Fashion’s Mad Hatter Philip Treacy Takes a Cue from Mark di Suvero

September 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice sporting Philip Treacy creations

Thanks in large part to their abundance (and flamboyance) at last July’s epic Royal Wedding, designer hats are definitely having a fashion moment. Little-known Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie made headlines with their opulent Philip Tracey creations, one of which conjured an upside down octopus, the other which resembled a cross between a rose garden and a gaudy Vegas Showgirl costume. And for the last few months, the media has photographed recent style darling Duchess Kate Middleton with headwear resembling everything from a giant dumpling, to a Calder sculpture, to a vinyl record, to a very flustered bird. New York Magazine picked up on the trend last month, having a handful of its writers don garish hats and record the mostly confused responses of passersby in New York City, and for the first time ever, thanks in part to the fancy pants hat trend, London has surpassed both New York and Paris as the fashion capital of the world.

Headpieces from Armani's Fall Couture show

But despite London’s seeming domination of the hat sphere, the most impacting headwear statement of the season came from the Paris Couture shows last July. For Armani Privé’s controversial Japanese-inspired collection, legendary milliner Philip Treacy designed a small yet powerful set of hats that embodied the dually sculptural and delicate nature of the clothes. Some of his creations conjured high-fashion propeller hats, while others brought to mind origami forms sculpted from gobs of pink taffy. Among all of the beautifully crafted and evocative headwear from that collection, however, the pieces with the most resonance were a series of oversized tangerine curls that recalled both hair curlers and elegant ribbons resting on a present. They had an expressiveness in the way the ends reached outward as if they were being pulled by invisible strings or forcefully exploding.

Di Suvero's "Homage to the Seed (Hommage a la Semence)" (1987-94; via akiraikedagallery.com)

In his work for Armani, Treacy found clear inspiration from the monumental sculptures of American artist Mark di Suvero. Di Suvero, who began his career at the height of the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 50s, uses bright orange I-beams and scraps of steel to create multi-story sculptures recalling mechanized spiders, ancient measuring devices, nebulas, and industrial explosions. His work defies conventional ideas of movement, lightness, and beauty, and although they weighs tons, they have the visual lightness of plastic toys and the delicateness of a stack of toothpicks. This summer, the New York City government is staging a show of di Suvero’s sculptures to revitalize (and some say exorcise) the lush landscapes of Governor’s Island. The show features a collection of 11 di Suvero sculptures from as early as the 70s, including “For Chris,” (1991) an homage to artist Chris Wilmarth in the form of a highly-stylised bell, and my favorite, “Old Buddy (For Rosko),” (1993-95) a minimalist interpretation of his deceased dog. In punctuating the developing island’s greenery with di Suvero’s playful sculptures, the city hopes to breathe life into the somewhat spiritless space and shape a local identity that celebrates art, ideas, and the beauty of creation.

Mark di Suvero has changed the way in which we appreciate and interpret sculpture, and by extension, other sculptural forms like headwear. His forms and their emotive power led to the creation of Treacy’s ribbon hats for Armani, which have in turn, expanded the dialogue and creative boundary of hats. Both of these artists have pushed the visual and conceptual limits of their respective fields, and in doing this, they have given us new sight.

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