As a teenager in a Liverpool boarding school, perspective drawings fascinated me, especially the fantasy covers of Yes albums, created by Roger Dean, the master of 70s-era illustration, and Piranesi’s neoclassic architectural plates. Within the free-form adventure of the blank page, perspective creates a sense of depth, drama and location. As a 14-year-old, I was not aware that the word perspective meant not only a physical, but also a mental point of view, and as I grew up, I came to realise that the entanglement of the two is the engine of both grandiose baroque and rococo whimsy (and consequently a perpetual source of inspiration for yours truly).
In my collaborations with fashion designers, perspective is key to the creative process. With Marc Jacobs, it informs why the characters in his shows would wear a particular style and colour of hat, while Rei Kawakubo comes to me when she wants her headgear created with an English gentleman’s perspective. Your perspective is your point of view, your taste, your blood.
In my 2001 winter collection titled Icons (before the word became my nemesis), I played with the motifs of Buggers’ Baroque, the overly mannered, mid-century, camp decorative style favoured by Cecil Beaton, Rex Whistler and Oliver Messel. One of my favourite hats from this collection is titled “Warped Perspective”, a collision of disparate decorative elements. The visor is a skewed chequerboard, straight from a Dalí, spiked with a crown in the shape of a graveyard obelisk. The original sample was fashioned from printed Lycra and fake marble, but the most warped version of this, in denim with gold stitching, was ordered by the late fashion doyenne Anna Piaggi.
Anna discovered my bijou hat salon in 1980, when she visited London to shoot a story with Manolo Blahnik for her magazine, Vanity. From that point on, she became one of my muses, our language being fashion and our grammar millinery. In a dual feature for the Independent in 2006, to coincide with her retrospective exhibition at the V&A, we were interviewed separately and both stated that although we liked each other very much, if I didn’t make hats and she didn’t want to wear them, we wouldn’t be so interested in each other! The honesty!
We were unanimous in believing that our clothing was our perspective on the world and its ultimate expression was millinery. Anna even went so far as to say that a hat gave her a feeling of emotional and physical balance “around this little world, which spins on top of my head”. When, sadly, she passed away three years ago, Anna was buried in her favourite yellow Ossie Clark dress and a ding-dong yellow hat, her sunny perspective shining forever.