Hats On for London Fashion Week

Published February 21, 2012

“Belief in religion and a great sex life.” This, jokes Stephen Jones, London’s legendary patriarch of eccentric headgear, is what it takes to be a hat person. One can only assume that guests at the Friday opening of “Headonism,” a showcase at London Fashion Week which, curated by Jones, highlights five of Britain’s most exciting new millinery talents, have both. The exhibition, sponsored by the Royal Ascot (England’s elegant, old-world answer to the Kentucky Derby) will run throughout London Fashion Week. Covered by everything from cockeyed fedoras to technicolor ostrich plumes, there was not a bare head in sight as editors and hat-enthusiasts mingled amongst models capped by Piers Atkinson, Charlie Le Mindu, Noel Stewart, Justin Smith, and William Chambers designs.

Considering millinery is all but synonymous with British fashion, it’s appropriate that the exhibition’s champagne brunch kicked off London Fashion Week. And what better way to ease into the city’s beloved sartorial oddities than with the 30s Futurism-inspired human hair creations of Charlie Le Mindu? The milliner, known the world over for his haute hairstyling skills, presented a range of sharply-shaped and wide-brimmed toppers in lavender or black hair. “I’m a hairdresser to start with, so I just wanted to bring the world of hairdressing to fashion,” said the designer, who cleverly lined his severe chapeaux with girly toile prints.   Scotsman William Chambers also played with unconventional materials in his floral collection, which, inspired by the photographs of Cecil Beaton, featured black leather bouquets flanked with tulle and a fascinator of crystals and daisies made from plastic drinking straws. “There’s a wide taste level now, so we don’t have to conform anymore,” said the Chambers, gesturing to a sculptural pink rose piece that was particularly Beaton-esque.   Piers Atkinson brought his signature Pop-y wit to the exhibition with a collection titled Oh My! Atkinson, whose love- and beast-inspired hats included buckled fedoras, Swarovski leopard-print berets, and luxe pony-hair Minnie Mouse bows, revealed that he’ll be opening a pop up shop at the Saint Martins hotel this spring.  He feels as though he and this new crop of milliners have been provided with a clean slate. “We’ve had Stephen [Jones] and Phillip Treacy pushing [hats] forward in the past, but we’re just doing our own thing. And it comes very naturally.”   Justin Smith offered lacy cat masks and a furry cow-print veiled pillbox, while Noel Stuart presented Army of Chic, a collection of militaristic leather, fur and Perspex pieces inspired by Art Nouveau. “It’s great to have a platform for our work. I think milliners can be sidelined as an insignificant satellite of fashion when actually I think we’re critical. We’re the cherry on the cake!”   When asked if he felt his handpicked hatters would carry on his legacy, Jones mused, “It’s an honor to think that, but they’re not. They’re doing their own thing, which is why I love them. They’re going to make their own legacy.” 

HEADONISM IS ON VIEW UNTIL FEBRUARY 23 AT LONDON’S SOMERSET HOUSE.