Brechin-based Priestley West creates bespoke bonnets for the stars. Gayle Ritchie finds out more
He is Brechin’s milliner to the stars, but he’s a tad shy of name-dropping his celebrity clients.
“I don’t like talking about them,” he confides.
“I’ve styled for the Oscars, the BAFTAS and for many different celebrities who have become great friends, but I think my work speaks for itself. I prefer to keep a low profile.”
Keeping a low profile, however, is the opposite of what Priestley have been doing lately, having just celebrated his 60th birthday with a glittering fashion show at Glamis Castle.
The hat maker, make-up artist and stylist, who operates from the Merchants House in Brechin and a studio in London, chose Glamis to preview his latest collection of bespoke bonnets with the help of 20 glamorous models.
Priestley originally trained in 1996 at Brushstrokes make-up training studio at Shepperton Studios and has worked across Europe on film sets, theatre and fashion shows.
He now splits his time between his base in Brechin and his studio in London.
Priestley and his partner moved into the restored category A-listed Merchants House in Brechin four years ago. It’s one of the oldest surviving residential buildings in Brechin, with parts dating from the 15th Century.
“It’s so peaceful here – a contrast with London, where I still have a flat,” he says.
“People come to my Brechin work room and try on wedding gowns and dresses they need adjusted, or play around with feathers and collars. The people of Brechin have made me feel so welcome.
“It’s a great base in Scotland – not far from Dundee or Aberdeen. I needed to rest – to get away from London – and this area is perfect. It’s fantastic to put Scotland on the map when it comes to hats.”
While Priestley worked in TV and film doing makeup and special effects for years, his major passion is, of course, hats.
“I love hats,” he gushes. “I make hats for every occasion – weddings, tea parties, funerals, Ascot…you name it.
“You’ll never see two of the same design. When someone walks into a room wearing a Priestley & West hat, you know it.
“My aim is to make people feel comfortable and confident enough to own their look.
“If you are 20 stone, six stone, or have cancer, it doesn’t matter – I can make you look fabulous in a hat.”
Priestley loves working will all kinds of jewels including emeralds, sapphires, fresh water pearls and Swarovski diamonds.
He also loves pheasant and peacock feathers, snakeskin, lace and crystal beading, especially on funeral veils.
Clients first go through their outfit – “they need to tell me the colour of their shoes and bag” – before he can begin to create the perfect hat.
He’s adamant that when someone takes off her hat, their hair should “still be going on!”.
“There’s no point in a hat if hair falls flat when it comes off!” he laughs.
Priestley is a firm supporter of ethical fashion, donating £10 from every hat he sells to charity.
He praises clothing companies who are part of a UN scheme to support Third World villages afflicted by HIV, famine and the like.
He also donates money from the sale of his creations to cancer charity Children In Need, and a charity to support Black Watch veterans.
For more details, see www.priestleyandwestmilliners.co.uk/