Philip Treacy Talks Royal Wedding, Lady Gaga, and Why Kate Should Wed in McQueen

lady gaga

Photo courtesy of Philip Treacy

Hat designer Philip Treacy

Alexander McQueen? Sophie Cranston? Jasper Conran?

Which designers will surface at the royal wedding on April 29 will be anyone's guess, but there's no question that Philip Treacy's hats will be in attendance. And though the legendary milliner won't say who exactly will be wearing his toppers, he's not as coy when it comes to sharing his pick for Kate Middleton's wedding gown, dishing about dressing Lady Gaga, or revealing his contribution for Daphne Guinness's upcoming Barneys exhibit honoring his late muse, Isabella Blow.

The Irish-born designer took time out from his busy pre-wedding work to chat with FashionEtc about his most memorable hats, Cher's iconic Oscar moment, and why celebrity style has gone downhill.

You're basically the only designer confirmed to be participating in the royal wedding.
Well, it's not that I've been confirmed, it's just that these are my customers. I make hats for royalty from all over the world because they wear hats, and I've worked with them for 15 years.

What sort of hat does one wear to the royal wedding?
A hat is a purely individual accessory. There aren't any trends with hats. It kind of defeats the object of the exercise if everyone's wearing the same kind of, you know, bowler. The purpose is to make that person feel special and different, and everybody injects their own personality into the hat. I mean, they don't, but I try and inject that.

How has royal wedding mania affected your business?
We're busy! The whole fashion industry is benefiting from this wedding. It's a major event, and people are dressing up and taking it very seriously. It only happens every 30 years.

Do you have a designer you would like to see Kate Middleton wear?
I would hope that she's wearing Alexander McQueen. It's just a shame that it's not him.

Speaking of McQueen, you're working with Daphne Guinness on her Barneys installation for the Met Costume Gala. What exactly is your involvement?
She asked me to select the hats. I'm not sure exactly [how many]. We just picked a selection. But obviously it's about what looks right.

Of all the hats you've designed, is there one that best sums up your point of view?
Maybe the ship hat, which was in a beautiful image by Bruce Weber. It's a poetic suggestion of what a hat means. It's just something to be admired. A hat is the ultimate glamour accessory. It's been around since the beginning of time. It will always be around, in one form or another. And the whole purpose is to inspire people to think in terms of elegance and beauty.

But the head is the most potent part of the body to decorate because it's what you meet. You don't meet somebody's leg, you meet their face. Everyone says, "Well, they don't really wear hats in America," but everyone's got a baseball cap on ... You don't see somebody going up and down Fifth Ave. in [elaborate hats], but neither do you see somebody going up and down Fifth Ave. in evening wear.

Is there a certain style rule you recommend for wearing hats?
I could care less about rules. I think it's the attitude when people wear hats. People are very concerned about what other people think. That's what made someone like Isabella Blow fun and interesting. She could care less what anybody thought. It was fun for her. She wasn't trying to be eccentric or crazy. She was fascinating.

You had to experience her in real life. She was so much fun. But a very, very sweet person. She was not a fashion monster at all. She had hundreds of assistants and there were always people around and she was always picking people up here, there and everywhere. She was always a very kind person. [She was] hilarious—funnier than anyone. She could have done stand-up in Vegas. Really funny.

Is there a favorite Isabella hat that stands out?
We were only ever interested in the latest hat. The next hat you make is always the most exciting hat, the best hat—in your brain, until you've made it. And then you want to do the next one.

lady gaga

Photos: Getty Images

Philip Treacy designs as seen on Lady Gaga and Sarah Jessica Parker

Are there any personal favorites you've designed for celebrities?
I think some of the hats I've made for Lady Gaga have been fun. I made her a hat to wear to the Grammys a year ago, where she was sitting in the audience looking like she'd arrived from outer space. I like that. I like her attitude.

