Style & Grooming

Meet the Milliner Behind Headgear for Charles Jeffrey and Dilara Findikoglu

Introducing Leo Carlton, the virtual reality obsessed whizz-kid currently queering up millinery with his ultra-modern hats-cum-fashion artefacts

“Objects are a projection of who you are,” says headwear prodigy Leo Carlton. “If you’re not so good at writing, like me, you have to do something visual, so I process my emotions in a 3D way, by making things.” The 26-year-old from rural Oxfordshire, currently queering up millinery with his ultra-modern hats-cum-fashion artefacts, isn’t interested in knocking out Ascot fascinators or designing for the royals, he just wants to know what makes a hat relevant today.

Responsible for the show-stopping creations gracing heads on the catwalk for both Richard Quinn and Charles Jeffrey, his latest high-profile collaboration featured a series of crystal-encrusted headpieces for Dilara Findikoglu’s S/S19 show. Strange symbolic structures that lent her dark presentation on Halloween a glimmering occult edge. Not that he specialises in bringing the gothic drama – Carlton is just as at home 3D printing a seamless, super-minimal baseball cap as he is binding sticks and animal skulls together for a pagan headdress. His versatility is what makes the young milliner such an exciting talent.

Here, Carlton reveals how travelling by bus has influenced his love life, and why ASMR videos are shaping the future of hat design.

Would you describe yourself as a romantic?

Leo Carlton: I guess so. Everything I do stems from that. Coming from the countryside is romantic, what with all the nature, and I think that’s where I get my inspiration. But in terms of being a romantic, I think I’m just doing my own thing. 

Who was your first crush?

Leo Carlton: Should I name her? It must have been in nursery school. And then she was my first girlfriend for two years until we were in pre-school. She made me laugh. We always used to play with the plastic kitchen – I remember the Velcro cake.

Have you ever had your heart broken?

Leo Carlton: I guess. But maybe it was a slow thing. I don’t really have idols now, but I did when I was younger, and they were always Alexander McQueen, Isabella Blow and Amy Winehouse. So when it all kicked off, that really broke my heart. I moved to London around the same time, and that’s why working now with the Sarabande Foundation, founded by Lee McQueen to support young artists and designers, means such a lot to me. It’s given me the confidence to progress, and it’s as close to McQueen as I’m ever going to get. 

Are you in love at the moment?

Leo Carlton: Yes, with a sassy Italian photographer called Alessandro Merlo, and he makes me laugh and shout. More laughing than shouting. 

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for love?

Leo Carlton: Left someone who I was in a four-year relationship with for someone that I met on the number 243 bus. Everything happens on the 243, I always seem to meet the people who are closest to me on buses. 

What wouldn’t you do for love?

Leo Carlton: I wouldn’t want to lose myself, or my independence.

Do you have a secret passion?

Leo Carlton: I go through phases. At the moment it’s watching ASMR, and Korean mukbang videos – where people just eat loads. I like it because I like the textures of foods. I sometimes imagine my hats as being like Ikebana, made up of textures you’re not aware of. Like how in fancy food places the food is laid out so precisely, I want it to be that but with lots of organic textures and colours.

Can you describe the perfect date?

Leo Carlton: A nice view, bottle of prosecco and some good chat. 

What are you obsessed with?

Leo Carlton: Virtual reality and oculus rift, I like the vastness of virtual planes. And the fact that it’s happening right now – I’m doing my website in VR. I just like it because it means I can design in 3D, drawing shapes that sometimes take so long to get to in the real world. There’s an endlessness or freeness where I can draw and change and print. I like the idea of something so ephemeral and unreal. 

What’s your heart’s desire right now?

Leo Carlton: To be left to it for a while so that I can make a new collection. I feel like I’m always generating work for other people, which is good, but I want to do my own thing.

What’s the most romantic fashion object?

Leo Carlton: It’s not something hat-related – more of a fashion artefact. When I was at university there was a designer, Una Burke, who made these contemplation pieces that were leather bound things and it made me think that I could do that. I felt that was how my mind works.

Who is your romantic hero and why?

Leo Carlton: The holy trinity of McQueen, Blow and Winehouse. I don’t really like the idea of heroes – I like to like people, but I don’t like putting anyone above anybody else.

A version of this article appeared in the A/W18 ‘Romance and Ritual’ issue of Another Man.