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Obit of the Day: The Royal Milliner

For more than thirty years Philip Somerville served as the milliner to Queen Elizabeth II, a busy job since Her Royal Highness was never spotted without something atop her head. Mr. Somerville made approximately 50 hats a year for the Queen.

Born in England, Mr. Somerville did not began his work with hats until his early 20s after trying his hand in the Merchant Marines and as an actor in Australia. In the late 1960s he returned to England ostensibly to work for the Star Hat company which had sent him abroad, but instead he was hired away by Otto Lucas, a designer of couture headwear.

Working on his own after Mr. Lucas’ death, Mr. Somerville was invited to design hats for Queen Elizabeth beginning in the 1980s. (No specific year was listed in the sources.) Not long after, her daughter-in-law Princess Diana also requested her own line of Somerville-designed chapeaus.

He credited Diana with returning the hat to some level of prominence in British society as young people became attracted to her choices of headwear.

Mr. Somerville’s designs were eventually seen on the heads of upperclass women across England. He even designed the headwear wore by Xenia (Famke Janssen) in the Bond film Goldeneye and Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) in The World is Not Enough.

Nearing the end of his career, Mr. Somerville designed a black and white, broad-brimmed feathered cap for Kate Middleton in June 2008. She wore it to Prince William’s induction into the Order of the Garter. The hat was later sold at auction in 2012 for £3,222, more than 10 times its original price.

Philip Somerville, who retired in 2008, passed away at age 84 on September 14, 2014.

Sources: The Telegraph and The Daily Mail


Top - Queen Elizabeth II wearing a Philip Somerville straw hat to the Buckingham Palace Garden Party, June 2014, courtesy of and copyright of the Associated Press

Center - Princess Diana wearing a turban hat during a visit to Dubai in 1989. The hat was specifically designed to keep her hair concealed in a small attempt to honor the dress code of the United Arab Emirates. The photo is courtesy of Socialite Life.

Bottom - Kate Middleton wearing the above mentioned Somerville creation to the 2008 Order of the Garter ceremony. Courtesy of

Also relevant on Obit of the Day:

Murray Arbeid - Dress designer for Princess Diana

Raymond Hudd - American couture milliner

Lady Pulbrook - Royal florist

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