The Alexander McQueen exhibit Savage Beauty at the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) is spectacular.
I have been to several exhibits at the V&A over the last few years. David Bowie was good, Horst was a pleasant surprise, the Italian exhibit was a disappointment. But the Alexander McQueen exhibit is not to be missed. It has been so popular that my husband and I got tickets for, get this, 8:45 AM on a Sunday morning. I was great. There were people there but it wasn’t crowded.
It starts with his craftsmanship in tailoring, then takes you right into some really dramatic pieces, each room a new visceral experience.
I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.
And many of his designs are very powerful.
I am not much for birds. Don’t get me wrong I like birds, but I don’t really think about them much. Since starting in millinery, I think about them a lot more, particularly their feathers. McQueen’s use of feathers is astounding.
“I don’t see it as aggressive – I see it as romantic, dealing with a dark side of a personality.”
Not long after moving to London, my daughter and I were getting on the tube, and there was a man in front of us with the most amazing shoes. To my daughter’s embarrassment, I asked him about his shoes, he said they were Alexander McQueen. That was the first time I remember connecting that name with a piece of clothing. They looked something like this.
Things start to connect. Alexander McQueen’s graduation collection was bought by Isabella Blow. Phillip Treacy made lots of hats and head pieces for Isabella Blow and for Alexander McQueen. I don’t know the order of things, but it is cool when things start connecting. I’d heard of the Phillip Treacy butterfly headdress, but I hadn’t known it was made for Alexander McQueen.
Whether you are into fashion or not, this exhibit has something for everyone. Just to give you an idea of the breadth of experience. My husband who is in the Technology field and a friend’s husband who is a taxi driver, both enjoyed it.
I hate to over sell the exhibit and have you be disappointed, but there were times that I was nearly in tears at the extent of his creativity and mastery. The time, the materials, the craftsmanship, sigh. However with that said many of the things on exhibit are definitely wearable art / performance wear.
In the 1990’s McQueen’s trousers often were very, very low in the back and seemed to just cling to the buttocks, known as Bumsters. Wasn’t this about the time when this low back tattoos became popular. We used to call them whale tale tattoos. I wonder if those two things are related.
many of the images were from the V&A website, shoe image from sneakerfreaker.com,
I take to the streets of London to see what hats people are wearing a cool day in March.
I usually ride my bike to hat class but not today, I had a meeting after class. I love riding my bike. I ride for sanity, fitness and transportation, and on hat class day it is for all three. However on the days that I cannot ride, the best part of not riding my bike is I can wear one of my adored hats, or test drive a new hat. This day I choose my grey fur felt fedora. I will do a podcast about this specific hat at a later date.
On my walk to Morley College from the Elephant and Castle tube station, I noticed a sign for a new exhibit at the Imperial War Museum (IWM). I have not been yet, but I will go see Fashion on the Ration – 1940’s Street Style, apparently they are also offering a 40’s style lunch for group bookings. I’ll have to go check it out.
Just after snapping a photo of me in front of the sign so I don’t forget. This is my current note taking and reminder system…take pictures of it.
As I set off down the street a striking older woman approached. She was so lovely and I was only a little late for class. I asked if I could take her pictured. She agreed and then promptly told me she was 87 years old. She was absolutely charming with her magenta coat, dusty rose wool felt beret and large single pearl hat pin. We had a lovely chat and I learned that she is a turn local Londoner. Born just a few block to the West side of the IWM, moved a few blocks to the East side of the IWM at age 6, then to the North side when she married at 22, where she’s lived ever since. We parted ways and I went off to work on my 1840’s style straw bonnet.
After hat class I set off for Oxford Street by way of the Lambeth North tube station. Still feeling brave (Brave is my word for the year) and energized from my successful encounter with the little lady in pink, I mustered the courage to ask these two people if I could photograph them in their hats. They were surprised, but delightfully agreed. The lady in the green wool hat was from East Africa and the man in the black cap was from Germany. I love the diversity of London!
I headed across town just after class to take a look at the venue for theLondon Hat Week, Milliners’ Questions Time event, that I am moderating. Tickets are now available for £16, so if you are interested, follow the links. It is in a listed building and I’ve attached just one of the beautiful stained glass windows.
A walk down Oxford Street is always a wonderful time in people watching. There were many people wearing your basic knit hat in all its various forms, there were a few deer stalkers and the occasional fur cossack.
This lady was happy to allow me to capture her cowboy style hat.
My biggest challenge of the day was the flat cap. There was something about the gentlemen wearing the flat caps, and there were a lot of them, but I just didn’t feel comfortable approaching them. However, this kind man agreed to pause a moment on his hurried run to the tube station. I just adore the flat cap and his smile.
Spring colors in the Oxford Street windows – It is all about yellow and blue. From children to adults to handbags, yellow is everywhere with compliments of blue.
Austro-Hungarian Empress Elisabeth’s riding hat fetches 134,000 euros (110,500 GBP, 186,500 USD) at an auction in Vienna on 5 March 2015. If that isn’t if hats can appreciate in value and not just in the eye of people, it I think we can look forward to seeing more hats around town.
