David’s red boxes are back, but I’m still busy designing dresses

Samantha Cameron’s new collaboration with milliner Jess Collett (left) is a collection of occasionwear with all kinds of hats – Andrew Crowley

If you’ve ever felt that rush of excitement mixed with mild anxiety that comes when an invitation to a big event arrives on your doorstep, think of Samantha Cameron. “In my husband’s previous role I had to go to a lot of royal events, so I had to start wearing hats,” she says, having just removed a delicately exuberant creation with a burst of fuchsia silk flowers from her head. “I actually like hats and the glamor of it, but it can be a bit intimidating.”

We’re gathered in the hat-filled studio of milliner Jess Collett in Notting Hill, where Cameron, the founder and creative director of womenswear label Cefinn, and Collett have modeled the looks of their new collaboration, a collection of occasionwear featuring hats of all shapes and sizes .

The idea for the collaboration came about after working together on Cameron’s Coronation outfit last year. She wore a red and white dress of her own design with a delicate swirling floral pattern and ruffles at the edges. Both ‘local Ladbroke Grove girls’, the current Lady Cameron (since husband David’s surprise appointment to the House of Lords and his appointment as Foreign Secretary last November) turned to Collett to solve her hat dilemma. “The starting point was to think about what dress would I feel comfortable with and which I think would be appropriate for the event? Having never been to a coronation, there weren’t many guidelines,” Cameron confides.

“I’m quite picky when it comes to hats because I have bangs and a small head,” she says. “But I knew Jess would come up with something unique, fresh and just very stylish.” The simple red and white platter with striped ribbon detail saw Cameron praised as one of the best dressed guests of the day.

Samantha and David Cameron arrive at the coronation in 2023Samantha and David Cameron arrive at the coronation in 2023

Samantha and David Cameron arrive at the 2023 coronation – Andrew Milligan/Getty

Another style winner of the day was the Princess of Wales. When Cameron watched the Princess and her family walk down the aisle of Westminster Abbey, she wasn’t the only member of the congregation captivated by her combination of ceremonial robes, an Alexander McQueen dress and a delicate floral headpiece made of silver bullion and crystal. . Princess Charlotte wore a miniature version of the headdress design. “I was so excited, they looked incredibly chic, especially as mother and daughter,” she says of the royals’ coordinated looks.

What made it even more exciting was the fact that the princesses’ headpieces were also designed by Collett. “I can’t remember if I thought, ‘Oh, I saw something like that in your studio,’ although of course I don’t mean the actual one,” she says, turning to Collett, “you were so discreet!”

Jess Collett models a hat in her studioJess Collett models a hat in her studio

Jess Collett has become a sought-after milliner for big occasions – Andrew Crowley for The Telegraph

“I looked at the television and saw Sam first,” Collett laughs. We speak before the princess – whose touching thank you letter to Collett hangs proudly in her studio – has revealed she is being treated for cancer, but both women are expressing hope that she will recover well from the major operation she underwent in January.

Cameron admits she hasn’t always found wearing a hat easy (she even reversed the whole process for William and Catherine’s wedding in 2011, making headlines for wearing a brooch in her hair instead) . “Jess really made me feel comfortable, it’s just finding the right one for you,” she emphasizes. In addition to feeling like she had reached a pinnacle in her personal hat evolution with her Coronation choice, Cameron received many customer requests about finding fashion items to match her Cefinn occasionwear.

Cameron made headlines for wearing a brooch in her hair instead of a hat to William and Catherine's wedding in 2011Cameron made headlines for wearing a brooch in her hair instead of a hat to William and Catherine's wedding in 2011

Cameron made headlines for wearing a brooch in her hair instead of a hat to William and Catherine’s wedding in 2011 – Joanne Davidson/Shutterstock

So now Cefinn customers can recreate Cameron’s exact look for themselves for this summer’s events season for £1,600. Cameron and Collett have included the hat in their 10-piece range, but you don’t have to go as dramatic (or expensive) as the Coronation number; there are three beautiful braided headbands, a cream trilby, a neat “knot” decorated with flowers and a pair of slightly more subdued saucers, with prices starting from £340.

