The Winners 2008 Under 15 Highly Commended

Les Chapeaux was a very well respected hat shop and everyone in the area knew that it was the best place to find a hat if you had somewhere to go. At Les Chapeaux there was always an elegant hat waiting and if there wasn’t Madame Labelle would always hand make the perfect one just for you. I had always looked in the window longingly as I passed by the handsome and elaborate hats that lay on the shelves of this amazing shop.

I had been at college for three years and after working extremely hard I decided that I would apply for a job at Les Chapeaux, as it was the shop that I had always aspired to work in. To my surprise my application was accepted and I began my first week feeling very positive. As the week drew on I was finding that life as a milliner was not going to be so easy and I was extremely embarrassed when I received a call at work.

I could tell Madame Labelle was not pleased and I answered the phone, frustrated with the person who had decided to call me. I was even angrier when I heard who was actually on the end of the phone. It was Jenny, my old next-door neighbour and someone who I hadn’t seen for years. “Hi” she said, ”someone told me you were working here, but I didn’t really think it was true!”

“Well it is.” I said getting ever more annoyed with my intrusive caller. “She wants something” I thought to myself, Jenny only ever called if she wanted something and today was no exception. Jenny always had a favour to ask and usually it meant taking part in one of her sneaky little plans or doing something you shouldn’t be doing. However as the phone call unfolded I noticed that for once Jenny was not going to ask me to do something I didn’t want to do. “Please make the hat for me” she begged me from the other end of the phone line. I still wasn’t convinced that Jenny was not up to something so I asked what she wanted this hat for and was left aghast at her one word answer.

“Ascot” she said gently down the phone. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing; this was completely ridiculous - there was no way Jenny could be going to Ascot. “But…..How?” I whispered down the phone, hardly able to speak. Before I heard an answer Madame Labelle had unplugged the phone and shot me a look of warning as she walked back to her office.

The whole day I worked with half my mind contemplating Jenny’s request and unable to continue I got up and walked straight towards Madame Labelle’s office. She looked up and I could tell she had somehow detected that I was coming from the other side of the workshop. I knocked on the door cautiously, not wanting to be disrespectful to my new employer. I walked across the threshold and felt almost as if I should curtsey to her like royalty.

I sat down and told her about the conversation and asked nervously if she would let me use the workshop after hours to make the hat. I told her that all the materials would be paid for and that the project would cause no disturbance for the shop. I stopped talking; there was nothing more I could say. I felt her eyes on me, examining me and evaluating whether I was worthy enough. After a few minutes I was beginning to feel very uncomfortable, but then she spoke. “As you wish,” she said sharply, “but remember we have a reputation at Les Chapeaux”.

All the way home I could only think of the hat that I was going to design for such a precious occasion. I needed to think up a design and I didn’t have long. Jenny would be coming to try the hat on in a week for any final alterations. I had her measurements and I knew the task required something very special: a hat that would turn heads at one of the most spectacular and prestigious sporting events of the year.

I took up my sketchpad and penciled in some ideas but then reflected on a beautiful horse I had recently seen on the television. Dusty Spirit was a mare running at Ascot for the first time and was a dazzling dappled grey. Inspired by this magnificent creature I set to work and every evening crafted the fabric feathers and beads to resemble the splendid equine in all her glory.

At the end of the week I presented the hat to Madame Labelle. With her keen eye and fine fingers she inspected my offering from every possible angle before handing me a small label. Madame Labelle was going to allow me to put a Les Chapeaux label in my hat!

I felt a sudden surge of pride rise within me rendering me speechless, but before either Madame Labelle or I had the chance to say any more, Jenny walked through the door of the shop and looked at me expectantly. I proudly handed over the hat for her to look at and try on and I could tell she was impressed with what I had created. The hat fitted perfectly and it looked absolutely stunning. Jenny thanked me and left with the hat carefully wrapped in a pretty silver hatbox.

Finally, Ladies Day at Ascot arrived and I watched the television eagerly looking at the fabulous hats that were being modeled by some of the most affluent people in Britain. Their hats were probably all bought from expensive designers who had spent a whole year creating one single hat for an astronomical price. I watched the hats for some time, not really expecting them to show Jenny, as I knew that she was hardly one of the most famous people there and that I was not the designer whose hat everyone was looking for.

Suddenly, in the background I saw Jenny float past gracefully in her beautiful dress and with the hat that I had worked so hard on. I noticed that the reporter had stopped talking and was now zooming in on Jenny before the cameras moved to the final race. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The commentator called out that from the back Dusty Spirit was pushing forward to win the race and within seconds she gained the lead to come first at the finishing line!

The next day the papers were covered with pictures of Jenny, sporting the hat that I had designed! The caption read “Where Did She Get That Hat?” I rushed to work that morning and ran all the way to Les Chapeaux with a wide grin on my face and a happy heart to be greeted by a huge crowd outside the shop. Had something happened to Madame Labelle? I pushed my way through the gathering and Madame Labelle turned around and pointed at me and shouted, “There she is!“ I felt just like Dusty Spirit, admired by the crowd, proud and tall, ready for my next race and a new challenge.