Hats off to Philippe

Spring does not officially begin until March 20th, and the Frederick Law Olmsted Luncheon held at Central Park Conservatory Garden, an annual rite of spring and among other things — one darn good excuse to dress up and don a fabulous hat — is not until May 3rd. But spring was in the air, and it felt as if those days were just a little bit closer Wednesday at Doubles Club, where Philippe Model was the guest of honor at a lovely luncheon and presentation of his made to order millinery, sponsored by the Couture Council of the Museum of F.I.T., hosted by Dr. Valerie Steele. And of course, his exuberant and colorfully flower decorated hats which resembled a glorious garden (very much like the vast Central Park Conservancy) provided the perfect centerpiece. The beautifully clad guests (many in hats), who came to enjoy cocktails and a perfect lunch of shrimp salad and dessert, had the chance to chat with the designer, get close up to the hats, and afterwards, place orders.

Not surprisingly, the upcoming FLO Awards Luncheon, which has become a true fashion spectacle and one that rivals England’s Ascot, was on many of the attendee’s minds and it was certainly on the mind of Philippe. He admitted that though this was a quick trip and he would be going back to Paris in two days (he loves New York and called the two cities, “complimentary”), he would definitely be returning in May, when he will attend this high profile and popular event. It’s evident that he will find some of the thousand guests with his beautiful creations perched on their heads.

Philippe Model is a legend. He’s been in business for over 25 years (creating hats, shoes, and accessories), and began collaborating in the 80’s with design legends like Mugler, Montana, Dior, and Jean Paul Gaultier. The French born creator may have had no formal training for his craft but he has traveled extensively and as he noted, “fashion is natural in France”. He has one shop, located in Paris (33, Place du Marche, St. Honore) where hats range from about $700 to $1200 (but they can go much higher and much lower he said, because they are made to order). And his customers (“all ages” and “from French Aristocrats to rock stars like Madonna”), are not all wealthy women. He confided that he has been known to give hats to fashion loving, hat wearing customers who may not be able to afford them.

Known for his love of color, he himself was clad in colorfully mis-matched plaids and checks (the shirt was from Polo Ralph Lauren in Paris), and he painstakingly hand dyes, over dyes, and paints everything himself.

During the informal Q & A between Dr. Steele and Mr. Model, who sat on stools before the assembled guests, Dr. Steele described his hats as “elegant and flattering” and the designer noted that he sees them as “soft architecture” and “expressive”. Most importantly, he “wants the beauty of the lady to show” and “never wants to make her look ridiculous”. The way he sees it, “hats are so natural – like a pair of eyes” and he doesn’t view them as “special” but “an expression of a certain way of life” (he observed that “in America, hats are for function. In Europe, they’re for no reason”).

When asked why the British wear hats more than any other group of people, he said it was because of “royalty and social obligations.” As far as what the most common mistakes women make with hats? The master said “they must be open minded and practice.”

At the end, Dr Steele asked for 3 volunteers who would be willing to come up and try hats on so that Philippe could demonstrate how different women – with different face shapes and hairstyles- could wear hats. Among the volunteers who enjoyed partaking in the exuberant fashion ‘experiment’ was Valerie Steele. It was certainly a wonderful way to spend a winter afternoon.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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