Book Review: Couture Hats

Couture Hats: From the Outrageous to the Refined
By Louis Bou
Harper Design (September, 2012)

Dominantly visual and scant on text, this book is 220 pages of 400-ish photographs. The Table of Contents prepares the reader for this focus on imagery as a double-spread of the 21 contemporary milliners featured, with an example photo for each — a nice touch, I thought. The book feels good in the hands; at 9 x 7 inches, its size is somewhere between an over-sized art book and a novel.

Even more-so than Couture, the Great Designers by Caroline Rennolds Milbank, this volume provides only the most cursory information on designer history, inspiration, and technique, but provides enough tantalizing images for each designer that the reader can make her own conclusions about the creator, and perhaps keep running notes on who to look further into, later.

Louis Bou, a fashion photographer and graphic designer, is not terribly concerned with the process of hat making, and so there are precious few hat sketches, and no images of works in process, the insides of hats, or anything that enhances the understanding of a serious hat technician. I am not an aspiring milliner, so this was mostly fine with me (though I do enjoy dissecting the often deceptively complex architecture necessary to create particularly elaborate hats, of which almost all examples in Couture Hats were).

The image descriptions also don’t provide much context beyond hat description, maker, and photo credit (even fashion industry celebrities like Daphne Guinness are not named, nor are specific runway shows or dates included). Sometimes this can be frustrating, as some photos are clearly runway shots and you wonder what the context of the whole collection was, what the collaboration conversations involved, etc. There are very few hats on mannequins — the rest are gloriously displayed on seated or runway models — but there are always more questions: who wore them to what event when and why?? In his forward, milliner extraordinaire Stephen Jones writes that haberdashers are united by “a wanderlust of exploration of 3-D forms whether narrative or abstract,” but this is about as close to analysis as you’ll get in this book.

Relax. Let go of your thirst for detail overload and simply let the images of gorgeous, sweeping, gravity-defying, colorful, whimsical, and dramatic hats wash over you. Draw your own conclusions (Philip Treacy loves straw, presumably for its moldable stiffness), make up your own stories (did Treacy fall and dent a straw basket as a child, only to realize he loved the striking form he’d created? I’d like to think so.). This book is a satisfying picture book that will surely get your creative juices flowing, and if you have more questions (I imagine you will have many), visit your library and the internet for supplemental information: feel free to suggest more in-depth books about hats in the Comments.

Milliners (many of whom I was delighted to be introduced to) included were:

Philip Treacy

Stephen Jones
Noel Stewart

“Marcel” hat by House of Flora


Curves Project by Heather Huey

Tour de Force

Àngel Coll
Manuel Albarran

hat by Manuel Albarran

Claudia Schulz
Edwina Ibbotson
Tolentino Haute Hats
Charlie Le Mindu
Simon Ekrelius

Piers Atkinson pillow hat

Emma Yeo
William Chambers
Ellen Christine
Anya Caliendo
Dinu Bodiciu
Gustavo Adolfo Tari
Irene Bussemaker

winged perch headpiece by Pinkham Millinery


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