Philip Treacy – Amazing DesignersSeptember 2, 2017
Philip Treacy (born 1967) is the Irish milliner who is most commonly associated with these things – soaringly unconventional headpieces and dramatic hats, Alexander McQueen, Isabella Blow, and his dog, Mr Pig.
Philip Treacy, Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow
Mr Pig was photographed everywhere he went with Philip Treacy, and was quite a celebrity in his own right. Sadly Mr Pig died in 2004. Alexander McQueen was also photographed with him, since they had worked closely together on catwalk collections since graduating St Martins together in 1992. Alexander McQueen died in 2010. Isabella Blow was his early mentor and chief cheerleader. Er, she died in 2003. Philip Treacy, however, is alive and well and still producing his glorious designs.
Philip Treacy and McQueen were brought together by Isabella Blow. She had spotted Philip’s talent, and decided to nuture it, just before she decided to do the same for McQueen. The relationship was a bit intense. “It was like Issie having two lovers. I was the first one, and now there was a second.” Isabella even installed her penniless “two lovers” in her own empty townhouse together, giving them a base from which to make their art – mostly for her benefit. On her marriage, McQueen made her groom a pink waistcoat and for Issie, a black and pink coat in the shape of a beetle. Treacy made her a romantic but dramatic headpiece in the shape of an enormous pink flower.
Philip Treacy – Humble
Although they graduated from the same university, Philip Treacy never really intended to work with, or especially live with the flamboyant Alexander McQueen – for one thing their personalities were quite different as McQueen was a confident show off and Treacy quite reticent and humble about his skill. “But I just had to get on with it,” Treacy said. “Isabella made me work with him.” Lucky that she did – the combination of the three creatives has gone down in history.
Once he’d made Isabella’s wedding headdress, there was no stopping Philip Treacy. The original design of an oversized, overblown flower was simple but effective, but as time went on his designs quickly became wilder. Isabella provided information and inspiration, and always wore what he made out to parties. They were frequently photographed together: the handsome, sober-suited man with the floppy fringe and mild expression with his arm around the eccentric looking woman, face half obscured by swoops of feathers, lace, plastic or a tiny, intricate wooden models of a palace plus trees. Once he wrote her own surname in feathers that perched proudly above her hair.
Isabella Blow – Eccentric
Isabella Blow was an eccentric aristocrat who couldn’t hold onto money even when she had it. For a while she held a job at Vogue styling shoots, but her expenses ran away with her and she was fired. Isabella Blow had a curious mind and knew a lot about fashion history. She passed her ideas on to her two protégées, telling them about fashions for outrageous towering wigs with fanciful inclusions like ships in the 18th century, and about the elegance of Hitchcock’s classic films, which became McQueen’s “Birds” collection.
Blow was no conventional beauty, but she had style and joie de vivre – her constant championing of and wearing both designers work did far more for their reputation than if they had handed it over to a blank faced celebrity to wear for a night.
However, Alexander McQueen soon became bored of the rather clingy Blow, who had claimed him as her own. Treacy seems to have felt more forgivingly towards her, and not only continued to make millinery for her but let her and her husband live with him for six months when their fortunes reversed.
A Tragic Muse
But after a while, the ever mercurial Blow got very depressed. Isabella wanted Treacy to design hats to hide behind. The designs which had once swooped around her face, framing it, or perhaps hidden half with one eye peeping out, now mostly obscured the whole lot. It prevented fashion people from getting too close – not even air kisses could approach that armour. Finally, in 2007, Isabella Blow killed herself by purposely drinking weedkiller. McQueen and Treacy mounted a tribute show, Le Dame Bleu, to her a few months later.
Since being rather forcibly paired together back in 1992, McQueen and Philip Treacy had worked together on many shows. But Treacy said they often, by the end, did not work together directly. Instead, a stylist brought Treacy moodboards and inspirational materials. McQueen wouldn’t see the work until just a few hours before the presentation, trusting that Treacy would get it right every time. “It wasn’t an option to disappoint him”, said Treacy. By the time McQueen, who also suffered from depression, died in 2010, they had done many, many shows together.
A Versatile Creative
But Philip Treacy did not just work with these two drama queens. He also created hats for Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, and for Rifat Ozbek, Valentino, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan. As well as that he designed for films including Harry Potter.
Philip Treacy had launched his own label in 1991, and has also designed collections for the department store Debenhams, amongst others.
Beloved of many
Philip Treacy is popular with pop stars, film stars and royalty as well as anyone else who wanted a dramatic hat or unusual headpiece. He creates both bespoke and ready to wear millinery. Boy George is especially fond of one particular style of swooping felt hat, and has it in many colours. For the Royal Wedding of 2011 between Kate Middleton and Prince William, he seems to have hatted half the guests – thirty-six of them in fact – including Victoria Beckham and various princesses. Sarah Jane Parker has been seen in his creations too.
Lady Gaga seems to have become his new most devoted fan. In 2010 she made his Telephone Hat (with removable hand-piece) famous when she wore it for Tonight on Jonathan Ross, and in the same year Philip Treacy paired a rhinestone encrusted iceberg lightening bolt with her white rhinestone encrusted outfit for her to wear for the Grammys..
She has peeked from behind his stylised lobster claws, appeared with a feather mohican or in massive Mickey Mouse ears, in an 18th century wig and lace mask creation, and with a crash-helmet-like circlet of flowers crowding her face, or the same design executed in spiny feathers so it looked like she was transforming into a sea urchin. In fact, it has even been rumoured that she has become a Philip Treacy apprentice, she’s so impressed with his skill.
Philip Treacy was awarded the title of British Accessory Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards in 1991, 1992, 1993,1996 and 1997. He was also awarded an honorary OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 2007. His work has been acquired for the collections of the Victorian and Albert Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum in New York.