and transgender event, Alternative Miss Liverpool, next month.

While her coverage in newspaper style pages is also on the up, Hayley can't wait for London Fashion Week to return in the Spring – as hopes are high to exhibit a collaboration of headwear with one of London's biggest up and coming fashion brands, the House of Sunny. For now, there's certainly a spring in Hayley Marsden's step and with fans from Zandra Rhodes to Vivienne Westwood, you can see why – as Hayley has also earned the coveted title as one of 2011's ‘35 Highflying women under 35’

How does this woman have time to breath? you might ask. The answer is, we don't know. But one thing's for sure; Lady Gaga could very well be wearing that ‘baby bag’ hat just yet.

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