THERE can’t be many South Yorkshire Police analysts moonlighting as exotic milliners.
But for more than three years Sophie Cooke, from Hillsborough, has been doubling up as an analyst and hat-maker, working long days to fit both jobs in.
And it’s from a modest dining room in a Hillsborough terrace where Sophie runs her hat-making enterprise, known as Imogen’s Imagination.
The room – her workshop – is adorned with hats. There are hats on stands, hats on the table and a huge box bursting with millinery delights.
“I bought that from a vintage clothes wholesalers in Liverpool,” she says.
“I started rooting through it last night but only got about a third of the way through. It’s on my jobs list.”
The box is bursting with all manner of hats, from 60s pill box numbers to 50s rabbit fur-lined felt bonnets.
“I’ll see what I can do with them and see whether I can make a pattern from any of them.”
Sophie’s current hat collection is equally as diverse. Her hats range from simple, classy pill box-style headwear to more eccentric fascinators, adorned with netting, bows and flowers.
She makes everything from scratch, by hand. “I don’t draw my designs, I do it all with my hands and the material.”
Sophie sells her hats online, at craft fairs, vintage fairs and in Sheffield Forum.
Working full-time as a civilian employee for South Yorkshire Police, Sophie makes her hats in the evenings and at weekends.
Her set up is not out of necessity – already Sophie sells hats across the country and will be advertising in Vogue this autumn, but she wouldn’t want it as her full-time job.
“I like mixing with real people – if I were doing this full time I’d be working on my own at home every day. I think I’d go a bit la la. Making hats all day wouldn’t be real. I could end up watching Jeremy Kyle!”
Hats are no longer the fashion staple that they were during the 1940s, when it was rare to see a man in the street without a hat on, nowadays hat-wearing is seen as flash, flamboyant and the preserve of celebrities.
But Sophie says hat- wearing needn’t require bucket loads of confidence.
“As long as you feel comfortable wearing one a hat can suit anyone – and it really finishes off an outfit but you have to have the outfit first,” she says.
“People come to me and ask for a hat and I always say ‘make sure you have an outfit first because you’ll never find what you want otherwise’.
Her advice to the more nervous hat-wearer is simple: wear something so comfortable you forget it’s there.
“Some people are wary of wearing a hat – I would say if you’re not too comfortable with wearing a hat go for something that’s not at eye-level or bulky.
“It’s when you forget you’re wearing a hat that you become more comfortable. People will start coming up to you and saying ‘that looks good’ and then the confidence will come.”
Sophie was inspired to start making hats after visiting Burlesque nights. “I had always liked hats and was always comfortable wearing them. My housemate would say ‘can you make me a hat to match my outfit?’.”
Sophie became more prolific and within months was selling her hats in the Forum and selling at vintage shows. At the moment, in addition to her work at South Yorkshire Police and hat-making, she is studying for an HNC in millinery at Leeds College of Art. “It’s been so helpful studying millinery but I didn’t even do art A-level,” she says.
She takes inspiration from the runway editions of Vogue, basing her ideas on the forecasts for the up-coming season.
“I don’t make things intentionally fashionable but it is good to know things are on trend.”
But, fun as it is, Sophie’s millinery takes up a huge amount of time. “My housemate slams the door at 6.30am – I’ve told her to do that to wake me up. I get up, check my emails, reply if necessary, go to work, work in my lunch break, come home, check my emails and do admin for my hat-making.”
The actual making of the hats themselves is usually left for the weekends.
“I’ll do a 12-hour day some weekends with catch-up telly. I can watch a week’s worth of EastEnders though I don’t really watch it – it’s just there in the background.”
So, with a high-flying job in the police, a house to run and a booming hat enterprise up her sleeve, how does Sheffield’s most exciting milliner manage it all?
“It’s all down to the power of the list,” says Sophie.
Some hat facts
The term ‘milliner’ takes its name from Milan, Italy, which was, in the 18th-century, home to some of the finest hat-makers.
Traditionally hats are supposed to be worn to the right of one’s head.
Sophie started out making hats for her housemate but quickly built-up a reputation and started selling at vintage fairs, burlesque nights and in independent shops throughout the city.
Sophie can do 12 hours a day over the weekend making hats, keeping up to date with her administration and sourcing materials.