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A conversation with royal milliner Fabienne Delvigne

Fabienne Delvigne

As a Belgian royal warrant holder, milliner Fabienne Delvigne is no stranger to designing for royalty.

Described as “a true magician” by Diane Von Furstenberg, Maison Fabienne Delvigne has created hats for the likes of Queen Mathilde, Queen Máxima, Queen Silvia, Crown Princess Victoria, and Grand Duchess María Teresa and is considered the go-to haute couture milliner for the Belgian Royal Family.

From enormous, butterfly-topped pieces to vintage-style cloches and sleek turbans, Delvigne has been creating headwear for more than 30 years, having established her fashion brand in 1987. Since then she has created jewellery, handbags, and other accessories along with her renowned headpieces.

Delvigne was awarded as an official royal warrant holder in 2001, and following the 2013 inauguration of King Philippe, during which Queen Mathilde wore a Fabienne Delvigne hat, the milliner was granted the title of Supplier to the Court of Belgium.

In 2019 her first book, titled Sublimating Through Difference, was published. This 200-page art book showcases some of her famous creations, chronicling the rise of her career throughout the past three decades.

Photo: Fabienne Delvigne

The book features forewords by Von Furstenberg as well as royal journalist Stéphane Bern, who praised Delvigne’s ability to “create and innovate while avoiding all the pitfalls, respecting the customs and conventions of European courts while skillfully embracing the personality of each queen or princess.”

Delvigne took the time to speak to Royal Central about her impressive career, designing for royal women, and her dream client.

Kristin Contino: Congratulations on celebrating more than 30 years in business. How did you get started as a milliner? Were you always interested in hats?

Fabienne Delvigne: After my marketing studies and having worked as an executive in an international company, I decided, on a whim, to create hats. Having a taste for challenges and wearing hats from a young age, I decided to embrace the career of milliner. Indeed, I noticed that wearing a hat was giving me confidence and was making me stand out at events. At the time, I was 23-years-old and the beginning of an adventure.

Photo: Fabienne Delvigne

Tell us about your design process and how a headpiece goes from idea to finished product. 

My design process always starts with a spontaneous inspiration that can come from the discovery of a curve in a bench, an architectural building, the image of a bird, a movement in a dress, a specific material, or a precise desire of a client.

Regarding the material used, I always make sure to offer the most beautiful there is to my clients. It can be in banana fibre, Abaka, Parabuntal and Parasisal. We also always use natural and eco-responsible materials.

When the material is defined, the choice of colour is essential. Depending on the choice, it will be dyed in the workshop using an ancient process. With each new creation, the pleasure of the touch is renewed. Feeling the material coming alive, sculpting it, moulding it, and draping it to give life to the hats. A unique and intimate relationship is created between the designer and her hats.

The finishing touches are hand-made to give the curves of the hat all its lightness. The most important outcome of this process is to sublimate my customers by the difference. I like my creations to be feminine, elegant, audacious, and full of lightness. These 4 criteria are defining my style. 

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You started designing for Queen Mathilde in the 1990s. Did your business see a huge impact once royal women started wearing your designs? 

Our creations have been worn by Queen Mathilde for more than 20 years, which gives the House of Fabienne Delvigne a high international profile. The Queen often wears them during state visits abroad or in our country for various important events, national holidays, etc.

This brings customers from all over the world to us, but also a lot of publicity for potential Belgian customers. We have the same effect with the clients from the Netherlands with Queen Máxima of the Netherlands.

These queens are beautiful and so royal. Our dream is to make hats for Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, your future Queen who is just as beautiful. The hats fit her so well and it would be a pleasure to work with her. We could bring a different style than the one she wears currently.

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What are the unique challenges of designing for the royal woman versus your other clients? 

For a royal person, we must be very careful about where and when they will wear our creations. We will not make the same style of hat if the Queen is going to see patients in a hospital, the opening of a major exhibition, a state visit, or a royal wedding.

For example, we will create something much sober in the first case. On the other hand, if there’s a state visit in a kingdom, we will be able to be more creative and make bigger hats. When it comes to royal weddings, hats can be very spectacular, such as the hat that we created for Queen Máxima at the wedding of Guillaume, [Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg]. We also always adapt our creations to the personality and desire of the queen or princess who wears it.

We also take as much care of other clients than we do with the royal families. We make sure that every appointment is exceptional, like a suspended moment. We want to make every client feel like a princess and sublimate them through difference.

What do you think is the most important thing to consider when a woman is choosing a hat for herself? 

Our passion for the creation of this accessory comes from the pleasure we have to give the women who wear our creations; confidence and boldness. The desire to surpass themselves by feeling so good about themselves. For this, the match must be perfect. The whole creates a beautiful balance between the face, the silhouette, and our creation that it is in harmony with her personality.

In our eyes, it is very important that our creation is made light to give the airiness that is the hallmark of Maison Fabienne Delvigne.

“Red Innovation” hat. Photo: Fabienne Delvigne

Out of all the hats you’ve ever created, do you have a favourite?

It’s hard to say because all our hats are our babies.

From the latest collection “Heavenly Dream”, the “Light Butterfly” hat is beautifully elegant, feminine, daring and airy. I also have a lot of love for the “Red Innovation” made in the contemporary material, Plexiglass®. We made it just for the taste of challenge and showing that our universe is not only reduced to the hat but that it is much wider such as the design, for example, with this futuristic-looking hat.

Visit Maison Fabienne Delvigne online or purchase a copy of Sublimating Through Difference here.

About author

Kristin is Chief Reporter for Royal Central and has been following the British royal family for more than 30 years. Kristin has appeared in UK and U.S. media outlets discussing the British royals including BBC Breakfast, BBC World News, Sky News, the Associated Press, TIME, The Washington Post, and many others.