Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hats An Anthology at the V&A

When Hats An Anthology first came to my attention I was very excited. The fabulous milliner (and James St James lookalike) Stephen Jones had access to all the hats in Victoria and Albert Museum's endless costumes collection and he must choose a selection to represent all the glorious centuries of hat-making. In my mind I pictured him flitting through the vaults grabbing a Picture Hat here, a massive Victorian Gainsborough hat there, Chanel and Dior galore, and bonnet bonnets bonnets. What a lucky guy. He modeled his exhibition after the museum's 1971 exhibition, Fashion an Anthology by Cecil Beaton which put historical fashion on the map. His hopes are that this exhibition will do the same for headgear.

The overall design of the exhibit was FABULOUS. It was like walking into a gothic picnic. The entrance is framed by classical pillars with drapery hanging off it like Spanish Moss. Even the pamphlet in peaches and creme colours matches the Exhibition book, very graphically thoughtful. The room itself is dark with more gothic tones of black and purple so that the hats in the lit-up display cases are just glowing. In the centre Jones has arranged a millinery workshop complete with scraps on the ground, feathers, and other hats from the collection. When you walk in you are greeted by a selection of hats, dominated by Queen Victoria's bonnet and Prince Albert's top hat, both in pristine condition, how appropriate! The hats are divided in different categories: Inspiration, Creation, The Client, and The Salon. The hats in these sections are further divided into subcategories like straw, plastic, paper, etc. I like how Jones included hats such as the plastic souvenir policemen hats that are available all over London or the $1 rain bonnet. These were interesting to view next to, say a Dior or Darth Vader's helmet.

What bothered me a lot, though, was that about 65-75% of the hats exhibited were Stephen Jones hats. Don't get me wrong, Jones is an excellent milliner and I found his couture hats very exciting, but why couldn't they be displayed in his own show? If a case had ten hats in it, about five would be Jones'. It left me wanting more historical hats, after all, he had access to all of the V&A's collection! Historical hats are just used to pepper the main dish of contemporary ones. Another major faux pas was that in one case the hats were mislabeled; Lauren and I were very surprised to see something like this as such a prestigious museum and such a publicized exhibition. A section I did find interesting displayed various celebrities' hats. Included in the display was Camilla's wedding feathery headband and the fox tail hat from The Duchess, which apparently, Kiera got to keep.

Overall, the exhibition was a feast for the eyes but disappointing in lack of historical hats and in the self-promoting of Jones' work. This caused me to be more impressed with the overall display than the actual content. It is still worth checking out, but not if you are expecting to see a display of hats through the ages.

8 comments:

Polonaise said...

The V&A is one of my very favorite places. They should sell three-day passes a la Disneyland! I'm surprised to hear of the overall(dare I say?)imbalance, but am glad the cheapo helmet and rain hat were included. Not that I don't love couture, but there's so much more to see that doesn't get considered.

Mixing it all up is what I love about the V&A. Did you get to see the dress displays at Kensington Palace? So much to see....

Heather Carroll said...

Ugh no, like I said we did so much and yet not enough. I know this next week is going to a week of finding out what else we should have done.

Polonaise said...

I know just how you feel. I always end up having to ruthlessly curtail my activities, plus I always find so much more when I get there that I can't squeeze in. The only solution: you'll have to go back!

Judy said...

This is the TRAGIC part of a trip to London...one's list of favorites never gets shorter it just gets LONGER! Sigh...

Heather Carroll said...

You said it Judy!! So so very true.

madeleinemiranda said...

I love the V&A! The expo still sounds interesting, so I will go and check it out if I can!

xxx

Vic said...

Love the V&A. I only wish I lived closer to London so I could visit regularly.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hi Heather, I saw the same exhibit on Wednesday last week. I enjoyed it (it was certainly better than the Magnificence of the Tsars exhibit) but I agree with you that most of the hats were by Stephen Jones which since he curated the exhibit shouldn't have been such a surprise but it was. I wanted to see more Phillip Treacy hats and other designers. Say pictures of Isabella Blow and some of her outrageous hats that she had worn while alive.