Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones
This exhibition was a collaboration between the V&A and one of the fashion world’s most prolific milliners, Stephen Jones. It followed in the footsteps of the V&A’s very first fashion show in 1971, 'Fashion: An Anthology by Cecil Beaton'.
Distinct from hat-making, with its large-scale production of standard hat types, millinery focuses on the creation and decoration of elegant, experimental and often whimsical hats.
This exhibition followed the life-cycle of a hat from its inspiration and creation to the salon and finally to the client who gives the hat its ultimate purpose and flourish.
Cecil Beaton’s 1971 show raised the profile of fashion and put it firmly on the museum map. Stephen Jones felt that the same should be done for what he terms ‘the ultimate accessory’ – the hat.
‘A hat makes clothing identifiable, dramatic and, most importantly, fashion … It’s the cherry on the cake, the dot on the ‘i’, the exclamation mark, the fashion focus. Everyone from showgirls to dictators knows that by wearing a hat they will be centre of attention.’
The V&A's significant hat collection reveals an exciting record of the changes in headgear over the past 17 centuries. While the hats in the collection are usually displayed as part of an ensemble or within an accessories display, this exhibition opened up the archive in much greater depth. Taking the expert viewpoint of a milliner, the exhibition uncovered a rich seam of fashion, style, inspiration, craft and technique inherent in every hat.
Stephen Jones began researching at the V&A's archives on 2 April 2007. He spent the next year going through cupboards, stores and other museum collections, looking at what amounted to thousands of hats, and as the hats emerged the narrative became apparent. Jones said: ‘The criteria for selecting hats were surprisingly straightforward: a delicious brim line, spectacular detailing, an intriguing provenance, designs that somehow linked past, present and future’.