With the omnipresence of modern media, the royal family has never been more prevalent in the public eye. Whether it’s an international tour, a royal wedding, an elite sporting event, or even just a mundane public outing, the ruling family of the United Kingdom is under scrutiny. Their fashion, their deportment and their family values are open seasons for public commentary – and perhaps most indulgently discussed of all is what adorns their titled heads. Their wear being mandated by an extensive list of royal protocols, hats and fascinators have formed a chief item in any Windsor’s wardrobe, and as such has evolved to become as much a fashion statement as an obligation.
One individual whose style has always remained impeccable, polished and untouchable is the woman in charge. Queen Elizabeth II’s rotation of coat dresses, paired with gloves and pearls, could almost be uniform – yet the perfectly-matched hats that she has worn throughout her reign have elevated her outfits to the iconic status they have today.
The man responsible for some of her best looks, unbeknownst to many, was home-grown. Frederick Fox, a country boy from rural New South Wales, learned his craft in Sydney before venturing to the Big Smoke to launch his career at the age of 27.
Born in 1931 in a small town just outside Wagga Wagga, Frederick Fox was born with hat-making in his blood. From as early as nine years old he would deconstruct the hats his mother and sisters would wear to church and reinvigorate them with whatever materials he could find, be it rags or feathers, ribbons or straw.
At 18 he moved to Sydney, apprenticing under the likes of Australian millinery idols Phyl Clarkson and Henriette Lamotte. He remained there until 1958 before taking the leap to London, which saw him working for the go-to hat-maker of Greta Garbo and the Duchess of Windsor: the legendary Otto Lucas. From there, he eventually moved to Langee, a salon he took over in 1964, and a move that launched his creations into the royal spotlight.
He was approached by the Queen’s dressmaker, Hardy Amies, who was so impressed by his ability to innovatively complement his designs, that he was commissioned to craft headpieces for Her Majesty’s 1968 tour of Argentina and Chile. So remarkable was his work that his employ was retained and his legacy cemented. Frederick Fox received his royal warrant of appointment as ‘Milliner to HM The Queen’ in 1974, and he was one of the principal royal milliners for the latter part of the 20th Century. Over the course of 35 years, he created over 350 hats for the monarch. Frederick Fox was applauded not only for his creations’ adherence to the meticulous considerations of protocol but his ability to keep his designs innovative in spite of them. He expertly mixed whimsy with the propriety required of a queen.
He also created designs for Diana Spencer, the Princess of Wales, making his designs more accessible to (and coveted by) the sophisticates of the 80s, when hats had become less fashionable in casual wear. Other notable clients included Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Princess Alice, Hillary Clinton and Joan Collins. He even designed for movies, being credited for the egg-shaped, white leather Moon Shuttle Stewardess helmets of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
Over the years he was greatly rewarded for his work, receiving a lieutenancy of the Royal Victorian Order (LVO) in 1999 for distinguished personal service to a sovereign, and was named Britain’s Australian of the Year in 2013 for his success in an international career in design. Sadly, Frederick Fox passed away in 2013, 11 years after his retirement in 2002, bringing a definitive end to his legacy. But tastemakers and fashion creators everywhere remember him fondly and hold him in the highest regard. He was one of the world’s most innovative designers, and perhaps Australia’s greatest contributor to the golden age of millinery fashion.