Hats on the Runway

“Poppy”; model: Kate Custer, image by KazArtPhotography

Excitement! La China Loca presents us fellow members of the Milliners Guild with an awesome opportunity: to show our hats in an Alternative Fashion Week NYC event on February 17, 2010. A runway show.

“Nigella”; model: Kate Custer, image by KazArtPhotography

The theme of our show: “Hothouse Flowers of the New Decade”. Hmmm….

I love the thought of having flowers as a Fall/Winter inspiration. Winter is when you need them most. I loved to visit the tropical hothouses at the Munich botanical garden when outside was all snow and sleep and dark and cold.

My creative process starts with brainstorming on the title which goes something like this: hothouse – tropical flowers – intense colors – Philip Treacy – …. At which point I check my dictionary and started surfing the interwebs.

I discard all band references and am amused to find that hothouse is also an outdated expression for a bordello… hmmm? But it makes sense when I remember that, after all, blossoms are the sexual organs of plants. Sensuous is good.

“Tulip”; model: Kate Custer, image by KazArtPhotography

However, flowers have been so definitively done by Stephen Treacy in his couture show 2000 that it’ll be a tall order see them from a new perspective.

Then I find a book on flowers by the photographer Christopher Beane. It’s a revelation. And my favorite part: all those fuzzy, furry textures! Exactly what I am looking for.

So now the next step is to narrow it down to several concrete designs, color selection, textures and materials and letting it steep.  Stuff like that often comes to me in that stage between awake and sleep or even in my dreams. So there’s no rushing this phase.

I contemplate and discard the idea of making a hat block in the shape of a flower pistil, and then surrounding it with different stamens and petals. The main reasons are the limited time available for this challenge – less than three weeks, and my fear that this will make my hats too literal.

I start obsessing about textures. Fuzzy, shiny, pleated, veined. And patterns. And colors. At this point I start assembling materials; some go back, new ones are added. This process continues for a few days, all the while life continues. I limit myself to two materials: manipulated furfelt and distressed horsehair. Several design are beginning to coalesce.

Then it’s crunch time: at the meeting, I have to declare the number of hats I am entering in our group show: I go with 5. Our stylist Cigmond wants pictures. Ha! At this point in the game the hats exist solely in my head.

I have 5 days, not counting the day of the show: even I don’t delude myself that I’ll get anything done on February 17th. Thanks to spousal support, I can get down to blocking.

For a project like this I create a spreadsheet where I list all necessary steps for all hats; it’s too easy to loose track of things otherwise. And then I start.

I choose the 5 flower inspirations: 2 tulips in yolk yellow and fire-engine red with black and a carmine red with regal blue and dark brown, 2 poppies, in fire-engine red with blue and black (studies 2 on Beane’s website) and in a rusty orange with yellow and black, and nigella in light teal and purple. Christopher Beane’s photographs reveal the colors and color-combinations.

“Tulip”; model: Kate Custer, image by KazArtPhotography

I block the crowns which will serve as the bases for the hats- these hats will be wearable and comfortable. I put the felt cones and capelines onto the steamer, to make them pliable; then I stretch them over wooden hat blocks or mold to give them shape. Felt has this magic capacity of retaining a shape it received while steamed.

The trim is integral part of these designs. Now it’s back and forth between my pinboard with the spreadsheet and the work tables, to make sure I don’t mix up colors or miss a step.

For the poppies, I stretch and crunch, for the other three, there’s stretching, shaping and a LOT of cutting. I cut and distress and shred horsehair, for stamens and veiling.

Then I sew it all together, by hand, and a last touch of steam.  I try them on. It is done. I am satisfied.

PS: The Runway Show was a blast.

http://www.millinersguild.org
http://www.philiptreacy.co.uk
http://www.christopherbeane.net
http://www.lachinaloca.com
http://www.cigmondmillinery.com

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