I visited London's V & A Hats exhibition yesterday, a Monday lunchtime. It was fairly packed and as I made drawings from the showcases, I was joined by a crowd of schoolgirls with their sketchbooks. "So where's your mother's hat then?" asked one. "I've no idea" she replied modestly. If it'd been me I'd have made damn sure I knew. Overhearing women enthusing about the hundreds of glorious confections on show is half the fun. "See that one on the left, it's just like what I wore on my honeymoon in the 50s" I pressed my nose against the glass too. It was a little velvet platter strewn with flowers and some veiling; must have gone with a neat costume when she was waved off in a vintage Austin. Those were the days! Now brides tend to stay in their wedding dresses and does anyone notice when they finally disappear to bed?
The V & A stages costume very well and my favourite showcase is dedicated to Cecil Beaton - black and white regency stripes and pink hydrangeas, oh. Another case is lined with grey silk button padding that I long to line my bedroom with. For those mad moments, ha. Many of the hats are crazy, whimsical or surreal as chosen by doyen of the couture millinery world Stephen Jones. I am glad we're reminded of his brilliance when so much attention is given to society milliner Philip Treacy. I am simply bored of all his 'fascinators' that are in danger of hitting overhead power cables. Come on ladies, get over it. Get a proper hat, and one that fits - somehow. Considering how many are made for the British market, they all come in one size. A lovely summer event becomes a tragi-comedy of self-conscious women trying to make eye contact from under a shed of banana straw. That's why others plump for the headband option and look like a troupe of middle-aged chorus girls or heritage-breed hens. I suggest the mass-market milliners visit this latest exhibition and get some fresh ideas.
Here are some of my favourite mad hats.
A new version of the New Romantics by Vivien Westwood 2008
Philip Treacy, here far more fascinating, a black silk brocade tricorne with integral velvet mask
Tipped up and pointing down over one eye with black and white silk ribbon trim by John Boyd 1996
Joan with a hat' by Jean Barthet, Paris 1953
The young Halston places a hat on actress Anita Colby at Bergdorf Goodman, NY 1965
The exhibition Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones runs at London's V & A Museum until 31 May 2009
There is a great book to go with it
[V & A Publishing 2009 $26.37 from Amazon.com]
and delicious merchandising. Who could resist this cut out paper hat?
Photos at head of this post:
Christian Dior haute couture 2007
Stephen Jones 'Wash and Go' 1999, acrylic
All images courtesy The V & A