Photographer and subject have a distinct relationship that is based on the sharing of ideas in mutual exploration of that which does not yet exist until the two come together to bring forth the work, the image that holds the wall or rests, nestled inside the book. The photograph is the space where two become one and what we see is the way in which they create something the world has never seen before.
“Every hat I have ever made has begun in my mind as a photograph. I can see it on the model, at the right angle, before I even begin. I can see what the girl’s going to look like and how it’s going to be worn. But it’s something that’s just for me,” writes celebrated milliner Philip Treacy at the introduction to Philip Treacy by Kevin Davies (Phaidon), an intimate and breathtaking retrospective of Mr. Treacy and Mt. Davies’ two decade-long partnership.
Mr. Treacy continues, “Photography, like design, is an obsession: an obsession with the final image. And most photographers, like most designers, are control freaks, because they care so much that it all looks incredible in the end. We believe in it. Whether you’re a make-up artist, stylist, designer, architect, photographer or anyone working in the creative industries, your work is a point of view. It’s your point of view.”
Mr. Treacy’s hats recall nothing so much as a time long gone, a time when men and women dressed head-to-toe before stepping out of the house. Hats are the last hurrah of a bygone era, a time when attention to detail was as important as expression of self. Mr. Treacy’s hats remind us that glamour is a state of mind, for to carry off one of his superb chapeaus one must have presence, power, and fearlessness.
Kevin Davies' photographs of the hats themselves are a spectacle of the simplest effect. Set upon a faceless mannequin head, set against a white backdrop, there is nothing to see except the hats themselves. Photography is a comfortable reminder that this is likely as close as we shall ever get, but this closeness will set your heart aflame. That the hats can be worn seems almost too grand. To simply gaze upon their eloquent and effortless form would be enough.
The photographs also remind us of the challenge of converting the three dimensions into two; for the perfect image demands that we can understand the full modeling from only one point of view. It is here that we begin to understand the strength of Treacy and Davies’ partnership, for their collaboration allows for the elegant and iconic representation of these hats.
As Mr. Davies reveals, “Philip Treacy is very charismatic. It’s an unusual thing to meet someone like Philip and get on so well, and to continue the relationship for so long. He allowed himself to be that open for some of those pictures. In fashion, it’s not normally like that. (Laughs).
“I never saw Philip within fashion, per se. He doesn’t show regularly, nor does he follow the trends of the season. His work is always completely different from anyone else. I wouldn’t say he is an artist to his fact because he would get really embarrassed about that, but he work like an artist, in the same way. His methods of working are the same way as an artist but he might be embarrassed if I said that to his face.
“We first met while on a shoot for American Vogue. He had only been out of college for maybe a year and so quite new to doing press. He asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’ and I told him I had been given a brief. He asked to see the brief. He had his own ideas. As a portrait photographer, I immediately understood the way he thought it should be done. I thought, ‘Let’s do what we want.’ Fortunately, Vogue liked the pictures so maybe it didn’t matter that we didn’t follow the brief in the end.
“There was an immediate connection between us. I suppose I am quite open as a portrait photographer. I like when people have ideas and I try to do what feels right at the time. I used to shoot a lot in studios I felt comfortable, and in control. After a long time doing this, I became quite busy and it became difficult to plan ideas. I began looking at this little white space asking myself, ‘What am I going to do?’
“I switched things up and began shooting on location, and that did half the job for me. I could point my camera into what I thought was the right direction, and take the photographs. It became apparent that shooting in the studio really changed me. I didn’t own a 35mm camera anymore. I had become obsessed with shooting only for work, and I didn’t pick up a camera on my day off.
“When I had my first child, I needed a more flexible camera to take pictures of the baby. Having a child also made me want to leave the studio more often, and made me change things about photography I wasn’t happy with. This coincided with the start of my work with Philip.
“After I did the portrait for Vogue, I stayed in touch with him. I wanted to get a present for my girlfriend, who later became my wife, and I asked about a hat. Philip refused to take payment for it. He later came along to the darkroom when I wanted to create Rayograms of certain hats and naturally became interested and involved. Then one day he rang me up to let me know he met Grace Jones, and asked me if I could come and photograph her.
“She is in complete control. She us quite fierce, of course; could give you a stare that would make your knees shake. But she is really lovely, and so involved, so willing to collaborate. I felt there was a great connection between her and Philip. He loves celebrities. I think he wants to understand how they tick, to understand what makes them different. He adores Hollywood actresses from the 40s and 50s, and has a different way of relating to famous people. He wants to do something amazing, something that will enhance them as well.
“At the beginning I photographed Philip in the studio preparing for a show so this meant he would often work into the morning and sometimes through the night. At times it was just the two of us and Mr Pig (his Jack Russell). I think he liked it when no one else was around. Although with a show imminent Philip never minded me hanging around taking photographs but I guess because I never made demands on him he was able to just carry on working.The same thing happened when I started filming him.
“Philip is not showy. He is very informal, and liked having a chat about things while making a cup of tea. He’ll talk to you while working on things, carrying around a piece of hat in his hands. He doesn’t really stop and as a photographer that’s great. I like when you are talking to someone and taking photographs at the same time. Rather than looking at the camera, he would forget that I was there.
“I’ve been doing a lot more filming lately. I filmed everything from the last show; it all came at the right time. I wanted to carry on, taking pictures, and I wondered how I could continue to describe the work. As a photographer I wanted to move forward with it. Film allows me to so that. Up until this time, Philip didn’t allow anyone to film him doing things like cutting the feathers. I was very surprised when the book came out that people didn’t realise he actually made the hats. They imagined him drawing the design and passing it on to someone else!
“Philip is quite a good example of chic. I regard him as a chic person. He has a unique way of wearing clothes. When I was thinking about someone I thought of as chic, I immediately thought of Paul Simonon of The Clash: someone who effortlessly wears clothes, someone who is natural and not trying hard at all. Although Philip works very hard, he seems to make it all look easy. It doesn’t look difficult.
“I went to art school originally to paint. I couldn’t paint at all, so I got into printmaking, then sculpture. The sculpture teacher said my photographs of sculpture were better than the sculptures themselves. While I was in school, I worked at a frame store. A photographer, Steve Pyke, came in one day. I looked at his pictures and thought, ‘He makes this look really easy. If he can do this, I can do this too.’ That’s not the same as Phillip. Not many people could do what he does. He’s quite unique like that.”