As the industry celebrates thirty years of millinery favourite Bernstock Speirs, we dive into the heart of the brand and the radical duo behind it.
Paul Bernstock and Thelma Speirs are all about their surroundings. Whilst they opened their Brick Lane store in 2004, the celebrated milliners have been a creative design team since they met at University, Middlesex to be exact, back in 1982. Their playful, sometimes humorous but always directional designs have long been set against an East London backdrop, an area which fittingly plays home to many of their inspirations.
“It’s still an inspiration,” Thelma tells us “the people make it such a community. Richard Battye from the George and Dragon, Princess Julia and Peter Jensen are all inspirations to us and all the other people who have lived and worked in the area. The spirit is still there.”
This year marks the Bernstock and Speirs 30th anniversary and it’s been a successful celebration, both for creativity and sales. More importantly, the duo has focused on projects to mark the historic turning point. “It’s been amazing,” the pair explain. “Peter Jensen created a collection inspired by me which we did the hats for. We did a special bunny hat exhibition at Dover Street Market, which took us to Tokyo to meet Rei Kawakubo after we were invited to expand the exhibition for Dover Street Market Ginza. We also did a special online pop-up shop for Lookk.com.”
Richard Battye from the George and Dragon, Princess Julia and Peter Jensen are all inspirations to us and all the other people who have lived and worked in the area. The spirit is still there
Having conjured up a loyal fan base, it’s no wonder the industry wanted to make a fuss of Thelma and Paul. Key players on the London scene, they’ve seen the city’s fashion scape grow since the eighties. “London fashion wasn’t so organized back then,” Thelma explains, “there wasn’t a fashion week like there is now. It was mainly just eveningwear showing and there was no British Fashion Council or sponsorship for young designers. We kind of muddled along to start with. It was about making and selling. People were buying hats from charity shops to wear out but nobody was making them the way we were. Of course Stephen Jones was doing his thing but our hats weren’t occassionwear. They were different.”
Known for their utility, sports inspired designs, Bernstock Speirs is very much the high-fashion go to brand when it comes to millinery. “We are very inspired by fashion” Thelma continues “and we design to keep in with trends. Our hats aren’t for weddings or Ascot.” The fact is that fans of the brand will wear their hats for any occasion they wish and it’s the customers that Thelma and Paul seem fascinated with. “When you own a shop you tend to see a real mix of people,” they explain, “We have one guy who is in his sixties and drives a delivery van. He’ll pop in the shop throughout the year but at Christmas he’ll buy one. He saves up all year. We also get a lot of fabulous older women passing by too.”
Whether it’s Kylie’s topless hat on the cover of her debut album or the now famous bunny hats, every fashion fan has their own favourite Bernstock Speirs memory and there are sure to be many more to come. In a year that has seen the spotlight turn to London in so many ways, it seems fitting for this charming duo to get their time to shine too.
Fashion and set assistance
Tess Jessica de Boer
Thanks to Aida and Adrian at Studio Wilson