British hat designer David Shilling tips his
hat beside models wearing his creations in Beijing.
An unusual fashion show was held at The Ritz-Carlton recently. It featured slender, young Chinese models who strutted around the Victorian tearoom wearing stunning black and silver cocktail dresses, but it was hard to notice them.
Everyone's gaze was directed toward what rested, and sometimes coiled around, or even sprung from their heads.
It was a hat show, but not an ordinary hat show. It featured the work of legendary milliner and fashion designer David Shilling, whose hat collections have been bought by Bloomingdale's, Bergdorf's and Neiman Marcus, displayed in The Louvre and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, worn by celebrities like Kylie Minogue and Raquel Welch and members of the British and European royal families.
It was the first time Shilling, aged 53, had traveled to Beijing, a city he describes as "looking for the right kind of change".
"I believe it is absolutely essential for designers to come to Beijing," he said. "I think the possibilities in China are so enormous, and I like the scale - big."
Shilling, who says he had no formal education in art or fashion, entered the London scene right as miniskirts and flared trousers were being replaced by platform shoes and jersey dresses.
With a design approach that is fashionable, but not necessarily functional, Shilling made a niche for himself at a time not generally associated with hat fashion.
"I chose to do hats in the 70s when nobody was doing it," he explained.
"Some people are inventors of cures for diseases, clever people invent technologies," he said. "What I've done is invent modern hats. I've reinvented the modern hat."
His socialite mother Gertrude used to wear one of her son's designs to Royal Ascot in London every year and one hat was sized at over 1.5 meters. In 2007, he made the world's most expensive hat, using diamonds, pearls, rubies, garnets priced at 1 million pounds.
At The Ritz-Carlton show on Nov 12, Shilling said China had inspired his work, particularly two hats called "Fireworks" and "Chop Chop".
The hats were a fusion of Audrey Hepburn elegance with a penchant for the outlandish, and transformed the models into birds that seemed to have been plucked from some exotic and futuristic flock.
"Chop Chop", was instantly recognizable, and featured ruby-studded chopsticks on a black sequined cap. "Fireworks," featured pink, yellow and orange tulle and black spirals emanating down the side.
One hat offered a more standard feather and lace design, and this was followed by a creation that featured simple, delicate white flowers blossoming out of a ponytail.
Another was a cross between a hat and a wrap, which wound like a snake around the model's neck and head.
But most memorable were the meta-hats, the black and white striped hatboxes refashioned to be worn, the second of which could only be described as some sort of hatbox burqa, with slots for the eyes that could be opened and closed. "This is hilarious. I'm going crazy," squealed Elisabeth Koch, a milliner seated in the audience. "I have so many ideas!"
Even without any concrete answers for prospects regarding the launch of his own stores or cooperation with local malls and boutiques, Shilling was none too elliptical about the mark he plans to leave here.
"I think the exciting thing in Beijing is people are looking for the right kind of change," he asserted. "I want to incorporate the best of the past with the new and make it David Shilling."