A black velvet pillbox hat is a classic example of 1960s minimalism. This one reminded me of the fabulous little pillbox that Audrey Hepburn wears in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, especially with the addition of some white spot veiling to recall the more flamboyant white feather on the front of Miss Hepburn’s hat.
The film clearly shows the transition from 1950s studied glamour to 1960s spontaneity. The clean lines of Hepburn’s Givenchy wardrobe and hats have the simplicity of combinations she has come up with on the spot. They look youthful and fresh compared with the high glamour of Patricia Neal’s Pauline Trigere ensembles that have the feel of an entire top-to-toe ‘look’ crafted by the designer. Over a decade after the original ‘New Look’ of Christian Dior in 1947, it was time for a fashion re-set and the pillbox was then, and is still, the perfect minimalist touch. Add a few feathers or a veil and create some drama.
Nothing so epitomises the Jazz Age like a cloche hat. First appearing around 1914 in designs by French milliners Lucy Hamar and Caroline Reboux, it was a reaction against the wildly extravagant picture hats of the Belle Epoque, groaning under the weight of their embellishment. It summed up the modern, practical spirit of a world of female emancipation, motoring and minimalism. The cloche looked fresh and youthful and crucially, helped to keep newly bobbed hair smooth and sleek, as it still does perfectly today.
Berets are classics and for good reason. Everyone can wear a beret but the trick is getting the angle right. Just experiment with it: is it better dipping to right or left (very few people’s faces are symmetrical so the effect will be quite different).
Or perhaps you prefer it pushed back off the face a la Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie Parker? Or maybe your beret is the serious kind – a French intellectual, or a tudor-style Thomas Cromwell?
This one was inspired by Steichen’s iconic 1924 image of Gloria Swanson, eyes piercing through a veil of black lace.
Percher hats are usually small and light and secured by covered elastic to the nape of the neck. As daywear they bring instant pzzazz – see Gucci’s AW 16-17 ad campaign that pairs a black percher with an 80s style suit in Times Square.
For evening they can sizzle with glamour with the addition of veiling and some sparkle. If in doubt, check out Woody Allen’s latest, Café Society for the classic Hollywood take. They also convey something of the Air France hostess – when air travel was still something for which you actually dressed.
This is a vintage hat, revamped with a little modern embellishment. Easy to wear – just decide which side of your head to tip them and adjust to the best angle for maximum effect. If its good enough for Alessandro Michele at Gucci, its good enough for me.
The half hat is a classic of the 1950s. Anyone who has seen the movie Carol will be in no doubt about the power of the half-hat. A particular strength is how well it can work with your hairstyle. So many hats require hair to be tied up or concealed – this one actively complements your style, holding it in place.
Easy to wear and secured either with its own veiling or with covered elastic to the nape of the neck. Good for day but even better for evening and a nice alternative to a fascinator.
This one came to me in a sorry state, wilting feathers dangling from yellowing glue and torn nylon veiling. With these sad vestiges gone, the gorgeous lustre of the lilac velvet really came through, especially basking in the reflected light of a little gold beading. A hat to love once again, especially when so many designers are making us fall in love with velvet this season.
As summer shades into autumn there is always a pull towards more luxurious and lustrous textiles and a turban hat is the perfect way to use them. The informal design of the turban lends itself to spectacular fabrics, combinations and trimmings. Take inspiration from London’s Fashion and Textile Museum and its current jazz age show to embellish with a Poiret-style feather, or go for forties practicality with a fabric-only version.
The forties turban is closely associated with the milliner, Madame Paulette but her most famous hat style was originally a wartime improvisation. She received so many compliments on the black jersey she had wrapped around her head that she started to experiment with different designs. Once the superbly practical design was taken up by beautiful young Parisian women, a trend was ignited.
Drawing on Style is a gorgeous celebration of fashion illustration and specialist gallery Gray MCA’s contribution to the London Fashion Week schedule. It sets work from some of the masters of twentieth century fashion illustration – Christian Berard (1902-1949), Rene Bouche (1905-1963), Rene Gruau (1909-2004) – alongside beautiful pieces by today’s artists, Bill Donovan, Jack Potter and Conrad Roset and work from Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio.
Most striking of all is the way these drawings all add a context to the clothing they depict. Whether it is creating an atmosphere of languor, glamour or serenity; or whether it is communicating energy and verve through the brevity of a brushstroke, they transport the viewer into another existence.
The image above is a perfect example of the power of fashion illustration. We see a female wearing a plain green jacket with a long checked skirt and some very sensible looking shoes. The outfit itself is unremarkable, even dowdy. It is unlikely that this lady would attract our attention in the street. As an illustration though, it draws the eye as she hitches up her skirt into a waterfall ruffle, revealing a well-shaped leg. She is calm and satisfied with her look, relaxed with the air of a person who does not know they are being watched, and so we have the sense of spying on an unguarded moment.
If illustration can do this for a nondescript skirt and jacket, what can it do for truly fabulous clothing?
Rene Bouche and Rene Gruau will be forever associated with the titans of post-war haute couture, Givenchy, Balenciaga, Schiaparelli, Lanvin and, for Gruau, Christian Dior and the New Look. These pictures ignite as much desire today as they did for a post-war world, exhausted with austerity and rationing.
It is also very exciting to see a work by Christian ‘Bebe’ Berard. In her memoir, ‘DV’, Diana Vreeland noted his enormous design talent: ‘Where he put his hand was like the golden touch’ whether that was scenery and costumes for the theatre or fashion illustration for Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Jean Patou and Nina Ricci. His work also appeared regularly in Vogue and Harpers Bazaar. Most touching is Vreeland’s amazement that her maid had identified him in a New York street having never set eyes on him before: ‘But, madame, he is just as you described him – a little man, a dancer, with pointed shoes, and his face turned toward heaven.’ And isn’t that exactly what each of these gifted illustrators do for the fashion lover – turn our faces heavenwards, just for a moment?
If you’re in London before 20 September don’t miss this wonderful show: 10am-6.30pm at Gallery 8, 8 Duke Street, St James, London. A daily talk on the history of fashion illustration takes place from 1.30-2.30pm and you can see the whole collection at www.graymca.co.uk