“Clothes may maketh the man, but t’is millinery that maketh the woman”
by ©Tyne O’Connell
I grew up in the 1970’s before designer Cordwainers (fashionably savvy cobblers) were “names”. Like all teenage girls back then, I flicked through Vogue, Tatler and Harpers & Queen, circling the hats that excited me. Before Louboutin and Choo elevated girls in six inch heels, Stephen Jones and David Shilling were the names making a girl’s pulse race.
Fortunately my convent education provided me with a grounding in millinery skills. My Flemish nuns, Sisters Bernard and Veronica who claimed to have taught Christian Dior to sew, taught me that armed with her own hat block and thimble any girl can go anywhere in society! The right hat opens the right doors.
Hats were presented to us as keys to world of possibility. The nuns taught us that hats can give both gravitas and grace and make the impossible possible.
We were issued with the bible of millinery, The Art of Millinery (1909) by Anna Ben-Yusuf. I read it religiously, dreaming of the jaunty turbans or Gainsborough brims I’d wear on my jaunts along the avenues and boulevards of Europe and the veiled pill-box hats I’d don for my strolls through the Souks of Arabia and North Africa.
My first creation was a straw bonnet with a wonky brim and a badly applied boarder but as I became accustomed to the materials and tools of hat making I became more dextrous and ambitious. By seventeen I was making elaborate fancies that would have knocked, Rose Bertin’s 18th Century feathered fascinator off. Equipped with my treasured millinery tools, I was able to indulge my passion for hats before I could afford the luxury of splashing out on the turbans of Lilly Dache.
When I first met Izzie Blow at a dinner party in Chelsea in 1994, I noticed her hat before her and determined to know her – and her hatmaker.
Understandably some girls guard their milliner like their men. Fortunately for the world of fashion and me, Izzy was generous with her knowledge, which is why she was both loved and remembered. Over canapés and talk of art, I gave up the origins of my vintage handmade blouse and she gave me the address of an Irishman, Philip Treacy.
His name uttered that night in Izzie’s clipped excited voice was like an incantation opening up a world of whimsical fantasy. First thing the next morning I black cabbed it to Philip Treacy studio in the basement of Izzy Blow’s house on Elizabeth Street where I fell in love with his dog and hats over endless cups of tea.
Now a grandmother and confined to flat shoes and shrinking due to various ailments I rely on hats to elevate me. Hats allow a girl to dress up a dullest outfit in sartorial wit.
I reach for the hat box before the pill box when I am poorly. Hats have carried me through good times and bad. Even in hospital, attached to a drip, simply perching a turban on my head, I can transform myself into a queen imperious enough to face any tyrannical surgeon down. Add a turban and a hospital gown becomes couture.
When one thinks about it of course, Crowns are really just very sparkly hats.
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