'Gold obviously': Toronto milliner heads to U.K. with his hats for coronation parties

·4 min read

TORONTO — Some Canadians heading to London for coronation festivities have enlisted a key expert to ensure they look their royal best: a master milliner.

Headwear designer David Dunkley says he expects to provide an array of fascinators and couture hats to fashionistas attending gatherings in honour of King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort.

He says the colour gold features prominently in several of his handmade headpieces, and that the design of one hat was inspired by an RCMP horse named Noble that was announced last month as a gift for King Charles III.

"Gold obviously is my favourite colour for the coronation and is a coronation colour, so there's lots of gold flying around at the moment,” Dunkley said of his inspiration as he plowed through "non-stop" preparations at his Toronto store and studio, David Dunkley Fine Millinery.

"I am looking forward to the historic nature of the event, I am looking forward to seeing London in its full glory.... It'll be fun. It really does feel like a once in a lifetime event."

Dunkley would not reveal if any of his clients are among the exclusive 2,000 guests invited to witness the coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey on May 6.

But he said he's helping some dress for related events including one at Canada House, Canada's diplomatic home on London’s famed Trafalgar Square, and a pre-coronation cocktail party that Dunkley himself plans to host across the street from Kensington Palace.

"We're having a party with really fascinating, interesting people — clients, artists, poets, presidents of companies — so just a really interesting, eclectic group and we're across the street looking at Kensington Palace while we do it. So how grand and luxurious could that be?"

The 52-year-old designer completed a diploma program for millinery at George Brown College about 20 years ago, which he says gave him the confidence to ask the late Queen Mother’s own milliner Rose Cory to take him on as a student.

He says Cory created the royal’s favourite style – an upturned brim with a large plume embellishment – and taught him to regard hat-making as a couture art form.

"It wasn't just a craft, it was something of high art," he says, noting an elaborate piece can demand 15 to 25 hours of work.

Dunkley, who is the official milliner for the annual Toronto horse race known as the King's Plate, set for Aug. 20, recently released his latest line inspired by the coronation.

The attire rules are slightly different when it comes to a special royal event, he says, noting fascinators generally can't be smaller than six inches.

"You don't want to be too big, too small, you don't want to block the person that's sitting behind you, so it's a different type of millinery from something that you would wear perhaps to the races," he says.

Dunkley says he leaves Friday for the United Kingdom, and expects to spend part of this time honing his craft with further study of couture millinery.

By and large, he says Canadians are fairly conservative with headpieces and he detects a generally more reserved approach to coronation-inspired attire for what is, after all, a relatively sombre religious ritual.

"It's celebratory in kind of a conservative way. The last couple of royal weddings, when we did things for that, we kind of went big and people aren't going as large. I have noticed that we're going smaller," he says.

"The colour gold seems to be quite popular. I mean, I'm designing with it a lot. And that kind of richness, that small richness, people seem to be liking that."

For those unaccustomed to headpieces but eager to experiment with the added embellishment, Dunkley stresses the importance of wearing something that "makes you happy and feel good."

"If you're not used to having something on your head, it can be a bit strange. So if you put something on and the colour makes you happy, and the scale of it makes you feel good, then that's the piece for you," he says.

"Ultimately, they're little expressions of yourself, and you know, let's not take it too seriously. They're fascinators and hats. You're crowning yourself, have some fun."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2023.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press