Benny Andallo finds it hard to describe his hats. His Instagram bio reads “silly crown designer” – perhaps that’s because a friend recently referred to one of his designs as her “crown”. Another coined his hats “automatic fabness”. However, the London born and raised designer’s favourite compliment comes courtesy of an anonymous woman in Peckham who stopped her car in the middle of the road just to tell him how amazing his hat was. “I was like, ‘You could have literally just ran over someone!’” says Andallo.
Despite only starting his business back in April, Benny Andallo’s barmy bonnets have got the fashion world hooked. Crafted from scraps of fabric accumulated from his days spent studying at Central Saint Martins, these oversized, attention grabbing head pieces inject fun, colour and “spice” into any outfit. Whether that be via one of his red fuzzy faux fur dome hats (as seen on Princess Julia – the “first lady of London’s fashion scene”), or through his wonky, fleecy, floral hats made in collaboration with designer Ed Curtis.
“I always loved uncle vibes and that’s the basis of everything,” explains the 27-year-old when describing his main design inspiration. “I live around the corner from Dalston and there are all these uncles walking around everywhere. You know, the dude who wears Western clothes but spices them up in his own way.”
Andallo describes his six years studying menswear as “a bit overwhelming”. He found the grueling workload, highly critical tutors and competitive environment challenging – especially as he was “getting pissed too much”. This all lead to a failed masters degree. “A week before term was meant to start for second year I was told I couldn’t come back,” says Andallo. “I was like ‘shit’. I was still in my overdraft so I ended up working in Goodhood.”
Two years later – spurred by a Christmas gift (a baker hat) from his boyfriend – Andallo tried his hand at hat design. He soon realised that headwear crafted from “colourful, spicy fabrics” was few and far between.
Although Andallo first started making hats to jazz up his own wardrobe, people soon started reaching out on Instagram to ask the designer to whip them up a custom fit. Soon the designer was meeting potential buyers all over London to hash out hat ideas before crafting them at home, the first of which he conducted in an unlikely spot. “I was quite desperate for money so was really eager to make a deal,” he explains. “The [buyer] was on a photoshoot – so I legged it to where they were working and had a meeting in the car park.”
Andallo has since caught the eye of pop royalty and LVMH-approved designer Rihanna.
“I had been stocking some of my hats at Nasir Mazhar’s Fantastic Toiles studio and [Mazhar] received a private message asking to buy one of my [sold out] hats. They said it was for Rihanna. Luckily I had a spare one in my house so someone within her team came to my house in a blacked out car to buy it. I’ve been on Daily Mail every day since to see if she’s popped up wearing it!”
So where do you go after Rihanna buys one of your pieces just six months in? “I don’t want to produce things just to have the title of being a designer,” says Andullo. “I don’t want it to be forced, I just want it to be like, ‘Oh I like this’ and to see if people are interested. And I want it to be organic rather than it being a forced seasonal thing.”
If Rihanna approves, so do we.