Hats: An Anthology I

Hats, dozens of them — some demure, some risqué, all gorgeous and frequently constructed in apparent defiance of the laws of physics – are on display at the Bard Graduate Center [for] Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material at 18 West 86th Street.

This unusual exhibit came about as a collaboration between The Victoria and Albert Museum and the British milliner Stephen Jones That’s “Sir Stephen,” I believe, as there is a video of him being knighted by Prince Charles and he (Sir Stephen) seems to maintain a giddy sense of humor about the thing. Fortunately, that spirit of whimsy informs this collection.

There are hats decked with swans, ballet slippers, boxes of household products, one with a couple of straw figures copulating. Oddities such as Andy Warhol’s wig (natural and synthetic hair) and FDR’s top hat crop up. There is one intriguing cultural number, the Veil Hat, composed of a hoop, not a brim, from which a semi-opaque black veil falls well below the bosom. It comes with a slit from which a delicate hand can presumably extend. And do what? Does this comply with Sharia Law?

My favorite was a number made for actress Sarah Jessica Parker to wear at her the London opening of “Sex and the City” in 2009. It is a confabulation of peacock feathers, silk flowers and hand-painted chicken and turkey feathers got up as butterflies — all giving the impression of sporting a plot of rain forest. (She wore it to the premier. and it photographed beautifully.)

Of Jones’s own creations, I favored the hat in the shape of a painter’s palette. And his work pictured in the photo above, the Silk Twist Hat (Hats: An Anthology II) reminded me of a description given by the diarist Maria Lydig Daly of the elaborate hairdressing of New York Society of the 1800s: Her entry of January 9, 1863.

One lady, a Mrs. Ronaldi, who is now the toast of the town, wears a bird’s nest with eggs, making her head a hatchery. I doubt if there is enough brain there to hatch anything.

(New York Diaries: 1609-2009. p. 12.)