Hat-maker's work brims over for the start of Royal Ascot

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The Independent Online
THE telephone rings. It is another agitated customer demanding her hat: 'Can I come now, is it ready yet?' she pleads. Philip Treacy shrugs his shoulders and smiles. 'They're crazy, they don't understand, it takes time,' writes Alison Veness.

Time is precious now, for there are only a few hours left to go before the remaining customers come to collect their creations - from pounds 400 upwards - pack their picnics and head off for the first day of Royal Ascot.

It is both a heavenly and hellish time to be a hat-maker. There is the pleasurable business of turning sheets of pale straw into fantastical seemingly caramelised shapes and the satisfaction of serving stylish customers. Then there are the demanding customers, the ones who have the temerity to ask for crazy hamburger hats - 'can you believe it', says Treacy.

His hats may not be gimmicky, but they are eye-catching; thrilling swirls of gauzy net and spikey slithers of razored cock feathers. They appear to defy the laws of geometry, but these swaggering saucers are weightless, light as the banana fibres they are woven from. They are made to be worn all day, they are cool and comfortable.

The gleaming gilt studio with its elegantly etiolated mannequins, resplendent in architectural hats, entices in a few last- minute, breathless Ascot shoppers. One lady in a wicked little floral dress and husband in tow, takes a fancy to a slick cartwheel. The floral display just loves it. He buys it. They parcel it up in a big brown cardboard box and acres of tissue paper. 'Rain, don't even mention it,' he says.

Below stairs, it is a surreal jumble of blocks, brims and crowns. There are five hat-makers concentrating, silver thimbles on their fingers, silently and desperately they sew. There is little time left.

The table is brimming with half-finished hats, scalding irons, cans of stiffening spray, cotton reels, pin cushions and mugs of cold tea. Treacy teases and twists a coil of gold net, he deftly flicks it over the crown of a copious straw boater.

'This season it's all about transparency,' he muses, 'sheer, light materials, there are no dark aggressive shapes'.

Upstairs the telephone is ringing again. 'No it's not ready yet, no, no you can't come now, in fact make it later.' He runs his hands through his hair for the umpteenth time, this is the rush, the buzz, the exquisitely painful process of creation.

(Photograph omitted)