A braided headband from the Cefinn x Jess Collett Millinern collectionA braided headband from the Cefinn x Jess Collett Millinern collection

A braided headband from the Cefinn x Jess Collett Millinern collection

It’s clear why Collett was the woman for the job. She provides a wealth of useful tips for anyone who is a little wary. “If you are choosing a hat and don’t know which one to choose, it is very good to take a photo of yourself wearing it, because when you look at a photo it is one way or another reason easier to see what you look like. she says, which is sage advice considering that many of us now post our wedding or event looks on social media anyway, something she says has led to a resurgence in hats. “There are certain shapes that suit many people,” she adds. “If you want a small hat, the button shape will suit pretty much everyone. If you wanted a sun hat, I would go for the Panama shape.”

Collett recommends the Panama shape for a sun hatCollett recommends the Panama shape for a sun hat

Collett recommends the Panama shape for a sun hat

Samantha is not only Lord Cameron’s wife, but has always been an accomplished fashion businesswoman. She was creative director of British accessories label Smythson from 1997 to May 2010, moving to an advisory role when her husband became prime minister. She studied design for ten years before launching Cefinn in 2017. The label began offering the kind of versatile workwear that Cameron had always looked for but never found during her busy life balancing her career and motherhood.

Now, she explains, “the company has turned around. We still do those everyday things and things you would wear to the office or on the weekend and that is the core of the brand. But the winter and summer seasons [covering Christmas party season and summer events] have become our greatest seasons. For whatever reason, the way I design has served us very well. We have women calling from February onwards saying, ‘when is your summer collection coming out, because I’m planning this or that event?’”

Some fashion insiders may have decreed the death of the floral dress, but for Cameron they are still a huge bestseller. “There has obviously been a lot of discussion about flowers and whether they are in or not. But this summer so far and last summer they are by far our best selling prints. I’m confident that no matter what is said, people really love a floral print. We already sell a lot.”

Samantha Cameron wears a hat from the new collectionSamantha Cameron wears a hat from the new collection

Cameron is wearing a floral dress from Cefinn and a hat from the new collection – Andrew Crowley

She’s a convert to it herself – even though she describes her style as “obviously quite graphic and minimal” – and looks as elegant as ever in the three versions she wears during our shoot and interview (after the photos changes she in the black version of the Ophelia bias-cut maxi dress, which looks just as amazing with the slider sandals she dons as the other styles did with a beloved old pair of Zara snakeskin heels). She tries to incorporate black or white into every floral print she makes so that they are easier to combine. Although she is also keen to point out, “If you’re not a dress person, I think the hats would look great with a really nice pantsuit. It looks so chic, very Bianca Jagger.”

It’s clear that Cameron is absorbed in every detail of her affairs, seemingly undistracted by her husband’s recent return to the political fray. “Daily life hasn’t really changed,” she emphasizes. “He travels a lot and is up very early, the red boxes are back,” she admits, with perhaps a hint of an eye roll. It must help that their three children Nancy, 20, Arthur, 18 and Florence, 13 (their eldest son, Ivan, who suffered from cystic fibrosis and epilepsy, sadly died in 2009 at the age of six) are now older – after our interview she left to see Arthur packed for a weekend away to visit her sister Flora, who is married to Theo Rycroft, the Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Paris. She hasn’t organized a party to celebrate her 50th birthday yet, which was in 2021, but she’s heading to Capri for her 53rd next month.

Her time on the world stage has given her unique training in the trials and tribulations of event dressing. Her favorite look was the lace Alessandra Rich dress that she wore to a state dinner at the White House with Michelle Obama, who was dressed in teal Marchesa. Together, the duo created the glory days of First Lady fashion on both sides of the pond.

The Camerons and ObamasThe Camerons and Obamas

First Lady Fashion: The Camerons and Obamas Pictured Before a State Dinner at the White House – Stephen J. Boitano/Getty

One of the biggest concerns surrounding event style is adhering to dress codes, both spoken and unspoken. “The only rule I know is that at Royal Ascot in the Royal Enclosure you must have a base of 10 centimeters, all our hats cover that. People are very concerned,” reassures Collett, who has seen a huge ‘coronation effect’ on her business and recently brought her designs to America.

“I don’t think there should be a code. I think it’s what suits you and what feels comfortable, that’s what I would personally want,” says Cameron with the cool confidence that armed her for six years of having her outfits judged by the world press. “I guess you just don’t want to block someone’s view.”

These days she may be more absorbed in design while her husband focuses on diplomacy, but the soft power skills that Cameron excelled at in Downing Street remain. “Those great events like the Coronation, Royal Ascot or Royal Weddings, we do it better than anywhere else in the world. It is one of our strengths, that pageantry, the fancy dress.” And now she has the perfect hats for the occasion.

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