Empress Elisabeth, called “Sisi” by family and friends was a beauty and free spirit who continues to intrigue biographers, novelists and film makers, was assassinated by an Italian anarchist in 1898. for more information see the article in Reuters.
Thank you little lady in the pink beret, you made my day.
50 Hats That Changed The World
by Design Museum, published in 2011
HA3 – 50 Hats is 10:41 in length, scroll down to see some text and images that go with this podcast.
I really enjoyed this book. It was a great combination of lovely pictures and short paragraphs packed with information. The writing is accessible but also requires a bit of a stretch for my vocabulary.
Hats have three possible purposes, protection, symbolic and aesthetic. I like how the books finds a balance between these three factors. It highlights how a hat is often meshed with the wearers identity. This may be on of the reasons for the decline in hat wearing after WWII combined with a general trend toward informality. I don’t know if Philip Treacy, Stephen Jones, or Noel Stewart were influential in this book, but they all got a rather prominent shout out early on.
There was an interesting quote from the book, “Everything around us is designed.” This quote seems appropriated as the book is written by the “Design” Museum, but personally I think most things more often evolve.
With a broad stroke overview, the book is heavily weighted in the 1900’s by deferring several shapes into the 1900’s, such as the bicorne which was a hat commonly worn by captains and pirates. However the first hat was an impressive crown from 1300’s, but it then skips ahead 400 years to 1789 and Marie Antoinette’s milliner. Nine well known hat shapes were highlighted for the 1800’s and a whooping 32 of the 50 hats were allocated into the 1900’s. Reasonably only 7 hats were saved for 2000’s.
It must have been a rather daunting task to try to distill the entire history of hats into just 50 and also how to order them to be relevant and interesting. In general I think the book is fantastic, but bringing some of the older hat styles into the current times is misleading, such as the tweed flat cap has been around for 400+ years but doesn’t get a mention until the year 2000.
Areas that I really did like were the discussion about the Bowler, introduced in 1848. I was particularly thrilled to learn it was originally made by James Lock & Co.. It was commissioned by Edward Coke for his gamekeepers to protect their heads from low branches and was designed by Thomas and William Bowler. This was exciting for me because for London Hat Week in 2014, I went on a tour of James Lock and Co. on St. James Street in London. If you get a chance, it is a lovely store. The people were delightful and the hats and history are unmatched. The ladies hats are upstairs and designed by Sylvia Fletcher. I’ve not met Ms. Fletcher but one of the ladies that works there, Claire Strickland, is a really talented milliner. I met her last year at London Hat Week. Take a look at some of her amazing creativity at http://www.clairestrickland.com.
There is a lot of history involved with the bowler, which is called a Derby in the USA. One element I learned about while in college, which is hat the Bolivian women wear a bowler as part of their traditional clothes.
The Balaclava was a term I’d heard, but it was nice to see a picture and be able to see the spelling for the hat that I’d always referred to as a ski mask. Luckily my ski gear is all over the house right now, so I was able to do a “selfie” of my balaclava.
The Victorian Bonnet is fascinating with a huge amount of variation in shape, style and trimming. It was validating that it was mentioned as I’ve been working on making a strip straw Victorian bonnet for several weeks now. It is slow going, but I hope to have photos for the blog soon.
I didn’t like the mesh floppy hat by Maria Blaisse for Issey Miyake. I thought is was just a piece of sinamay that was tied with a string on a wooden head. The only redeeming element of this entry was that this may have represented the introduction of sinamay as a new material in the millinery world. Sinamay was introduced to Australia in 1990, so perhaps the 1987 introduction of the “Mesh Floppy Hat” was a big deal based off materials no necessarily its design. Sinamay is a straw type fibre from the Abaca tree, a member the banana palm family and it is pervasive in the world of millinery.
One of the great things about this books was that I learned about people I’d never heard of, such as Alice O’Reilly, who was the milliner for Cecil Beaton, who designed the hats for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady.
And Lindy Hemmings who designed the large black hat, worn by Andie McDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral. That wide brimmed hat was made by Herald and Heart in London, here is a short video about this famous hat.
In addition to learning about new people, I also learned more about people that I have heard of such as Philip Sommerville. The Millinery community was saddened last November (2014) with the passing of Philip Sommerville. I knew he was a very well accomplished milliner and that many current London based milliners apprenticed with him, but I didn’t know he’d made hats for Diana, Princess of Wales. All of this made me excited all over again with a new (to me) hat block that was from Philip Sommerville’s collection at one time. I have a beautiful beret that is 1/2 done, waiting for the trimming, that I made from his old block.
I adored the second to last hat. I was Aretha Franklin’s grey felt, that she wore for the inauguration of Barack Obama. It was lovely, but I am not sure it qualifies as one of the 50 Hats that Changed the World. But it certainly was a momentous day for many people as the US inaugurated it’s first black president.
Noel Stewart finishes off the hat line up, but it is his quote that caught my attention, “People often draw parallels with sculpture and fashion, but in the case of millinery, it’s a genuine love match.” I like it.
I borrowed my book from the library, but I wish I’d bought it as an easy reference.
