A Hat-Maker and his Photographer

Originally published in The WILD Magazine. ◊◊

The long-overdue monograph on the influential milliner Philip Treacy arrived as a delicate and quiet volume that sneaks beneath the glossy and immobile surfaces of high fashion to animate a man and his hats. Treacy—who supplies hats to a glittering roster of designers that includes Karl Lagerfeld, Alexander McQueen, Valentino, and Chanel—is presented through the eyes and lenses of photographer Kevin Davies, who accompanied Treacy on jobs and in ateliers over the course of 20 years.

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Perhaps Philip Treacy By Kevin Davies (Phaidon Press, 2013) is better thought of as a double-memoir of the friendship and careers of two men in 200 pictures, with its own narrative slopes. The charm of the book lies not only in the stunning craftsmanship of hats and photographs alike, but also in demonstrating the quotidian pleasure of creative labor without dramatizing its glamor or its drudgery. The most telling images of Treacy are sometimes those in which he is barely articulated at all; instead, he is captured as a pair of hands emerging from behind a model’s head, or as a fast blur with one hand carefully holding a thing in place while the rest of him searches for something else. (Just in case we do want a clear shot of the hats, a middle chapter presents expertly composed and studio-lit mannequins at our service. It is a thoughtful gesture to keep these sterile—though beautiful—photographs separate from the others.)

Treacy and Davies, who are offered to us intimately by their first names throughout the book, supply accounts of experiences both humorous and trying, but remain lightly playful in their tone. They are inserted, like long-form captions, every few pages, and refer directly to the pictures’ contents, as though they were talking to us over an open family photo album.

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There are many narratives presented in this volume, but my favorite is the one suggested by the first and (second to) last photographs. The first is a sculptural and unsmiling portrait of Treacy by Davies, taken during their first encounter. The last is a shot of Treacy’s living room, where Treacy and Davies are watching on television the Royal Wedding, and the attendance of over 30 of Treacy’s hats. The very last picture is of Treacy accompanied by a caption by Davies: “Philip always seems to have a new commission that goes even further than the last one. After the Royal Wedding, it was Madonna and the halftime show at the Super Bowl XLVI final in February 2012—not to mention a TV audience of 100 million people,” and perhaps ever more.

Images courtesy of Kevin Davies and Phaidon.

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