The Milliner

Photo: Danny Kim

Leah Chalfen, Designer and Owner of Leah C. Couture Millinery

You design veils, feathered headbands, cocktail hats—how does a bride pick from all of those headpieces?
Try different things. I introduce shapes and designs that my clients could never have imagined. This makes them feel more confident about their final choice.

Do brides bring in their dresses to try on with the headpieces?
No, but we use a studied approach and pictures of the dress [during a consultation]. We work with the shape of the face, neck, gown, and hairstyle. Millinery changes the silhouette; it becomes an ensemble, and it’s important to strike a balance. A simple dress is a wonderful opportunity to wear an interesting headpiece and play up the eyes and face. If you’re wearing a huge ball gown, don’t wimp out with a small flower in your hair. So many times I hear, “If I could do it over again, I would have gone with more dramatic headwear!”

Have you ever had to tell a bride to tone it down?
I am very frank. I had a client with a vintage Halloween-style wedding who wanted a bat in her hair. I told her I didn’t agree but would make it anyway. She didn’t go with it. Instead, she went with a butterfly—which honored her grandmother—and was beautiful.

How do you feel about colorful headpieces?
It depends on how you use it and where you put it. I’ve had black-veil brides and entire bridal parties with the girls in different colors to match their personalities. I would use the color palette that is most flattering to the individual.

What about hatting for men?
Depends on the groom’s character, the theme of the wedding, the venue, the bride … I have had male clients who come here to get boutonnieres to match their suit jackets or to complement their bride’s headpiece.

What’s the protocol with veils? Should a bride remove hers at the reception?
I design cocktail hats with veils that leave the lips free to kiss and sip Champagne. But during the ceremony, people often have family obligations or expectations to meet; I satisfy the moms with my wide-net veils. It’s still a veil, but it’s very chic and modern. I actually think different headpieces are perfect for marking the segments of the occasion—from the engagement party to the rehearsal dinner, ceremony, reception, and next-day brunch. When a woman changes from her ceremonial veil into a reception headpiece, she’s signaling to her guests: “Let’s get this party started!”

So does the hat dictate the hairstyle?
No. If you have gorgeous hair, show it off. I am a big fan of updos to highlight a woman’s shape and the structure of her body. A lot of women are going for an asymmetrical chignon. It’s a shape game.

Any tricks to keeping headwear in place for twelve hours?
That’s why you go to a milliner. The fun is often “How do you keep that thing on your head?!”

Spring for Silk

“Fresh flowers do not hold up well on veils. A silk floral piece will last forever.”
Photo: Alamy


The Milliner