Hats Off!

Nevermind the gazillions of hats I have in my collection, I’m not much of a hat person. While I love them aesthetically, I always find them to be an inconvenience such as when I’m wrestling to keep them on my head when it’s super windy or the sweat from my brow makes the inside of the hat all nasty.    

But Piers Atkinson makes all of that a moot point with his ridiculously stylish headwear. Just as I feel shoes are like the punctuation at the end of a sentence, hats can serve the same function (like the  exclamation point at the beginning of “Ole!”).     

Isabella Blow is probably the first public figure in fashion that has captivated me with her outlandish and quirky choice of hats. As the muse for renowned hat designer, Philip Treacy, Isabella reminds me of how fun fashion is supposed to be. The way she wore hats was less like a punctuation mark and more like the dramatic flourish of the first letter of one’s handwritten signature.    

    

In a way, hats and other types of head decor, can be seen as window dressing for whatever mental state you’re in. A cap can be seen as sporty/masculine/playful, while a pillbox hat can reflect convention, restraint, being “proper.” In Isabella’s case, I don’t need to imagine what kind of grandiose thoughts are swimming around in her head (a lobster hat???).    

However, where Isabella’s loudness came with an air of elegance and poise, Atkinson’s collections have a (sometimes dark) playfulness that challenges convention.    

    

     

     

    

I love Treacy’s hats; they speak to my guilty pleasure of indulging in the Lavish, Grandiose and Excess. That, in and of itself, is symbolic of the greed pervading today’s societies, particularly the industrialized ones. However, Atkinson doesn’t always need his hats to be grand, oversized skyscrapers of old Hollywood glamour. His hats and headdresses are vivid commentaries on society’s ills. Michael Nottingham provides scintillating essays that break down the psychological process behind the collections.    

 “The Mouse That Roared” Autumn/Winter 2008    

    

    

Nottingham writes:    

If Mickey Mouse is the friendly neighbour, the enterprising
businessmen, the cute talking pet mouse, then these ears belong to the abused housewife, the prostitute, the disposable lab rat.”    

I love the bottom image titled “Rorschach.” I see fashion and clothing as very psychological. Depending on how the individual wears the garments or accessories, there are many ways to perceive their look, kind of like how a person can project whatever they’re feeling onto a Rorschach inkblot.    

For example, in the first image, at a glance, the viewer could be observing a female mouse (no, not Minnie!) with a bruised lip or smeared lipstick, a black eye or heavy eyeshadow. Personally, I see the bruised Minnie as depicting the darker side of a seemingly “happy” relationship. We know Mickey ain’t always that chipper.    

“All The World’s A Stage” Spring/Summer 2009    

    

    

Using the circus to depict the tragedy and comedy of life is not a new idea. I love how each artist interprets it in their own way and Atkinson is no exception. His collection demonstrates how greed can initially result in the satisfaction of one’s insatiable appetites, but also how it can progress into a more sinister beast. Each image exhibits the model in the white-face makeup characteristic of Harlequin, and according to Nottingham, the    

name is derived from ‘hellech-ino’ (literally ‘little devil’) or Aliquino, Dante’s prince of demons in The Inferno.”    

 His interpretation of the top right image was interesting:    

Shown beauty through the lens of cosmetics commercials, Flora (Look 3) sees only ugliness in the mirror. Muddying her face, she plants seeds on it so that flowers grow, making a beautiful mask, a false face not unlike an Arcimboldo painting crossed with Vegas showgirl. But she loses herself in the process.”     

“The Frog and the Princess” Autumn/Winter 2009    

    

    

I was smitten with this collection because it appeals to my current fascination with dolls and fetishes. More ideas for ways to use all those Barbie dolls I have lying around! I think I would have a freakin ball beheading them to create that psycho headdress on the top left! Even though the dolls are smiling, it does feel a little aggressive and wild with the dolls’ hair teased to infinity like that. Nottingham compares the image to “the Hindu goddess Kali and her fearsome garland of skulls.”    

He goes in-depth about a woman’s struggle coming to terms with her sexuality and even notes this interesting tidbit that I never knew:    

In the more familiar version of ‘The Frog Prince’, the young princess gets her prince by kissing the frog, but in the ‘original’ Brothers Grimm she does so by violently throwing it against the wall. In one English version, she even decapitates it. In folklore violence is a means of breaking shapeshifting magic, but child educator and psychoanalytic theorist Bruno Bettelheim postulated that it also symbolises the princess’s need to confront her fear of her own sexuality, represented by the wet, sticky toad. Carl Jung wrote that the act was necessary to accept the masculine dimension of her unconscious Self in order to grow into womanhood. Others might say she’s just into a bit of S&M or hates frogs. 

 Makes me see fairy tales in a whole new way. Love.    

“Sex on the Brain” Spring/Summer 2010    

    

    

This collection embodies what I would imagine a cross between Betsey Johnson (that woman and her cherries!) and Andy Warhol (that man and his bananas!) would look like: artfully playful, sexy and fun. The clean white backgrounds and immaculate make-up jobs, particularly with the lipstick, is reminiscent of the Betty Page era (hello, ball gag!).

Unfortunately, Nottingham does not provide one of his brilliant essays on Atkinson’s work for this collection. But all the more for me to try and figure it out myself!

There seems to be a slight reference to the darker side of the celebrity lifestyle. While it’s alluring with its promise of sex, money and fame, the long-term pay-offs can be brutal. They’re not showed here, but the collection has two looks where the model is shading her eyes from the “paparazzi.” This could be viewed as the entertainment industry turning a blind eye to its own dangers, or it could be viewed as a desire of celebrities and socialites to be shielded from the invasive eyes of the media. Look 25 to Look 27 illustrates a progression of how indulgence in hedonistic play can eventually corrupt a person. We don’t realize how venomous the media circus can be as depicted by Look 27 where the model’s head is fully cloaked in a black ski mask and Atkinson artfully placed pearl detail to show how she’s frothing at the mouth. Nothing worse than a rabid media whore gone wild.

“It Is Later Than You Think” Autumn/Winter 2010      

    

This collection is all kinds of Morticia Addams. Or how I imagine Wednesday would look like when she’s older. Again, Atkinson takes what feels like a dark Victorian funeral parlor and puts a humorous spin on it. The flesh-colored beret on the top left embellished with a laceration and dripping blood is morbid in a funny, Beetlejuice kind of way. To me, this collection is like an existentialist commentary on how people tend to dwell on the little things or drama from the past that would not do them any good in the here and now. Before we know it, we’re wondering where the time went and Death is looming over the horizon.

The collection is veil-heavy and I wonder if it’s referencing the natural human defense of being in denial of their own mortality. Some of the veils appear cage-like, almost like a cocoon in which a person can be cushioned or protected from the inevitability of death. The irony is that, while we fiercely avoid our mortality, death is looking us right in the face (black hats and veils).

Regardless of the dark overtones, Atkinson’s collections are so much fun. It makes me feel like I can take whatever is lying around my house and make a hat out of it. A teapot beret? A crown of tampons? Buy some pompoms and netting and you have an Atkinson knock-off. Halloween cannot come any quicker.

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