Pandemonium designed by Harvy Santos. Courtesy Harvy Santos
Pandemonium designed by Harvy Santos. Courtesy Harvy Santos

A feather in the cap of milliner Harvy Santos

It’s four days before London Fashion Week and Harvy Santos has a dilemma: he’s not comfortable having his photograph taken.

“I’m not photogenic and have stayed away from camera lenses at all times,” he says. “I know that sounds weird, from being a ballet dancer, who should be used to being looked at.”

The Filipino milliner better start getting used to the attention. His collection for London Fashion Week, where he’s showing for the first time, is exuberantly original – and one that will probably put him in a bigger spotlight.

Titled Birdy, his range of 30 handmade headpieces were inspired by the avian kingdom. Along with traditional straw materials, luxurious silk gazar and acetate paillettes, Santos has used feathers from diverse and non-threatened species of birds to create fine lines and rich textures.

“I want to capture the sense of birds in motion – flying, diving and causing a commotion,” he says. “Spring is the time when birds go dancing to court a mate, display their finest feathers to mark a special occasion or just cause chaos for no apparent reason,” he says. “Birdy is for those of us who fancy a little extra plumage.”

Describing his typical customer, Santos says: “She’s old enough to have the confidence to stand out and young enough to always spice tradition with a hint of anarchy. She is elegant, with edges.”

Santos may well be describing himself. Born and raised in the Philippines, he left home and dropped out of university at 18 to pursue his passion for dance.

“I had a dream of being one of Janet Jackson’s or Madonna’s back-up dancers,” he says. “Being young and naive, I didn’t quite know how to achieve that.”

Then he discovered ballet. After winning multiple scholarships to study the dance form in Manila and Hong Kong, Santos joined Hong Kong Ballet and danced professionally for six years.

While in Hong Kong, he discovered his knack for design. “At some point, I started designing outfits for friends and researching about theatre design,” he says. “I managed to design for a couple of the Hong Kong Ballet’s productions, including Paquita, and bits and bobs from Swan Lake, including the headpieces for the swans.” In 2008 Santos moved to London, where he attended a five-day millinery workshop on a whim. “After three months, there were 60 fascinators sitting on my dining table,” he says with a laugh.

Santos went back to fashion school, worked for the esteemed milliner Stephen Jones, and launched his own label in 2013.

Santos’s dance background continues to inform his work. “I like shapes and dynamics. I like to freeze action,” he says. “I do inject theatrical elements in some of my hats. Sometimes it’s a big entrance, sometimes it’s a scene-stealer, sometimes it’s a show-stopper.” His roots have been influential, too. Though his atelier is based in London, most of the materials he uses are sourced from the Philippines. Indeed, it is a blend of exotic elegance and timeless craftsmanship that Santos hopes his work exudes.

“This is my first time showing in London, so I’m nervous, excited and anxious all at the same time – like a child that had too much sugar and running about,” he says, before feigning a theatrical squeal. “As a Filipino, I like a little bit of drama,” he adds. “There’s always a bit of tropical exuberance up in the air.”

• Harvy Santos’s collection is on show at London Fashion Week’s Designer Showroom until tomorrow and at Paris Fashion Week’s Premiere Classe from October 2 to 5. For more information, visit

Some of Darwish's last words

"They see their tomorrows slipping out of their reach. And though it seems to them that everything outside this reality is heaven, yet they do not want to go to that heaven. They stay, because they are afflicted with hope." - Mahmoud Darwish, to attendees of the Palestine Festival of Literature, 2008

His life in brief: Born in a village near Galilee, he lived in exile for most of his life and started writing poetry after high school. He was arrested several times by Israel for what were deemed to be inciteful poems. Most of his work focused on the love and yearning for his homeland, and he was regarded the Palestinian poet of resistance. Over the course of his life, he published more than 30 poetry collections and books of prose, with his work translated into more than 20 languages. Many of his poems were set to music by Arab composers, most significantly Marcel Khalife. Darwish died on August 9, 2008 after undergoing heart surgery in the United States. He was later buried in Ramallah where a shrine was erected in his honour.