A Baroque garden at dusk, edged with box hedges, dotted with sculptures, and a magical feeling in the air: this is not the latest showpiece of a keen horticulturalist, but a new exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, its first dedicated show on hats. Hats: An Anthology guides the visitor through a world of millinery masterpieces – from antiquity to present – throwing the intricate creations into relief through soft colours and dim lighting. The immersive experience is conjured by master milliner Stephen Jones and set designer Michael Howells. Coaxed by many successful previous collaborations with Jones, Howells applies his considerable experience in fashion and theatre sets to exhibition design for the first time. V&A fashion curator Oriole Cullen admires his theatrical approach, which adds a dramatic and nostalgic hint to the exhibition. ‘The idea is that you’re entering into the world of hats – that you’re in a separate area, as opposed to just looking at objects on display,’ she says. The space is divided into areas labelled ‘inspiration’, ‘creation’, ‘the salon’ and ‘the client’, which together showcase the entire lifecycle of the hat. It includes a milliner’s workroom set with patterns, sketches and materials from Jones, and is accompanied by a catalogue illustrated by Lawrence Mynot, who also contributed to the exhibition graphics. With millinery techniques unchanged for centuries, the exhibition offers a great ode to the handmade. Hats off to that.
Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones runs from 24 February to 31 May, at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7