Aug 22, 2023
Advertisement Supported by Summer Entertaining Seven makers from across the creative fields propose fantastical celebratory headwear. By Coco Romack In the United States, party hats — those
Seven makers from across the creative fields propose fantastical celebratory headwear.
By Coco Romack
In the United States, party hats — those ubiquitous, cone-shaped signifiers of children’s birthdays and summer picnics — have their roots in a less celebratory phenomenon: the pointed dunce caps used as disciplinary tools in schools throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s a reminder that even the most unassuming objects can have complex meanings — something that artists, several of whom have turned to party attire for inspiration, have long known.
The students of the Bauhaus, the influential German design academy founded in 1919, took their costume parties as seriously as their studies, dressing up as monstrous creatures and mechanical humanoids. And in 1972, the Spanish painter Salvador Dalí designed several fantastical ensembles for the infamous Surrealist Ball, a lavish gathering held at the French estate of the baroness Marie-Hélène de Rothschild. Celebrities and politicians arrived wearing towering headpieces to dine atop body-shaped mannequins splayed across tables; the actress Audrey Hepburn peered out from a rattan bird cage, complete with stray feathers, that sat on her shoulders.
In the spirit of this tradition, T invited makers working across the creative fields — the multidisciplinary designer Faye Toogood; the ceramic artist Jolie Ngo; the fashion designer Piotrek Panszczyk of the brand Area; the multimedia artist Rakeem Cunningham; the costume designer Alexia Hentsch; and the designer Adam Charlap Hyman and the architect Andre Herrero of the firm Charlap Hyman & Herrero — to propose their versions of a party hat. The only criterion was that each hat be made of materials typically available at a craft store so that, by following the artists’ instructions, shared in the PDF below, the hat could be recreated at home. From there, imaginations ran free, yielding headdresses that resemble, among other things, a rainbow-colored palm tree, a coral reef and an otherworldly drinking helmet.
In January, while attending a wedding in Recife, a coastal city in northeast Brazil, the costume designer Alexia Hentsch came upon a group of dancers rehearsing for a carnival procession. Having closed her understated men’s wear line Hentsch Man in 2015 to pursue more maximalist endeavors, such as designing the costumes for the opening ceremony of the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Hentsch was struck by the elaborate outfits worn by the performers. There were hand-embroidered ponchos and egg-shaped headpieces dripping with shimmering tinsel. For this project, Hentsch fashioned her take on the latter by gluing strips of stretched crepe paper onto an oversize straw sun hat, adding brightly colored layers until its surface resembled shaggy raffia palm leaves. “The materials were simple, but the work was like couture,” says Hentsch, 41, of the ensembles she saw. “I’m fascinated by that high-low culture, and I think we have that all over Brazil, especially during Carnival.”
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The artist Rakeem Cunningham’s tender self-portraits, photographed within fabric-draped sets he builds in his Los Angeles studio, celebrate every aspect of himself, including his Blackness and his queerness. One other such trait he’s learned to appreciate and reframe is the fact that he enjoys smoking weed, which is why Cunningham’s party hat, a deconstructed baseball cap that he’s covered with white polyester fiber fill, looks, in part, like a fluffy haze of smoke. “It just made me think of being on cloud nine, being elevated and just really enjoying life,” says Cunningham, 31, who has a solo exhibition on view at Schlomer Haus Gallery in San Francisco. The hat, he says, “is definitely something meant to be worn by Black people.” Central to his practice, he continues, “is the relationship between Black people and bodies and fantasy. I think it’s important for us as Black people to be able to exist in our own fantasy worlds, costumes and stories and — without guilt — take up space in fantasy settings that weren’t welcome to us.” The addition of red and black Afro picks, tied in place with wire, is a nod to Cunningham’s father, who died when the artist was 4 years old, and who gave him a similar comb, a memory that he still cherishes.
Grottos, popular in 18th-century Britain as decorative follies in gardens and parks, have found contemporary fans in Adam Charlap Hyman, 32, and Andre Herrero, 33, the designer-architect duo behind the New York- and Los Angeles-based design firm Charlap Hyman & Herrero. They have often recontextualized this motif with humor and whimsy, once creating a sculpture by adorning defunct telephones and keyboards found in the basement of the New York nonprofit space the Storefront for Art and Architecture with barnacles and starfish. Their “grotto hat,” as Charlap Hyman calls it, is composed of a straw boater hat decorated with an array of preserved undersea life: shells, sponges, coral and pearls. “We love to work in the format of a homage,” says Charlap Hyman, who referenced the 20th-century British Surrealist Eileen Agar’s wearable sculpture “The Ceremonial Hat for Eating Bouillabaisse” (1936), a cork basket painted blue and topped with lobster tails and fish skeletons.
A towering headpiece in three stackable segments, Faye Toogood’s party hat bridges two of the designer’s latest projects, which she releases through her namesake fashion, design and interiors brand. It takes its cagelike shape from lobster traps, a nod to Toogood’s maritime-inspired spring 2023 collection, which included voluminous sea-foam green trousers and striped watercolor prints. And its hues, particularly the dark red of its ribbon, tease Toogood’s forthcoming clothing collection, which pulls its palette from the paintings of the American artist Philip Guston, whose work will feature in a major exhibition at London’s Tate Modern in October. “I’ve just gone through a few months being really inspired by his attitude to his work,” says Toogood, 46. “He had the courage to carve his own path and make his own way.” As with many of Toogood’s creations, the hat is at once sculptural and utilitarian, able to be collapsed and transported like a paper lantern.
A longtime player of life-simulating video games like The Sims and Animal Crossing, the artist Jolie Ngo, 27, says she was conditioned to become “a world builder in a digital space” from a young age. She designs her vibrant pastel-gradient vessels and wonkily shaped sculptures on a computer using 3-D-modeling technology, which she views as another environment where “you’re able to create and be free,” then prints them with a machine loaded with colored clay or porcelain. Every year, in late January or early February, Ngo celebrates the Vietnamese holiday Tết by decorating paper crowns with her family in Philadelphia, which is why her party hat takes the form of a whimsical tiara. The primary material — plastic straws, which Ngo bent into place after applying heat with a hair dryer — is a more unexpected tribute to novelty drinking helmets. “Play is really evident in my practice,” she says, “and I think those hats are kind of goofy. There’s a really playful element to them.”
Butterfly shapes have become a hallmark of the New York brand Area since its establishment in 2014 — as audacious crystal-encrusted halter tops or cutout detailing on jeans and tees — so much so that the label’s designer, Piotrek Panszczyk, 37, dedicated the entirety of his latest collection to the insect. “It’s a bittersweet motif [because] I hate butterflies,” says Panszczyk. “Even when I was growing up, there was some type of beauty to them, but there was also something gross. Because of that, I like revisiting and reframing it in different ways.” A graphic black-and-white butterfly, its exaggerated wings obscuring the model’s eyes, was fixed to a felt wool cap and styled backward for the brand’s pre-fall 2023 look book. Inspired by how fans have recreated items from Area’s previous collections, the designer opted to reimagine this showpiece using an accessible material, card stock paper, with a simple band construction. “It’s really about evoking something and including people in your world,” Panszczyk says.
Step-by-step instructions for creating your own fantastical headpieces.
Brunello Cucinelli dress, $3,795, shop.brunellocucinelli.com. Model: Ugochi Egonu at APM. Casting: Studio Bauman. Hair and makeup: Laura de Leon at Joe Management using Chanel Beauty. Camera assistant: Arthur Hunking. Set designer’s assistant: Steven Ruggiero. Visual Effects: Jared Pollack at Hudson Rose VFX. Video editing: Asli Tunaman
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