Spread into two galleries, the exhibition is organized thematically starting with the designers’ inspirations, creation, the salon and finally, the client’s personal style. It’s obvious upon entering the gallery that the curators weren’t interested in presenting a chronological survey of the history of hats. As a fashion history nerd, the lack of historical context was a partial let down. The other partial let down was the over emphasis on women’s hat designs-this I understand to a certain extent, but men have also played a role in bringing attention to the hat as a prominent fashion accessory. Here, what counts is the drama created by some of the most outlandish fashion statements by Balenciaga, Schiaparelli, Givenchy, Phillip Treacy and Stephen Jones—world famous milliner and curator of the exhibition.
The main focus of the exhibition is the recreation of Jones’ idea of what atelier should look like. For those passionate about millinery, seeing this recreation may make you feel like being a kid in a candy store. For those of you who aren’t, you may appreciate the attention to details. When designing hats, details do matter as do the workshop these are made in.
To complement the exhibition, Peabody Essex Museum’s curators have gathered more than 40 hats from their permanent collection spanning from the 18th century to the present. These hats are dispersed throughout the museum’s other galleries. Among these treasures, is a Chinese bridal headdress from the 1800’s made of brass, glass, pearls and other semiprecious stones that is sure to make you weak in the knees—regardless whether you like hats or not.
There are many delightful surprises in the show, like Elsa Schiaparelli’s “Shoe hat” from 1938, Balenciaga’s homage to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum, Kristen Woodward’s “Sex on the Brain,” Deirdre Hawken’s “Cauliflower, 2005,” and Soren Bach’s playful pompom hat worn by Björk. For fashion history nerds, the historical context lacking in Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones is provided by the more than 40 hats from the museum’s own collection. With this exhibition, the Peabody Essex Museum has already established itself as a major Northeast institution interested in collecting, exhibiting and advancing scholarship in fashion history and design. Hats off to the Peabody Essex Museum.
"Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones" is on view September 8, 2012--February 3, 2013 at the Peabody Essex Museum.