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About Imogen’s Imagination

About Imogen’s Imagination

It’s not all about “fashun dahling”, here!

I don’t have any pretentions about Imogen’s Imagination; what I do, why I do it or who I do it for… I just happen to love what I do and that’s making classically elegant hats!

Big hats, small hats, hat for weddings, hats for the races, every day hats and hair accessories too. Making them makes me happy and makes my clients happy too.

So, what do I do and why do I do it?

I always liked hats but lacked the confidence to wear one when I was younger – it all seemed a bit “exhibitionist”! I did however wear the occasional winter hat in my late teens.

Now, however, I’m an avid wearer and advocate of the beautiful, bright and brilliant beret! Berets are practical, cosy, chic, comfortable, easy to roll up and stick in your pocket/bag… and importantly, they are wear-every-day hats. I live in my beret from the first hard frost of the year (sometimes before!) right the way through until spring. Need convincing? Have a look at my Beret Collections

Ultimately, I make hats and hair accessories and I love what I do.  My story is a series of fortuitous events – a mix of hard work, dedication and fate have led to opportunities I never imagined 15 years ago!

This was me way back in 2012 when I went to BBC Radio Sheffield for the first time. I’ve been back lots of times since to talk about Imogen’s Imagination, hats and being a small business owner. 

This gorgeous pink beret with a black and white silk polka dot bow was from one of my first beret collections. I still have it and I still wear it!

BBC Radio Sheffield Sophie with presenter Rony Robinson

It all started…

… In the mid 2000’s when I frequented a local burlesque night with friends. The whole audience dressed up for these nights and the obvious finishing touch to an outfit was some sort headwear.

I’ve always sewn, taught by my mum and grandma, so I started making mini top hats for my friends and me to wear. I used pre-made bases sourced online and simply used my imagination to match them to our outfits. These got lots of attention and the organiser of the burlesque nights asked me to stock her city centre boutique. Imogen’s Imagination was officially born!

Disclaimer: This “My Fair Lady” inspired hat was not appropriate for a wedding. I know this. I would never recommend this style of hat to a client going to a wedding! It is definitely an Ascot worthy hat though.

I broke the rules because my friend, the bride, said that if I didn’t wear it she would be “very disappointed” (And she said it in that very particular way that only Mums and teachers can! You know the way I mean). I am so lucky to have friends who are supportive and almost as passionate about Imogen’s Imagination as I am.

I’d started selling at local vintage fairs, expanding the range to include burlesque inspired hair accessories. However, I was still only ‘playing’ at it, by the time my mum retired – and inspired me to learn how to truly ‘make hats’.  She took the most tremendous career change, going from teaching A-level French in the July straight into doing an art foundation course in the September!

It was so the spur I needed – I didn’t want to wait another 30-odd years before I retired and could do this myself. I was immensely proud of Mum when she graduated from her degree course 4 years later. She’d shown me that you can follow your ambitions and realise your dreams, no matter how late in life you start. Thanks, Mum!

Lyn Cooke Jewellery aka my mum and inspiration
Lyn Cooke Jewellery - Showing at the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair in 2011

So, I got to learning my trade…

I started evening classes at Leeds College of Art and Design in September 2009 and attended for 30 weeks, every year until 2014, learning the basics for my millinery skills. Hands-on practice came naturally, as I was already designing and creating fascinators and hats for my burgeoning business. By now I was selling via a number of online platforms, my own website and by attending craft and vintage fairs across the region and beyond.

In late 2013 I accepted an offer of voluntary redundancy from my job as an intelligence analyst. It was the perfect catalyst and opportunity for me to really make a go of the label. It also freed up my time to take part in other projects – these would really help me to tell the world about Imogen’s Imagination! (Check out my In The Press pages to see how I made the most of this opportunity)

In the summer of 2014, I moved from my box room at home to a large studio in Sheffield city centre… where I have loved being ever since. My home is home again, and I look forward to coming to work at Exchange Place Studios every day!

Imogen's Imagination Exchange Place Studios

Who is Imogen?

At the time I was working as an intelligence analyst, I wanted to keep my creative life separate from my other job.

I’d only met one Imogen in my life before I started the business – a senior at my dance school who had dreads, so not your typical ballet dancer! In my 12-year old eyes, she just oozed cool…

Adult me had never met a nasty Imogen and I liked the alliteration, so Imogen was born. She has since morphed into my ballsy alter ego for doing stuff that scaredy-cat Sophie isn’t quite up for!

Imogen at Imogen's Imagination

My career highlights

Events and achievements that I’m particularly proud of include having my work exhibited at London Hat Week and Sheffield’s own Millennium Gallery, gracing the front cover of HATalk magazine (twice!), creating the official hat for the High Sheriff of South Yorkshire, along with numerous designs visiting Buckingham Palace – one even met the Queen, which still gives me goosebumps!

I love this photo of myself and Dr Julie MacDonald (former High Sheriff of South Yorkshire), flanked by Reynaldo and Melvyn of Vyn Johns. These dapper chaps created Julie’s official uniform of a super smart dress and coat. What they don’t know about tailoring would fit on the back of a postage stamp! I can’t recommend their alterations or bespoke work highly enough.

Imogen's Imagination, Vyn Johns and The High Sheriff of South Yorkshire in 2016
Imogen's Imagination Making Masterpieces

There was also the time a video of me working was projected on the side of our studio building… you cannot imagine my shock when I saw it! That was certainly a first and if I’m honest, Imogen totally enjoyed that more than Sophie did!

I hope you’ve enjoyed finding out a little more about my journey into millinery and about Imogen’s Imagination. If you’d like to stay up to date with my adventures, please do sign up for my newsletter or follow me on social media.