Over 30 of his hats were worn at HRH Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding. Probably the world’s best-known hat designer, Philip Treacy began his career in 1990, in London, having been taken under the wing of the late Isabella Blow. Milliner of choice for many top fashion designers, he created hats for Alexander McQueen’s white haute couture collection at Givenchy, for Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, as well as for Valentino, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karen. In 2000 Treacy was invited to present the first ever Paris couture show dedicated to millinery. Named British Accessory Designer of the Year five times at the British Fashion Awards, he created hats for film – Harry Potter – for Grace Jones, Daphne Guinness, Naomi Campbell, Lady Gaga and Madonna. A new book, Philip Treacy by Kevin Davies, the result of a 20-year collaboration between the milliner and his long-time friend, photographer Kevin Davies, is published in February by Phaidon. Former creative director at Tatler turned photographer, Pedro Silmon asked Treacy about his passion for photography and photographers.
In the introduction to your and photographer Kevin Davies’ book you say that every hat you ever made began, in your mind, as a photograph. Who is the photographer?
Always Irving Penn. He was the quintessential hat photographer.
A hat is an idea. A suggestion. A hat isn’t an inanimate object you put on your head – it’s supposed to do something – you’re drawing with material to create an illusion. I identify with photographers because they’re doing the same thing as I am.
Is there a particular genre of photographer you like best?
Iconic Hollywood. Greta Garbo’s photographer, Clarence Sinclair-Bull, George Hurrell. Those I discovered in the books I saw for the first time when I went to art college in Dublin. The photographers who invented glamour and made people look beautiful: Hoynigen-Huhne, Edward Steichen, Horst, Cecil Beaton, Angus McBean.
Which other photographers’ work do you like?
Helmut Newton. He was very persuasive and impressed me so much with his charm that I felt I couldn’t seriously say no when he asked to photograph me, who hates having his photograph taken – topless! Bruce Weber is amazing. His black and white is really colour. So many tones… He put my hats on male models. Such a simple idea but it worked and just looked fantastic. Avedon asked me to make a hat specifically for an Egoïste cover he was shooting with Stephanie Seymour as the model. He was like a teenager – full of energy – really excitable.
Photographers are engaging and obsessive and I understand that. I like photographers that have a point of view and who put their stamp on a picture as if they’ve painted it. You can always tell a Sarah Moon, a Deborah Turbeville, a Paolo Roversi – they have a signature look and extraordinary personality. People like Nick Knight continue experimenting but his pictures are always identifiably his. I like David LaChapelle, who’s charming and has amazing vision. Although I haven’t worked with him a lot, I find Steven Meisel’s work exceptional and unusual – unlike anyone else’s. One of the biggest influences on me and someone who has been a great inspiration, is Jean-Paul Goude. He’s so talented he doesn’t need to be an arse-hole. He’s a intriguing and charismatic. A designer’s dream. He has incredible ideas that are so simple they show he’s a genius.
What about newer photographers?
I think Mert & Marcus are great. They asked me to make a lace mask for them for the 90th Anniversary cover of French Vogue (2010). I’ve also been working with the German photographer, Cathleen Naundorf, who produces massive, very stylised polaroids.
Which photographers you haven’t enjoyed working with, and why?
I don’t think I’ve come across any… Photographers are like a race of people. I like working with them all.
Sometimes my hats are sent out by publicists to be photographed and I hate it when the photographer tries to do something edgy that just doesn’t work. The best photographers just photograph the hats – no tricks.
Do you like to go on shoots?
Shoot culture has become very irritating and makes going to a shoot daunting experience. So many people. And every time an image pops up on the computer screen, everyone has something to say. I remember when it was the photographer’s point of view that was important. That’s why I was such a fan of Irving Penn, who once took a portrait of me for American Vogue in his little glass-roofed Paris studio, where there was no lighting, no assistant, just a simple chair and a small table, his little camera, him and his charm. Fascinating!…
Do you collect photographs?
I have two wonderful Penn prints – one black and white, one colour – and five of Garbo by Clarence Sinclair Bull, plus a few others by Bruce Weber, Arthur Elgort and Ellen von Unwerth.
Do you have a preference for black and white or colour photographs?
I prefer black and white – it’s more dramatic. But it depends… Colour is a different language. Black and white is more romantic… But, I don’t see it in black and white. I love all the colours in it. What I also love are the really dark pictures that people like Clarence Sinclair Bull did in the 1920s and 30s. The pictures were about darkness, not about light – a lot of photography now is too bright.
You mention in the book that there were always photographers around the studio at 69 Elizabeth Street in the 1990s. Who were they?
Isabella (Blow) was always bringing people in: Michael Roberts, Alastair Thain – all absolutely obsessed – it was wonderful, manic!
Do other photographers still come in or does Kevin now have exclusive access?
They do, Yes. Kevin doesn’t have exclusive access but with him it’s not in your face. He’s a one man band. Quiet. Not loud. Easy. Often, I don’t notice he’s around. I didn’t really understand the pictures when he first starting doing them. They seemed to be the opposite of what people would imagine – not really about the hats, more about the environment. Now I have some of them framed and up on the wall.
Which photographers’ work is on your mood board right now?
… Everybody’s! Because I’m developing another book, with Rizzoli, that won’t be out for another couple of years.
Images from top
In the Studio, 10th February, 1999
The Royal Wedding, Battersea Studio, 27th April, 2011
In the Studio, 69, Elizabeth Street, 11th November
Images by Kevin Davies from the book
Philip Treacy by Kevin Davies
192 pages, hardback, £39.95/€49.95, February 2013
All photographs © Philip Treacy
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