When it was still in the future, the year 2020 had an almost fictional quality about it (though who would have guessed a year ago that the reality would turn out to be stranger than fiction). The organisers of London Hat Week tapped into this sense when they invited hatmakers and lovers to time travel to the future and back with creative hat design with their dual themed 'future' and 'retro' exhibition. Initially scheduled for April, the event has been pushed back to this week, and is taking place in a mix of real and virtual settings between 6-12th October.
The theme immediately intrigued the historian in me and was a sufficient push to make an application to have one of my headpieces included in the exhibition. I'm not a hat maker in the classic sense. I have no formal millinery training; my educational and professional background is located in the academic environment of historical research and, in many ways that is where I am still rooted. But over the last 8 years or so, I have become proud of my craft and comfortable with calling myself a headwear designer and maker. The lovely thing about the theme for this year's London Hat Week is that it enabled me to be both.
My featured piece is 'Jetta', and takes its inspiration from the stars of the silent silver screen and the incredible glittering headpieces they wore with such style. It celebrates exhuberance and self-expression. It is created from a suite of antique paste-set buckles and dress ornaments, with lovely circular and sinuous shapes, embellished with crystal pearls and arranged in a sweeping curve which sits at the hairline and frames the face in that distinctive 1920s way.
I've long had a passion for Art Deco and flapper style but the particular starting point for the design was a headpiece worn by the actress Jetta Goudal in a still taken from the 1929 silent movie 'The Lady of the Pavements'.
Referred to as a French actress, ‘La Goudal’ was in fact Dutch but, like many other European players at the time, was widely portrayed as volatile and irrational, and lacking the work ethic of an American-born actor. She was involved in a number of lawsuits with studios during the mid-1920s, which were generally framed in terms of her impulsive ‘Frenchness’ and her problematic behaviour, rather than set within the structural context of the prevailing American studio system. Interesting parallels with the Hollywood system of the late 20th and early 21st centuries perhaps?
I’ve also read that Goudal used costume design to try to regain some degree of control over her screen persona. Yet it appears that this also brought her into conflict with the studio hierarchy and, once again, commentators used it as evidence of her Continental temperament. In essence, her professional and personal interest in costume and fashion was used by the press as further evidence of her obsessive and self-indulgent nature.
I've really loved reading about this lesser known silent movie star and her position within the Hollywood studio system. If Jetta has piqued your interest as much as she did mine, I can recommend a fascinating article by Agata Frymu,s published in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, vol 39, 2019, and available to read online.
The Jetta headpiece will be on display at the London Hat Week. You can visit the exhibition or have an online tour. Tickets are available here. It is also available to purchase. If you would like further information about this special, one-of-a-kind piece, do get in touch by emailing me firstname.lastname@example.org. Equally, I'd love to hear from you if it inspires some thoughts about a bespoke design.