Feb 24, 2009
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Hat's entertainment at new London exhibition

Feb 24, 2009

LONDON, Feb 24, 2009 (AFP) - Featuring bonnets, baseball caps, Balenciaga and bowlers, a London exhibition opening Tuesday charts the life-cycle of hats from the milliner's mind to the wearer's head.

Photo : Shaun Curry/AFP

"Hats: An Anthology" is co-curated by Stephen Jones, one of the world's top hat makers who sealed his reputation after being invited by John Galliano to make hats at Christian Dior.

The Victoria and Albert Museum show features 350 pieces -- including the Oscar-winning hats designed by Cecil Beaton for the film "My Fair Lady" and a Schiaparelli beret worn by Marlene Dietrich -- and took two years to assemble.

It follows the creation of a hat through four stages -- inspiration, creation, salon and clients. Jones said the first of those could be sparked by anything from history to travel to nature.

"It can come from a sandwich or perfume or nature or historic hats," he told reporters at a preview Monday.

"Each one has got a special story... the great thing about hats is you don't really have to understand -- they're just face value."

One of the exhibition's most eye-catching hats is designed by Jones in the shape of a leaf with a caterpillar on top.

But what the British milliner described as its "keystone" is a display featuring a bonnet worn by 19th century British monarch queen Victoria and a hat from her husband, prince Albert.

These styles inspired many contemporary ones -- and not only elegant, flower-draped racecourse numbers or men's bowlers as you might expect.

"The bonnet has been reinterpreted throughout the centuries and is echoed in the baseball cap of today," Jones wrote in the exhibition commentary.

As that remark suggests, the exhibition takes a catholic view of hats, including alongside elegant haute couture numbers a Liverpool FC bobble hat, a Darth Vader helmet from the film "Star Wars" and a British policeman's helmet.

"Of course people don't wear hats in the way that they used to (but) if you look at a hip-hop video, absolutely everyone wears hats," Jones said.

"Woolly hats or a baseball cap are absolutely as valid as a big hat with flowers on it."

Jones's tip for transforming your high-street beanie into a style statement? Don't just throw it on, wear it with "a bit of line".

As well as a recreation of a milliner's workroom -- complete with sketches, materials and transistor radio -- the show also features historic newsreel showing styles from the golden age of hats.

One from 1935 says that year's military styles were influenced by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, while another from the following year shows how New York's new wave of skyscrapers inspired hats.

And Jones said he thought that, as in the past, today's defining current affairs issue -- the credit crunch -- would have influence hats, though not by making them more drab.

"The funny thing is that during the Second World War, the two things that weren't rationed were cosmetics and hats because people thought it would be too demoralising for women not to be able to decorate themselves," he told AFP.

"I think the worse the credit crunch becomes, the more optimistic and bright, the more fun hats become to compensate."

He added: "I think milliners are in for a good time -- so I hope."

The show runs to May 31.by Katherine Haddon

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