Top Hat... Philip Treacy's two decades of creating masterpieces
Philip Treacy's work as a hat designer is legendary and he is beloved of the world's most stylish women. We spoke to the Irishman about his two decades of creating masterpieces, now chronicled in a stunning new book
Philip Treacy's mission as a hat designer is to be creative and, as he says himself, he likes "to make hats that make the heart beat faster".
The day we chat, the 49-year-old is at his Battersea studio in London and the subject up for discussion is his new glossy coffee-table book that chronicles two decades of making extraordinary hats for icons, from Grace Jones and Daphne Guinness to Naomi Campbell, Madonna, Lady Gaga and the Duchess of Cornwall.
"Daphne is a rare bird," says Philip of the Irish brewing dynasty heiress as we discuss the photograph which he took of the style icon in 2008.
A weighty, glamorous tome which is destined to end up under lots of Christmas trees this year, the eponymous book chronicles Philip's professional relationships with all the top photographers and supermodels. It also offers insights into his work with all the leading couturiers, from Lagerfeld to Valentino, as well as his friendship with his beloved muse, the late Isabella 'Issie' Blow.
The 300-page book, which is dedicated to his partner, Stefan Bartlett, and Philip's sister, Marian, opens with a photo of a handwritten letter from the singer Cher who, thanking Philip enthusiastically, declared that every time she wore one of his hats: "I feel that great mythical love you feel when you are transported by a thing of beauty... I lose my breath."
"You can't get a better reaction than that to something that you've made. I was very happy to get the letter from Cher. Nobody has every sent me one like that before," said Philip.
So what happens to all his hats? Does he keep any for his own personal archives?
"The hats are bought by collectors, some are in museums, some are owned privately by customers or clients that ordered them. I don't really keep any. There is always a new hat to make."
Clearly his customers fall in love with his genius for millinery flights of fancy. Dame Elizabeth Taylor once sent him 100 violet roses that matched the colour of her eyes. Lady Gaga has become a close friend and admits in the book that if she were asked to remove her Philip Treacy headpiece at a party, "it is the emotional and physical equivalent of requesting I remove my liver".
On the image of Naomi Campbell by photographer David LaChapelle that features on the cover of this magazine, Philip explained: "I just thought that an afro of butterflies would look good on Naomi. She has a lot of fire in her eyes, that's why we love her. She's unique."
Doesn't he get frustrated, I ask, that his ideas and concept for headpieces are often copied by others. Butterflies have turned up on lots and lots of hats. However, Philip is calm and measured in his reply.
"That's OK, that's what happens, that is the nature of fashion. There is nothing you can do about it. That's just how it is when you work in that world. The unusual becomes usual." So where does he find his inspiration? "It just happens, as a matter of urgency to be honest. Pressure to perform, you are delivering, like a baker."
Growing up in Ahascragh in Co Galway, his father was a baker while his mother was a homemaker. Does he get home much? "Not so often, you are always at home in your head," he says.
With hundreds of photographs to chose from, Philip's choice of cover for the book fell to Irving Penn's image of supermodel Linda Evangelista wearing a cocoon of cockerel feathers.
"Somebody told me that they saw a photograph of it in an exhibition in London and I went to it with Isabella Blow and she made me buy it. It is the most precious thing I own. Linda is the ultimate model of the past 50 years and Irving Penn was the greatest of the past hundred years."
Looking back on a 25-year career, Philip says he doesn't know if he has a favourite piece. "Your favourite hat is always the next one you are going to make," he says.