We Like — Colour Coded

Noel Stewart gives further credence to the argument that the UK remains a leader in contemporary millinery. Another fine example of a British designer to follow the first wave of ‘mad hatters’ who were at the forefront of the 1980’s revival in couture millinery, his style shares a certain sensibility with the other great hat designers that came out of London. This is probably not the surprising given that Noel worked for both Stephen Jones and Dai Rees after completing his postgraduate studies at London’s Royal College of Art.

Noel Stewart AW11 - Leather Baker Boy Cap with Multi Painted Peak

Noel Stewart AW11 - Leather Baker Boy Cap with Multi Painted Peak

He shares a certain penchant for irreverent hybrids and tongue-in-cheek humour that we have come to associate with the British millinery world after punk. But, there is also a swooping elegance and love of architectural grand form that is very much Noel’s own signature style. Indeed, architecture and art are very much present as sources of inspiration in his AW11 collection. For example, the former is a definite point of reference in the way that he has fused the structure of different traditional hat forms whilst the latter is blatantly evident in the thick painterly strokes of colour that adorn the generally white – the canvas- caps and cloches.

As the names suggests, his AW11 ‘Mashitup’ collection is very much about fusion; fusing the forms of different traditional hats to create an entirely new hybrid. But, it is also about other types of combinations that are probably best described as ‘high-contrast’. For example, the ‘Mashitup Strokes’ collection sees him contrasting brisk painterly daubs of vibrant colour with the otherwise neutral palette of the overall fabric of the hat. Jaunty white leather baker’s caps and elegant trilbies all get hand-applied additions of something nearing an abstract painting. Not only does the contrast play with colour, but it also plays with meaning. For example, the luxurious white fabric of an elegant elongated trilby is fractured by the wild painterly strokes rendering an almost Duchampian note of shock.

This idea of contrasts in meaning or values – the luxurious fabrics and a style of hat associated with the grand dames of polite society clashing with the Dadaist action of the paint – is something that comes through in the collection in other ways, a recurring leitmotif of dichotomies. Here it might continue the discussion through form; a streetwise baseball cap morphing into a mask fit for Carnival in Venice. There it carries the idea through materials; the luxury of regal fur bespeckeld with paint sequins denoting a much more underground bohemian hip.

Certainly any woman who understands the power of hats to make a grand entrance and maintain the attention of any social gathering would make a wise move to cast her eye over Noel Stewart’s collections before planning her winter wardrobe.

Noel Stewart AW11 - Fox Fur Snood with Painted Sequins

Noel Stewart AW11 - Fox Fur Snood with Painted Sequins