This post was originally planned to be posted in conjunction with the movie release of 50 Shades of Grey, as I thought the similarity between the 50 shades and the 50 hats was funny. However our family had a last minute opportunity to go skiing in the French Alps for a few days, and I’ll admit that I dropped everything to dust off the ski gear for a chance for a skiing adventure. Thus it is a week later than planned.
The book was better than I expected. It was interesting and informative with plenty of eye candy.
Three new words for me.
“Leitmotif of the queens style” – recurring musical idea which is associated with a particular idea, character or place.
“the classic Ska uniform” – music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950’s.
“Vivienne Westwood’s elective oevure” – the body of work of a painter, composer, or author.
It was autumn 2013 and I was surprised with an invite to join Edwina Ibbotson and another apprentice, Mee on a field trip up to Luton to visit three millinery suppliers. Boon & Lane the block makers, Baxter, Hart & Abraham suppliers of felt, straw, and petersham, and Randall Ribbons suppliers of feathers, flowers, an endless array of sinamay colors and much more.
We drove to Luton in Edwina’s light blue vintage Mercedes. That is an experience unto itself. It takes me about 10 minutes to figure out how to do the old seat belts. It is an odd hook and magnet device. The journey to Luton is about 40 miles through London and takes over an hour and 45 minutes, but we arrive mid morning at our first destination, Boon & Lane.
Boon and Lane are the block makers. This was an experience to remember. There were two men working in the block factory that was filled with wood and sawdust on one half and different types of sand on the other. They make both wood and aluminium (also spelled aluminum in the USA, so the reason we pronounce this word differently is that it actually spelled differently in the UK vs US) blocks. The aluminium blocks are used for more industrial use, where they are attached to a heating device and there is a top and bottom piece that clamps together to form the hat shape all at once.
Alan Davies and Steve Lane make everything. When I was there, Alan was working on wood blocks while Steve handled the sand packing in preparation for the molten aluminium. They were welcoming and generous with their time. Explaining what they were doing, the stages of making a hat block and showing us the various pieces of equipment.
Thus far in my hat career, I’d done very little blocking, but I was completely seduced by being there. As you are sure to have guessed, today would be my first custom made block purchase. I choose a large downward flat 45 degree brim block and an oval head shaped flat topped crown block with slightly rounded edges, to contrast the domed oval crown block I had in my very limited collection. It took a couple of months for the blocks to be made. Shortly before Christmas, Edwina came back one day with her new blocks along with my freshly varnished crown and brim blocks. They were beautiful shiny golden yellow with my name and the year stamped into them. The excitement was only dimmed a bit as I tried to figure out how I was going to get this massive brim block home on my bike. Alas, I could only manage the crown block that day on the bike, I’d have to wait and bring it home on the bus a couple days later. The journey was made easier by using my very large linen furoshiki
Next stop –Baxter, Hart & Abraham, suppliers to the millinery trade. This place of tidy and well organized. The textile junkie in me thrilled to touch the various different felts. Wool felt, fur felt, and the really furry felts called Melusine. Then there was the colors. My shopping strategy goes, walking around and gather everything I want. Then doing a mental subtotal of how much it will cost. Then feeling anxious about how much I have, then putting back some of my treasures, until I don’t feel the sense of financial panic. I bought several wool felts to practice on without too much financial impact, but my prize purchases were a yummy small (cone) cognac (gold) and a beautiful large (capeline) grey fur felt. It was glorious and I was so nervous at messing up the fur felts. I envisioned a gray (grey) large brimmed hat with a fairly simple crown that I could wear all winter. However, it wasn’t going to be that winter that I’d get to wear it.
Last stop- Randall Ribbons, the makers of all things feathers and flowers. They had a minimum order. Their website says a minimum order of £30. I did not spend anything at Randall Ribbons. I think I was a bit overwhelmed by this point. I had placed a rather sizable order at the block makers, and purchased enough felt at the millinery suppliers to keep me busy for a while. And honestly I just could not envision how I would trim these new hats of mine. I would have bought a simple hat pin or something, but with a minimum order, I left with nothing. I cannot say the same for Edwina or Mee.
We only went to three places, but it was such a full day. Many thanks to Edwina for the tour of Luton and Mee for being a newbie like me. It was nice to be able to listen to someone else’s questions.
Since the field trip to Luton, I’ve heard the name mentioned several time in relation to the hat making and millinery industry. In this country they have been making things for a very long time. Thankfully there are others who love doing to research and writing of the history and I get to read the fruits of their labour. It was oddly relevant as I have just begun taking a strip straw class at Morley College with Jane Smith.
Stay tuned for future episodes about Luton History and my Strip Straw Saga.
My first attempt at a podcast and its about my first felt hat shape which is a cloche.
The Cloche was my first felt hat. I learned so much from this one little hat. It has been altered at least three times. My husband had to scouch down and look up under the hat to see me. I had to reduce the crown height as it was so tall than it could come down around my eyes. I also reduced the brim length especially at the back. It is perfect now, a bit worse for wear as I’ve knocked it around a bit but still comfortable and looks great with my burgundy boots and black wool coat.