If anyone knows the importance of choosing the perfect headwear, it’s Philip Treacy. Over the last 15 years, the legendary County Galway milliner has adorned the heads of icons such as Madonna and, most recently, Camilla Windsor, astounding fashion critics worldwide.
Treacy’s original and glamorous designs have propelled him to the top of the fashion elite, with Chanel, Versace and Alexander McQueen (to name a few) clamoring to include his headwear in their collections.
November was a busy month for Treacy with the launch of “When Philip Met Isabella,” an exhibition of hats he designed for his longtime patron Isabella Blow in the National Gallery of Ireland and the opening of the five-star g hotel, Treacy’s maiden interior design project, located in Galway City.
Haute couture and luxury hotels are a long way from Treacy’s upbringing in the village of Ahascragh near Ballinasloe, with a population of just 500 people, but that was where his interest in fashion blossomed.
“As a small child, I loved to watch the weddings there,” he said in one interview. “They were the equivalent of fashion shows to me. The dresses that people wore, I couldn’t believe them. They were incredible. It seemed so glamorous to see these creatures appear in these extraordinary clothes, as we didn’t have much glamour where I come from.”
Speaking to the Irish Echo from his studio in London, Treacy said his Irish heritage has had a “huge,” influence on the way he designs.
“I didn’t see a city until I was 17,” he said. “I grew up in rural Ireland, inspired by nature. My Irishness is part of my being really. What I do is Irish design. It doesn’t have any shamrocks on it. It’s 21st Century Irish fashion.”
Treacy’s interest in hats began manifest itself while he studied fashion at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin.
“What attracted me to hats was that they were one of the finer things in life,” he said. “You can spend your whole life without ever needing a hat or wearing a hat, but we’re all attracted to things that make us feel good or make us look better. In this era of accessories, a hat is the ultimate glamour accessory. When you meet people, you’re meeting their face. You’re not meeting their shoes or their leg or their thigh or their shoulder. It’s a very important part of the body to decorate.”
Specializing in such a niche market was a risk that has paid off for Treacy, particularly as hats have become more mainstream in this era of television and celebrity culture.
“MTV culture has changed our perception of hats,” he said. “Young people are wearing more hats now. My favorite hat is the baseball cap. A hat is a great symbol of what fashion is all about. Fashion is about change and the entire meaning of wearing a hat has changed dramatically in the past 40 years. In the Sixties, people stopped wearing hats because they had to wear hats. Now people are wearing hats because they don’t have to wear hats. The hat has changed from being a conformist accessory to an accessory of rebellion.”
A hat for everbody
So how does Philip Treacy choose hats for his celebrity clients?
“I match the personality of the person to the hat,” he said. “It’s important that a person feel comfortable with it but then that they have a desire to go a little bit further. The whole purpose of wearing a hat at the end of the day is to make you look more attractive.”
In his view, there is a hat out there for everyone.
“Everybody suits hats — we all have a head,” said Treacy. “We all have the potential to wear a hat, it may just be that you have not found the right hat yet.”
If in doubt, his advice is to seek advice. While enlisting Treacy’s personal design services may be out of the question for most, staff members at his fashion outlet at Saks Fifth Avenue are always willing to help.
“The ladies in Saks are hat experts,” he said. “They’ll help the customers to choose the best hat for them.”
When choosing a hat for this season, his advice is to look for form rather than style.
“My collection is about very shapely hats that have a very strong shape rather than a lot of decoration,” he said. “Its very tailored, clean lines.”
So what colors are en vogue this winter?
“The most useful color for a hat is of course black,” he said. “You can put it with anything. But people are more adventurous with color today because it can completely transform a black outfit. This season I like very rich burgundy colors, very dark browns or occasionally a little bit of acid green or orange. Basically, autumnal colors that we’re used to seeing in the parks on the trees.”
In a career that has seen him design hats for countless stars and dignitaries, Treacy’s ultimate coup would be someone surprisingly close to home.
“Angelica Huston has a great face for hats,” he said. “And she grew up in Galway.”