Friday, August 24, 2018



The argument for object as art has been made through the ages: Decartes, Hussserl, Hegel, Heidegger ruminated and philosophized about the nature of art and it's "thingly" character. What makes an art object? Art theory will always touch upon form, context and the nature of an object, but it is left to the beholder and the artist to define what art is. A hat is an object, either made as a protective or a decorative thing. Wearable, and by definition, an object. But elevate its character to a more creative level and it can be art.
Hats lend an element to the wearer and depend upon personality, personal style, the fashion of the hat, the world view of the wearer. In the past, hats denoted not just style but status. They were and still are a uniform depending upon definition. Geography mandates the shape, the form and the material. A hairdo limits or includes. In the 1930 photograph taken by Margaret Bourke-White, not a head was seen without a hat.
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Hats in the Garment District by Margaret Bourke-White
This was NY, in the Garment District and was taken for an article in Fortune Magazine entitled "Cloak and Suit". Cloak and suit is a good place to start. A hat protects the wearer from the elements, and suits the framework that the face provides. Or it should. It should flatter and excite. It should speak volumes about the person, and live not just in the moment, but carry an element of timelessness .
In Lussac-les-Chateaux, in Central France, there are 15,000 year old rock drawings depicting people with hats on their heads.

Hats are part of the universal language of costume. Who, what, where becomes more easily translated with something as simple as the right hat.
Historically, we owe a debt of gratitude to St. Clement somewhere around 750 AD-818 AD. He gingerly placed a piece of carded wool into his shoe and lo and behold, felt was made! Hatmakers everywhere could now use that spontaneous discovery to fashion hats to protect the head. Jump 1000 years ahead to a burgeoning industry in Europe. We, the people, as a colony of Great Britain became both very important, and very disruptive all because of a hat. One could almost say that the American Revolution happened because of a hat. The beaver population of Europe was almost extinct, but we had the in over here. Beaver skins were the first great American Trade commodity.
We supplied Britain with pelts for their hat industry. From 1700-1770 21 million hats made from beaver pelts were made in Britain and shipped throughout Europe. And so, to protect this very precious cargo, the Hat Act of 1732 was passed in Parliament. Limiting the number of workers, apprentices and slaves in the colonies employed in our own hat industry, this Act was the first rumble of discontent within the American colonies. We couldn't make our own hats. Imagine how that went down.

Hats and wars have always gone hand in hand. The Revolutionary War may have happened because of a hat. And the Civil War helped create what is now widely known as the western hat. After the war, as displaced soldiers found their way across these vast United States, appetites whetted for adventure and new horizons, they took with them the remnants of their uniforms. Many a farmer wore basic shaped felts on their heads, the classic floppy style we all know and love today. Mr. Stetson lent a hand and created his own shape, loved it so much that he founded a hat empire because of it.
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Military styles always cropped up in female fashion. The hat was the final accessory to mimic shapes seen in uniforms throughout WWI and II. But after the war, when lifestyles changed, styles in fashion changed as well.
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WWI brought us the suffragettes sometimes tricorne shapes. The undressing of the 1920's style with the new flapper mentality eliminated the architecture of the Edwardian era from fashion and substituted Art Deco. WWII brought the ode to the ration book, and with it, tiny perchy hats. Dubbed "Doll's Hats" by Elsa Schiaparelli in the late 1930's, while European fashion houses succumbed to the ravages of the limits imposed upon them by dint of war. The proportion worked with the reduced yardage now permitted in garments.
After WWII, when America returned home, home was often a shiny new car. Headroom in the 1950's vehicles was shorter than in vehicles of the 1930's and 40's. Fedoras became not as de rigeur. Costume had bowed to the new carefree vision of fashion, with more outdoor living and less indoor life becoming popular. Hairdos changed. For men, mimicking the pompadours of the early rockers and rebels was much more important that the color of a new fedora. And so, we have what we have. Do take history into account, and look around you. As America grew, New York City blossomed. We welcomed the felted shapes of the Jewish Community on the Lower East Side. We celebrated with our ethnic diversity as more and more cultures brought with them their culture, their joy, and their hats.
Where some of us wear hats for sports, some wear them for events, or protection, there are those who will always wear them for glamour, and a certain note of mystery they add to their wardrobe every day. Hats define, underline and help you to shine in a city that today finds itself often wearing a uniform of conformity. Since the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, fancy hats come out of their boxes . Since the Royal Wedding, fascinators have hit their stride. There is always a new reason to wear a hat to the hatlover. Hatters and milliners follow this simple recipe, put forth by Cheri Bibi, a milliner in Paris: Take some straw, felt, velvet, leather Add a healthy helping of grosgrain Trim with flowers, fruits or anything unusual you may have in hand Add a zest of know how Throw in a pinch of humor

And you have a hat!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Best Clown of All


Thank you, Mr. Gelb for starting my New Year with the verismo gift that keeps on giving:  Roberto Alagna, Aleksandra Kurzak and George Gagnidze transforming the Met stage for Pagliacci. Just a few moments before the clown makes his appearance, Sir David McVicar  and his double-faceted production of Cavalleria Rusticana brings a 1900’s piazza in Italy to life, with Roberto showing us the selfish, vile and obsessive side of Turridu . The set is dark , the mood is dark and Roberto is spot on as the cad in question. The imaginative twist that McVicar gives these two often- paired short pieces is his use of the piazza where both take place. The Old World feel of Cav places us in a different time, a different mentality and practically an alternate universe with faithless love and death as the mirror image themes of both Cav and Pag. Roberto grounds us in the feeling of the place and George, as Alfio , the cuckolded husband, as his anchor.

Flip the coin and you’re in an ebullient world of color. The piazza  in Italy is now post WWII. Roberto makes his effervescent entrance atop a travelling troupe’s truck amid a blast of confetti, in blue. The darkness remains in essence, ghosted from the Cav set, as a psychological pall over the piazza.
George in the meantime has fleshed out the nature of the scene in an inappropriate wig and suit that scream tacky but so work. 

Moritz Junge did a raucous, ebullient set of costumes that reflected a post-war scrabble for travelling entertainers.

George, long known to Met audiences from ( among other roles) his brilliant Scarpia in Tosca must be foul.  He betrays Nedda in his jealousy and carries the bitter end of this two-act opera to fruition.
Roberto is at his acting and singing apex as Canio.  Adding to the electricity on stage is Aleksandra’s portrayal of Nedda. 

Nedda does it all: she passes the hat (literally), she performs in pantomime and carves out the ingénue with lively pacing. Aleks grasps the nuance behind the character and gives us an imaginative interpretation of this Jill of all trades.

Roberto as Canio is something we’ve been waiting for since the interruptus two years ago when he was pulled out of the role and saved the Met’s production of Manon Lescaut. His poignant delivery of one of the most famous arias in opera melts the soul and hammers the heart.  The list is very long of all the iconic arias that Roberto has gifted us with and treasured by the entire lyric world. Vesti la Giubba strikes home, with a fervor only Roberto can grant.

For those of us not so hip on lyric terminology but immersed in the operatic for the intensity that comes with a mammoth stage, costumes that excite, voices that prolong the experience long after the last note dwindles on the airwaves and music that echoes through the ages, Pagliacci per Roberto et Cie. is a must see.  Bravo, Mr. Gelb, Sir David, Roberto, Aleks, and George along with the euphonics of the Met orchestra and the ever-present talent of the chorus. Long may this clown live in our memories.

Cavalleria Rusticana, Pietro Mascagni
Pagliacci, Ruggiero Leoncavallo

Conductor,  Nicola Luisotti