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See inside the secret hat-making room at the Royal Opera House

Did you know that there’s a whole room at the ROH dedicated to making headgear? We chat to photographer Harry Cory Wright about going behind the scenes at the London institution

Isabelle Aron
Written by
Isabelle Aron

A room full of wigs. A tutu storage unit. A chamber stacked with guns and swords from across the ages. Most people only ever get to see the stage at the Royal Opera House, but behind the scenes, there’s a whole warren of secret staircases and passages that lead to spaces you’d never know existed. That’s what photographer Harry Cory Wright discovered when he went to photograph the iconic London arts venue and came across an entire salon dedicated to making hats (pictured above).

The photo appears in a new book, ‘Royal Opera House’, which shows snippets of the parts of the building you never usually see. ‘I got shown around and we’d go up stairs and down in lifts and round corners and we’d come across these little vignettes of life,’ explains Wright. ‘You’d suddenly see ballerinas walking past you, someone singing behind a slightly open door or the guys making stuff in the props department.’

Wright says the hat workshop, which works on up to 4,000 headpieces every year, felt like the ‘beating heart’ of the venue. ‘A lot of what I saw were empty places – they imply human life but there’s no one there. But this picture shows these people at the top of their game making exquisite things among piles of chaos, but it’s not chaos at all, they know exactly where everything is.’

The photo shows a small part of what goes on in this famous London building, but Wright thinks it says something broader about the capital. ‘It seems to me to represent so much of what London is about – creativity, collectivity and humanity – all things that London embodies in spades.’

The city has been through a lot since Wright took this photo last year. ‘Throughout the book there are pictures that show intimate interactions that can’t happen now. It’s a tragedy.’ He’s hopeful that the venue will return, along with the people who make it what it is: the milliners, the prop designers, the tutu makers. ‘The Royal Opera House is a beautiful thing, employing lots of ordinary but very skilled people.’

‘Royal Opera House’ (Thames & Hudson) is out now. £12.95. Buy it here.

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