Philip Treacy on Why A Hat is the Sexiest Thing You Can Own

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A hat can bring to mind many things: the Kentucky Derby, British royalty, Jackie O’s pillbox iterations and Humphrey Bogart’s fedora, French girls, the beach. Since 3000 BC (and probably before then), the chapeau has played the role of glamorous accoutrement, signifier of social status, and protective shield. Most of all, though, a cap was—and is—a conspicuous sartorial element that has withstood the test of time. And while attitudes toward hats have evolved over the years, the DNA of a hat has not—at least, according to Philip Treacy. The iconic Irish milliner, who cut his teeth in the mid-‘80s studying at London’s Royal College of Art and working under fellow hat-maker Stephen Jones before designing whimsical headgear for practically every celebrity, brand, and royal you can think of, took a break from working on his forthcoming Fall/Winter 2019 collection to chat with CR about a topper’s place in fashion, why younger women are more excited about hats than ever, and the famous Hollywood screen star he would’ve loved to work with.

How has the hat—as an accessory—changed over the past 30 years?
“Three decades ago, a hat was a relatively conformist accessory. Today, a hat is part of the visual language of fashion. People wear hats to feel good and say something about who they are. A hat, today, expresses how confident people have become.”

Has the craft of millinery evolved at all since you began your career in the ‘80s?
“The craft of hat-making has not changed at all. The craft’s remained the craft. The possibilities of how hat is perceived has changed enormously. It’s a symbol of beauty and elegance. A good hat is the ultimate glamour accessory. It thrills observers and makes the wearer feel like a million dollars. This creates a high status of desirability, and although [in images they can seem] out of this world, the conspicuous consumer relates strongly to it. The message is simple and absolute: A great hat exists outside its own time.”

You’ve created elaborate headgear for some of the biggest A-listers in the game, including Madonna, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lady Gaga, and Grace Jones, to name just a few. Which celebrity haven’t you designed a hat for that you would’ve loved—or would love—to make one for?
“I think Marlene Dietrich was incredibly glamorous. I bought a picture of her for the g Hotel [in Ireland], and with her signature, she had also written, ‘Glamour is my stock and trade.’ It couldn’t be truer. It’s mine, too.”

You mentioned that people’s perceptions of hats have changed greatly. How do you think that’s translated into today’s fashion landscape? Who is today’s hat consumer?
“The biggest change that I’ve noticed is that young women are wearing hats. The hat-wearer is younger and more open to the experience of having a great time wearing a hat. Hats are very sexy. When I started at the Royal College of Art [in London in 1988], they thought hats were for old ladies and I thought that was completely insane. Why would you think that? I love the idea of the unknown and the future—you don’t know what is going to happen next week, and that’s a fashion attitude. It’s all very well accusing someone of being a ‘fashion animal’—I’m one, too! Fashion animals are obsessed with something for a moment, and then they move on to something else. That’s the nature of fashion. It’s all about change. A hat can completely change the personality of the wearer, make them stand differently and walk differently. A hat can make that person feel interesting. Sometimes, people think that people who wear hats want to show off. But human beings, since the beginning of time, have always wanted to embellish themselves. So, hats have been around since the year dot. It’s a human thing to want to dress every part.”

What do you think the future holds for millinery?
“I think that while people have heads, there will always be hats.”

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