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Sur La Tête

May 10, 2011
Stephen Jones for Christian Dior Haute Couture ‘Olga Sherer inspiree par Gruau Hat’ Autumn/Winter 2007/08. Photo: Christopher Moore/Catwalking

Stephen Jones for Christian Dior Haute Couture. 2007/08

Hats matter. As Christian Dior the famous French couturier noted “without hats there would be no civilization”. They are the most symbolic element of our dress. Since man started to walk upright, the headdress was the defining status symbol.

In New Guinea many of the tribesmen wear elaborate headdresses made from available flora and very little else. Hats always symbolize some sort of status from the policeman’s hat to the beanie and baseball cap worn backwards. They are important cultural artifacts.

Hats – An Anthology by Stephen Jones is the result of a collaboration between London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and milliner Stephen Jones. It was first shown in London in 2009 and now it is exclusively on display at the Queensland Art Gallery what a coup for this beautiful gal- lery, surely one of the most elegant and sophisticated in Australia. The exhibition presents more than 250 hats and iconic headpieces from the V&A’s extensive collection and Jones’ own whimsical archive. Jones has been a milliner for more than 25 years and has collaborated with designers including Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, Comme des Garçons and Marc Jacobs.

The exhibition features hats worn by historical and cultural icons – singers, celebrities, actors and actresses of the past and present. It includes one of Dietrich’s trademark berets by Elsa Schiaparelli, Philip Treacy’s bridal headpiece created for Camilla Parker-Bowles’ marriage to the Prince of Wales and Stephen Jones’ own creation for Kylie Minogue – Visor Headress which featured on her ‘Showgirl’ tour.

In person, Stephen Jones is a puckish figure who looks like he may have walked out of Alice in Won- derland. He certainly exudes a strong sense of insouciance – a man very comfortable with who he is and what he has achieved. His cherubic face radiates good humour an accessory as essential as a good hat.

 Graham Smith, Pirelli tyre c. 1985. Photo: Richard Davis/ VandA Images
Graham Smith, c.1985

Tony Ellwood director of the Queensland Art Gallery, who man aged, dexterously, to wear two hats at the launch cocktail party, said the exhibition “follows the life of a hat through the stages of Inspiration and Creation to the Salon and, finally, to the Client who gives it ultimate purpose and flourish”.

“Hats have to be a mirror of their age with a touch of whimsy,” Stephen Jones writes in his introduction to Inspiration. One of my favourite inspi- rational hats was by New York milliner Albertus Swanepoel inspired by his homeland South Africa a beautiful sculptured fine straw hat with a black pompom in the centre made from plastic garbage bags.

I loved the Kiss of Death hat by Joe Gordon, long rigid black feathers like an Indian chief’s headdress caught in a high wind, and Stephen Jones’ ‘Wash and Go’ hat, molded by a heated paint stripper from clear plastic to resemble a splash of water.

Jo Gordon, Kiss of death 1994 Photo: Richard Davis/VandA Images

Jo Gordon, Kiss of death c.1994

There is a distinctively Australian section by Australian milliners and they certainly don’t let the side down. Hats made from cassowary feath- ers, hats in the shape of our beautiful native flowers and a particularly fine fantastic hat that I lusted after called “Wings“ by the clever Sydney milliner Suzy O’Rourke. Melbourne milliners were well represented. Richard Nylon, was deeply honoured to have two of his whimsical hats in the Australian milliners section.

 Stephen Jones, hat with rolled brim, 1982.Photo: Richard Davis/ VandA Images

Stephen Jones, c.1982

Fashion flm clips at the Exhibition of old newsreel footage are a delight – the difference between the American and English hat models from the 30s and 40s is pronounced. The Americans models show beautiful teeth while the English models simply smile enigmatically. However when you are wearing a hat it’s hard to resist a smile.

Hats lift your spirits instantly  men and women should throw their anti-depressants away and start wearing hats. Hats make you feel marvelous – an accessory that completes everything, not just the face. If you haven’t already a passion for hats, you won’t come out of this exhibition without falling in love with the art of millinery make a hat your essential IT accessory and like Jones combine it with a good sense of humour.

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