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Philip Treacy: 'The street sweeper's hat is inspiring'
The superstar hat designer gets refreshingly candid on Hong Kong culture, haute couture and haughty bloggers
Celebrated hat designer Philip Treacy is in town for his first international retrospective, "Hats Off to Elements," held in the Elements mall as part of its two-year anniversary festivities. CNNGo grabbed the tireless Treacy for some refreshingly honest takes on everything from Asian women to Marc Jacobs.
CNNGo: Do you read fashion blogs or websites? Any recommendations?
Philip Treacy: No, I don’t. I don’t have a good recommendation for a website, but I like eBay.
CNNGo: They do have good vintage stuff.
Philip Treacy: Yes, especially Christmas decorations. I like their Victorian glass domes and I like their 1920s, 1930s Christmas decorations. They have a sort of naivete. I did actually use some Christmas decorations in a hat. But it didn’t look like Christmas decorations; it was a sort of pop-art, plastic shape that looked like a piece of art.
CNNGo: Has Hong Kong inspired you?
Philip Treacy: Actually, the most fantastic thing we saw were these cartoon characters next to the harbor. They were made with wire and they were 3D.
And I like the harbor. Even with the [encroaching] typhoon, I look out and think about what it must have looked like a hundred years ago. Not with these ugly boats now, but beautiful, atmospheric, Chinese boats.
CNNGo: What do you think of Hong Kong?
I went to mainland China and the road sweeper was wearing the most incredible hat. It was sort of like [Yves] Saint Laurent couture.— Philip Treacy
Treacy: It's crazy buildings, a miniature typhoon, colors and extra details.
I like Chinese sensibilities. They are much more gentle, interesting and artistic than most other cultures.
Tonight, we have a [fashion] show as part of the event and they’ve booked eight European models. I really prefer Asian models. The whites and the Eurasians where I come from, they’re not that interesting looking. I think everyone’s just conditioned not to be happy with their lot.
CNNGo: Do you think hats will ever become part of modern fashion in Hong Kong, the way it is in the UK?
Treacy: Asian women tell me they don’t look good in hats, which is completely untrue, because Asian culture is rich in the history of hat dress.
Also, they think they don’t wear hats, but then I went to Mainland China and the road sweeper, the most basic job in China, was wearing the most incredible hat. A huge pointed hat, with flags on it. It was sort of like [Yves] Saint Laurent couture. People don’t see what they’re looking at, ever.
Asian women have traditionally been taught to conform, to find a husband and be the little woman. But actually Asian women today have become a lot more powerful and independent, and hats have the potential to be part of that, because a hat is an expression of your power.
CNNGo: Are there any women in Asia whom you would like to design a hat for?
Treacy: Gong Li. She’s gorgeous. I’m a sucker for a beautiful woman in a hat, but really she is extraordinary. Intrinsically beautiful.
CNNGo: Will you ever consider collaborating with a high street label?
Treacy: The thing is, I’ve tried, because I come from a very normal, ordinary, Irish family. I come from low end. So I’ve always designed products that my friends could afford. But it doesn’t work. [My customers] don’t really like the idea. They don’t want cheap and cheerful from me.
CNNGo: Any advice for Hong Kong women when picking out a hat?
Treacy: To choose a hat that makes them feel good.
Treacy: That’s like saying what kind of dress would Asian women look good wearing. It’s impossible to answer that question. It depends on the person and the personality.
Remember: wearing a hat is just a bit of fun. It’s like eating a delicious cake when you feel like it. It’s like buying yourself a bunch of beautiful flowers. And wearing a hat when you go shopping, even when people are looking at you, is fine.
CNNGo: What’s your favorite memory?
Treacy: As a child, age 11, lying in the field, on a sort of hay bale. It was the happiest moment of my life. No worries.
CNNGo: Soundtrack of your life?
Treacy: The "Flashdance" song. I love that song. It’s just a happy song. It’s a celebratory, ridiculous song. When you’re 15 and trying to get out of where you are, it’s everything you need.
CNNGo: What do you want written on your headstone?
Treacy: "I tried."CNNGo: If you weren't a hat designer, what would you be doing?
Treacy: I think I’d be a baker or a confectioner. I like it when people make those beautiful things and people come in and eat it
CNNGo: Tell us a secret.
Treacy: When I was a child, I did a little bit of shoplifting. Sweets or something. I think I was about 8.
Hats Off to Elements exhibition
In the metal zone of the Elements mall, next to Caffe Vergnano 1882.
Elements, 1 Austin Road West, Kowloon
Runs from September 29 to November 11