An interview with hat-maker Nasir Mazhar

The hat-maker Nasir Mazhar talks about his latest collection

Rob Greig

Brought up in Leytonstone by Turkish Cypriot parents, self-taught hat-maker Nasir Mazhar, 29, left school and went straight into an apprenticeship at Vidal Sassoon. While working in a Brick Lane salon, he started designing headpieces and soon progressed to hats. He recently created the hats for the Olympic Opening Ceremony (the clubbing scene), and will be launching his first full ready-to-wear collection for men and women at London Fashion Week.

How did you get into hairdressing?

‘I never wanted to be a hairdresser; I just knew I didn’t want to go to college. I was your standard London kid. I was into sports and hanging out on street corners. When I started an apprenticeship at Vidal Sassoon it opened up the fashion world to me. I was working with all these exotic people, and I’d never seen anything like it before.’

How did you progress to hats?

‘I soon got bored of the beauty side of hair so I started building structures for hair. Then I was like, there are so many more materials we can use, and I started building them up.’

What do you think of London Fashion Week?

‘It caters for a specific type of person. These designers doing all these £1,000 ballgowns… I don’t hang around with women who wear them. That’s not my world. I go clubbing. I have Asian friends, Afghan friends, Jamaican friends. Those cultures come with their own styles and hair styles. It’s a real mix. You don’t really see that explored at London Fashion Week. It’s not about youth culture.’

But you show there? Tell us about the collection you are working on.

‘True! The collection we are working on now is about sportswear, street culture and raving. There’s also a big fantasy element to it. There’s a futuristic, cyber element too; it’s filling in that gap from the 1990s to now. I’m interested in how rave culture and hip hop were really big in the 1990s then the word “chav” came in and completely killed the garage scene. Suddenly all those people wearing a tracksuit were seen as scum.’

Which parts of London do you find inspiring?

‘Everything I’m into is in east London – but I don’t mean Shoreditch, I mean Stratford or Forest Gate and in Hackney you still have gorgeous freaks, hard roughnecks and all the cultures. The rough and the smooth.’

Lady Gaga is a fan of your hats. How did that come about?

‘It was a few years ago, she was doing a cover shoot for V Magazine with stylist Nicola Formichetti, who had styled a couple of my shows before. He called me and was like, “I’ve got good news and bad news… She wore your hat. Then she stole it.” That was at a time when she was on front covers holding a tea cup with her bum hanging out, and I was like, “Noooooo!” ’

With events like Henley and Ascot, is Britain still the hat capital of the world? ‘What’s Henley?

I’ve been asked to make hats for Ascot and turned them down. It was never my thing really. I’m not a milliner, I’m a hat-maker. Hats have this awful “fun” and “quirky” image. That’s not what I’m about. I’m trying to stop people having the idea that hats are fancy dress. I try not to use those traditional millinery shapes. I’m sorry but I don’t know who wants to wear a cocktail hat. It’s detrimental to the hat industry. Hats have stayed back in the past. I want to change that.’

Your favourite hat?

‘The box peak cap [which he’s wearing, see above]. That was the first thing I wanted to design. I changed the proportions of the cap and made it really comfortable to wear. The basic shape hadn’t changed since the 1600s. Mad, eh?’