France

Hat’s Off

Paris’s famous milliner on her three-decade career designing headwear

by Stranger’s Guide

Marie Mercié’s extravagant hats have been worn by Kate Moss, Claudia Schiffer and Prince, adorning magazine covers the world over for 30 years. Before becoming a designer, Mercié was an artist, speechwriter and journalist. She opened her first boutique on rue Saint-Sulpice in Paris in 1986, collaborating, during a three-decade career, with designers such as Hermès, John Galliano and Agnès B. Here we sit down to hear about hats.

 

What are some of the most unlikely sources you’ve turned to for creative ideas when designing hats?

Someone said that I put out hats like mushrooms after the rain … I was always very inspired by nature; my Abyssinian hat was inspired by a cat’s head, which was very successful, especially in Japan.

Your hats are incredibly unique: the latest collection includes one shaped like a hand with long, red fingernails; another like a pair of lips. What gives you inspiration? And who is your typical customer for the more outlandish designs?

These hats are surely inspired by the approach of cubism which changes the way of looking and apprehending reality. Picasso, Juan Gris—they (change) the way of looking. Lady Gaga really liked outlandish designs, as well as Prince. They are not the typical customers, but you get the idea.

With hats like “LIBERTÉ” (a hat shaped like a boat, emblazoned with the word “Liberté,” handcrafted in orange and cobalt blue felt), you’re clearly tapping into the zeitgeist. But we perhaps don’t think of hats being vehicles to express political or protest messages. Are there any other examples of this?

I designed the Liberté hat in the ’90s and we released it recently. A hat is a perfect way to express political opinions; the head is the part of the body that we instantly see…The hat is the man. My first collection was called “incredible and wonderful” and was inspired by the French revolution.

What’s the most unusual hat you’ve ever created?

It was a stack of hats as a hat.

You’ve been creating hats since the 1980s. What has changed in 30+ years?

Me!

What era do you most admire in terms of hat fashion, and why?

I really like the ’50’s where milliners had an incredible imagination. Their creations were feminine and they created unique pieces.

How long does it take to make a hat, on average, from when you start designing it to the finished product?

There is no real exact timing. It depends on the model—some are very simple and some very complicated. Prototypes take a long time to develop, so it could be a few hours to a few weeks if the design needs a special wooden form made specially for that hat.

Name some hat designers in other countries you most admireand why?

I really like (British milliner) Stephen Jones—eccentric, well done, who creates a lot of unique pieces.

The pandemic has put a stop to social events the world over. Presumably this has impacted sales of hats?

Yes, of course, the simple fact of wearing a mask with a hat becomes complicated. It’s difficult to go and try on a hat, and obviously the hat trade has suffered. I can no longer present my collections through fashion shows, just like many other businesses.

With a vaccine now in sight, are people buying high-end fashion once more?

High-end fashion will always sell, but it will be different. Time will tell.

I’d read that prior to the pandemic, the trend for hats was “less is more.” What are you noticing is going to be the trend for hats in 2021?

Hats have been trending again in the last couple years, but this pandemic stopped everything. You can be sure somebody will release a hat/mask (combination). We have to be creative but yet responsible in the way we produce and sell our creations.

For more information, visit https://www.mariemercie.com

CONTRIBUTOR

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