Hat maker for royalty, models and movie stars, and some of the world’s most renowned fashion houses including Alexander McQueen, Chanel and Valentino, there is no milliner working today with more panache, celebrity or dedication to craftsmanship than Philip Treacy. Conceptual and sculptural, his creations – while often controversial – are more akin to art objects than anything approaching conventional fashion. Since being discovered by the inimitable Isabella Blow, at the time the style editor of Tatler, in 1990, Treacy has proven to be a truly unique artisan and the first milliner to be invited to present a couture collection during Paris Fashion Week. Phaidon has recently published an extensive monograph on the artist which traces the evolution of his practice through the lens of photographer Kevin Davies who has been collaborating with Treacy for more than twenty years. The result is a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into Treacy’s life and work, and the enduring relationships with such luminaries as Grace Jones, Naomi Campbell and Daphne Guinness that have greatly influenced his career.
While the book is peppered with beautifully composed still lives of Treacy’s creations, providing the reader with an opportunity to view the hats’ artistry up-close, Philip Treacy is at its most compelling when it’s revealing the milliner’s process. With extended spreads devoted to impromptu photo shoots with Grace Jones, preparations for Treacy’s presentation of the Orchid Collection at Paris Fashion Week, outfitting Naomi Campbell for her first visit to Ascot and a meeting with Princess Anne, Philip Treacy is a captivating portrayal of the activities and events that inspire his creations. Each series of images is accompanied by comments and reminiscences from Treacy and Davies that contextualize the photographs and divulge compelling backstories, like the first hat Treacy ever created for Alexander McQueen and how his Jack Russell, Mr. Pig, saved the day during a royal visit. Davies also captures Treacy at work in his studio; the black-and-white photographs depict the effort, and imagination, that go into making each hat, and the energetic and often spontaneous atmosphere of the atelier. More than just a document of Treacy’s work, the publication also reveals aspects of his personal life – like intimate moments with Isabella Blow and the elaborate funeral he held for his dog – which demonstrate how his life and work are irrevocably intertwined.
The book’s design is in perfect harmony with the subject matter and the varied spreads – blown up, double page details, contact sheets that show sequential images, panoramic studio shots – make for an extremely lively treatment of Treacy’s production. The chronological order, separated by chapters devoted to work created in each of his landmark studios, and one focused on his most iconic designs, allows the reader to witness both the evolution of his work and the collaborations and themes that have continued to occupy him throughout his career. More than just a document of Treacy’s storied and diverse practice, Philip Treacy is a true testament to an artistic collaboration that has spanned more than two decades. With unrestricted access to his subject, Davies has amassed an extraordinary and unrivaled record of Treacy’s life and work, and what emerges from the copious photographs is the milliner’s uncanny ability to find beauty in the surreal.