I have a British relative who is crazy about hats. When she saw the exhibit Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, she raved about it. But that’s what you’d expect from someone who has “madhatter” in her e-mail address and took her own milliner to the exhibit. So, when Jones’ Hat show came to town, to the Upper West Side in fact, I had to see what she was talking about. Mad hatter was right; it is a terrific show.
Being a newcomer to the world of hats, my first question was “Who is Stephen Jones?” Apparently, to aficionados, that’s a ridiculous question. Jones is the world’s foremost hat designer who has designed hats for Madonna, Keira Knightley, Rihanna, Jackie O and Cher and for the designers Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan and the House of Dior. Apparently, when the Victoria and Albert decided to do a show on hats, Jones was the logical choice: “I simply live my life and put it into a hat,” he explains.
This is a show with a great sense of humor. Proof? Take a look at Andy Warhol’s wig and the beret called English Breakfast with sausages, tomatoes and eggs knitted right into it.
If I had to list my favorites in the exhibit — a difficult task — I’d choose the turquoise and gold African head wrap by Folakemi Odusanya; a large black cube of a hat with swavorski crystals; a gorgeous cherry colored felt brimmed hat by Mary Quant; a white frothy silk confection with a cherry on top titled Mr. Whippy; Sex on the Brain — a hat with a copulating couple perched precariously on top; and a 1970’s Bill Cunningham creation (yes, the Times fashion photographer Cunningham) featuring a black leather stiletto on a velvet base.
And if I had to choose my absolute favorite it would be the beauty on the third floor of the exhibit — a hat of velvet and pheasant feathers made for Ralph Lauren that seems to float in the vitrine like an exquisite piece of sculpture.
This exhibit does more than simply celebrate the creativity and artistry of the hat maker. It gives the viewer a full explanation — via video and a re-creation of an actual milliner’s atelier — of how hats are made. Milliners sit at a long table with the tools of their trade, needles, threads and scissors close by. When they are making a one-of-a-kind hat for a client, they use a “conformator”, model of their customer’s head. The video, which shows the painstaking process of making a hat by hand, features Deborah Miller, Stephen Jones’ chief hat maker. Excerpts from Pathe Newsreels from the 30’s on up are fun to watch; How to Choose a Hat is a perfect period piece.
For more information on the exhibit and to plan your visit, go to Bard’s website, www.bgc.bard.edu.
Hats: An Anthology By Stephen Jones
Bard Graduate Center
18 West 86th Street (between Columbus and Central Park West)
September 15-April 15
Hat photos via the Bard Graduate Center.