I'm not saying everybody can be like that, because she's an entertainer and entertainers can be like that. But also, she's not there sitting in a little spaghetti-strap dress from a designer that's difficult to pronounce but could sound impressive the way you say it—like all those ladies on the E! channel pronouncing those big designer names like it's mathematics or geometry. And they're all in the same outfit, but in a different color, really. They're so unadventurous, so Hollywood.

You know, Hollywood invented our perception of glamour. And now it's just boring. At one time Hollywood had style—now it's just stylists. It's the most ridiculous thing. Marlene Dietrich didn't have a stylist. Marilyn Monroe didn't have a stylist. They had style. Nobody was telling them how to look, making them look dreadful. Some people listen too much to others. And the people giving the advice sometimes—my God! The blind leading the blind. Fashion runs on fear, and fear of getting it wrong is so boring.

You've worked with Sarah Jessica Parker ...
She has a very unusual space in people's imagination because of the character she made famous. So she can get away with a lot, because what she invented and brought to a worldwide audience was a fashion-loving person. So for her to appear looking incredible in a hat of her persona, really ... It works for her.

What can you tell us about the film you're making about Isabella Blow?
I haven't really been able to do a lot of work on it because of the royal wedding. It's gonna happen when it's gonna happen. It's not that it's on hold or anything, it's just that I'm busy with so many other things. I've got to do it when it's right for me—and for her [Blow]. What's that program they made about the royal wedding that everyone's laughing about?

The Lifetime movie?
Yeah. I haven't seen it. It sounds hilarious, but [my film] is not quite like that. It's got to be great. What's the hurry?

Photo: Getty Images
Isabella Blow in one of her Philip Treacy-designed hats.

Is there anybody on your wish list to play Isabella?
There are a few, but I can't really go into it without giving it all away.

Isabella was buried in one of your hats. Not to be morbid, but is there a hat you'd like to buried in?
It's not something I've ever thought about. It depends. If I looked like hell, then a balaclava [laughs]. Nobody looks that great when they're dead, let me tell you. So no outfit is going to make you look better. When you're dead, you're dead. And then they want you. It's like the Met exhibition. You can only have an exhibition at the Met when you're dead.

What's next for you after the royal wedding?
I'm going to India for a week. And then I've got to start on Ascot, and then the couture, and then it all starts all over again.

Which designers are you working with?
Giorgio Armani, Valentino ... Last time I did Givenchy. So [I'll work with] anyone, really. Well, anyone that's good.

Would you ever consider doing a high-street collaboration with anyone like Topshop?
Why not? I have a very democratic approach to fashion. Fashion isn't for the elitist few. It's entertainment. It's just an illusion.

Is there a hat, maybe from a painting or a movie, you wish you had designed?
Cher's outfit that she wore to the Oscars, that Bob Mackie made for her, with the headdress. It was exquisite and beautiful and elegant and sophisticated. But I read that people laughed at her. She was backstage at the Oscars and walked around a corner and Jane Fonda burst out laughing and couldn't stop laughing because she thought she looked ridiculous. But she looked unbelievable. I've never seen anybody look better, ever.

One time I was in my studio and the phone rings. I picked up the phone and this woman says, "Hi, I'm Cher's assistant." I was like, "CHER'S ASSISTANT?!?" She was calling about a hat that she'd ordered. So then I couldn't help it. I said, "Could you pass on a message to Cher from me? Tell her that when she wore that outfit to the Oscars, she was right and everybody else was wrong."

In the middle of the night we got an answer-phone message from Cher saying, "Thank you, darling," because obviously it made her happy. I was blown away.

I believe in the Cher-at-the-Oscars and Lady Gaga-at-the-Grammys look—pushing the boat out. It's like a little bit of magic. We live for those people who go that little bit further that nobody else dares to go. I believe in the people who dare. And there aren't that many of them.

Meanwhile, Kate Middleton is rumored to be doing her own makeup on her big day.

And for all things Will and Kate, check out our Royal Wedding Watch.