“I started sewing when I was about five. I remembered being with the teacher in school. The boys did woodwork or something, the girls were sewing and I thought ‘Why can’t I do that?’ I asked the teacher and she said ‘Okay’. She was incredibly strict and looking back, she could have just whacked me around the head.
I started making dresses and hats for my sister’s dolls. My mother had chickens, geese, pheasants and ducks, so all the ingredients of the hat were in my house. My mother had a sewing machine. I was never allowed to use it but I was so fascinated by this little needle going up and down joining fabric together that I’d use it when my mother went out to feed the chickens. There was like five minutes to get out of it. If my mother found me I would be in a lot of trouble.
I couldn’t care less for the dolls but I could make the clothes really easily. I was making bust points before I knew what bust points were. I remember being in a neighbour’s house and he said to my father ‘ Don’t you think it’s weird that this boy is making dresses for dolls?’ And my father said: ‘Whatever makes him happy.’”
He first made ‘hats’ as a hobby to go with outfits he designed during his fashion course at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin and when the students had to arrange work experience, he chose to spend six weeks with Stephen Jones, the London hat designer.
That’s how Philip Treacy, a 21st century head couture designer is born…
I saw his work – ‘When Philip Met Isabella’ at Design Museum, London in 2001 and they immediately struck me into some kind of unexpected and surprising expedition especially the castle hat, a representation of Isabella’s ancestor who saved the Black Prince at the Battle of Poitier. A showcase of how creativity can be transcended into another level!
And since then, I couldn’t take my mind off the hats – creative, inspiring, engaging and spellbinding…
Could you tell us what’s your typical working day like?
I’ll have breakfast at Il Corriere on Elizabeth Street, I’ve been going there for 15years and always have the same thing, two fried eggs and chips! Then I’ll walk through Battersea Park on my way to work with my two jack russels, Archie and Harold. Then once I arrive at work I find it very difficult to leave, there is always so much to do. I usually walk home at around 9pm and then it all starts again the next day!
What are you working on now? Is it individual or collaboration with someone? Who?
Last year I was approached by an Irish property developer to design a hotel in the west of Ireland, called The G. My immediate concern was my inability to give the client traditional Irish design. But after working on the project for a time I realized I was the Irishness. I am a product of Ireland, I grew up here and I was educated here. My aesthetic is intrinsically Irish. My Irishness travels with me everywhere I go. I am a representative of 21st century Irish Design. I am now working on a hotel in London with the same company.
How is it different from your previous projects and collaborations?
It’s exciting because it’s in London, it’s the only city that truly feels like home, and has the best of everything life has to offer – to quote Samuel Johnson “when one is tired of London, one is tired of life.”
And how would you surpass your last achievement in every project or collaboration that you work on?
I always try and do something new and fresh, there is always something new inspiring me, so it’ll always be different.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I was always influenced by beauty. At home in Ireland we were taught about the beauty of nature. We had lots of chickens, pheasants and geese so the prime ingredient of the hats I make are feathers because I know them very well. I now appreciate the profound effect my childhood had on me.
Head accessories are something that we can do with or without. What do you think the relation between daily gear and designer gear?
Hats are very sexy. When I started at the Royal College of Art, they thought hats were for old ladies and I thought that was completely insane. Why would you think that? I love the idea of the unknown and the future; you don’t know what is going to happen next week, and that’s a fashion attitude. It’s all very well accusing someone of being a ‘fashion animal’ – I’m one too! Fashion animals are obsessed with something for a moment, and then they move on to something else. That’s the nature of fashion – it’s all about change.
Have you ever had any fear that your creativity will become dry one day? If the day really comes, what would you do?
I look at our clients and at their personality. I’m thinking of them. My aim is to make that person feel a million dollars. This is the whole point of why people wear clothes, to look their best. As long as I have people to make hats for I will always want to make beautiful things for them.
My assistant who looks after my shop tells me she sells a dream. She sells people things they do not really need, but they have to have. We all need beautiful things that make us feel good and give us pleasure. Whether it’s a flower, a sunrise, or a hat! These things are the spice of life and remind us of the essence of pleasure and beauty. I have had the greatest pleasure of having the opportunity to challenge people’s perception of what a hat should look like in the 21st century.
What do you do when you are not working?
There is no such thing as play time when you work in fashion, because it is all encompassing.
What is your message to those who are interested in or going into this industry?
You may want to escape where you grew up, but you never do because it is in your heart. I always talk about where I come from like its Rome. And for all the fashion shows I’ve seen in my time in London, Paris, Milan and New York, none of them evoke in me the powerful way those little weddings in Ahascragh (where I was born) did.
Fashion is known for its humanity. It’s about everything but that; fashion people are very unusual, they are obsessed with perfection and life isn’t like that. I think that is what my Irishness does for me; it gives me humanity.
And lastly, please leave a message to the readers.
A hat can completely change the personality of the wearer, make them stand differently and walk differently. A hat can make that person feel interesting. People think sometimes that people who wear hats want to show off. But human beings, since the beginning of time, have always wanted to embellish themselves. So hats have been around since the year dot. It’s a human thing to want to dress every part.