‘If one is a Greyhound, why try to look like a Pekinese?’ - STEPHEN JONES, QUOTING EDITH SITWELL
Millinery whimsy… exotic frippery…jaunty little pillbox…decorative trappings, worn in lieu of a formal hat; in recent years all kinds of headwear has come under the umbrella term much disliked by milliners – the fascinator. Popularity of the word has grown as countless photographs portraying Princess-to-be Kate Middleton wearing fascinators appeared in the press worldwide. It appeared to reach fever pitch at the April 2011 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, where countless millinery creations perched atop heads were described as fascinators. The Wall Street Journal’s article of April 30th is headlined ‘Royal Bride Sparks Fascinator Frenzy’ and goes on to describe the frenzy of fascinator sales both across America (in particular for the Kentucky Derby, in the past picture hat territory) and internationally in the time directly leading up to the Royal Wedding. Searches for fascinators on the Google Search Engine were up by an astonishing 67%.
The Oxford Dictionary describes the word ‘fascinator’ as a type of head shawl either crocheted or made of soft material, first appearing in America during the 19th Century. In a letter written in 1878, the author Kate Douglas Wiggin recalled ‘Mother crocheting a fascinator.’
While the public at large appears to have embraced the fascinator, milliners, the very creators of these accoutrements, generally do not use the term, preferring other descriptions, such as cocktail hat, pillbox, or the more generic term, headwear. The fascinator as we know it, resembles a hat in some senses, although tends to be very lightweight, made from such fabrics as silk, feathers, tulle, sinamay, and be embellished with trimmings including feathers, flowers, crystals and ribbons. It is usually fastened to the head by means of a band, slide, comb or clip.
‘I hate the word “fascinator” far more than the hat itself. Wearers seem to think the more elaborate the better. Less is far more, and my rule of thumb is: simple is chic. Give me an elegant wide-brim hat any day.’ – JO JONES, FASHION EDITOR, THE OBSERVER
Over the last decade the rise of the more contemporary headpiece has overtaken sales of more traditional hats, and they are worn for everything from weddings, funerals and christenings to cocktail parties and race meetings. The appeal of the fascinator seems to be that it is universally flattering, even to those very hat-shy wearers who would never dare brave a conventional hat, it can be easily removed leaving hairstyles intact and it is lightweight and comfortable to wear.
Milliners meanwhile have their own ideas on this fashionable whimsy, Stephen Jones believes these witty little headpieces started making an entrance in the 1960s when they were clipped onto beehive hairstyles, ‘It actually was a really New York hat, if you think of Audrey Hepburn with a bit of a beehive, or Zsa Zsa Gabor, that was exactly what they used to wear.’ - STEPHEN JONES
While high street sales of imitation fascinators have hit a peak, despite the recession, with some styles available for as little as £5, the feeling among leading milliners seems to be one of universal dislike. ‘The word fascinator makes me want to be sick. I started making headdresses years ago, but the high street ones are so badly made and look cheap.’ – COZMO JENKS. The opinion seems to be that while elegant, refined headpieces can perfect a chic outfit, garish and tacky imitations cheapen a whole ensemble.
Philip Treacy, who designed 36 of the hats worn at the recent Royal Wedding also shares the fascinator dislike. Having reignited the trend for alternative headwear with his feathered design for the Duchess of Cornwall at her wedding to Prince Charles, he feels that the high street has lowered the tone with its crude copies, ‘I started that gig many years ago, but now they have become three limp feathers and a tacky flower on the high street,’ – PHILIP TREACY.
2012 could mark a return to the more traditional and picturesque picture hat? With even national magazines making a strong stand, Grazia proclaimed itself a ‘Fascin-hater’ last year, it looks as though millinery fashion could make a u-turn. Where some lead, others will soon follow.