Odile Gilbert (French, 1957) for Gaultier Paris (French, founded 1997). Top Hat, fall/winter 2006–7. Black human hair. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Alfred Z. Solomon-Janet A. Sloane Endowment Fund, 2007 (2007.168).
Odile Gilbert is the creator of the coiffures for many of the most important designers in both ready-to-wear and haute couture. It was Gilbert who designed the swansdown and feather coifs for the mannequins used in The Costume Institute’s 2005 “Chanel” exhibition. Her collaborations with designers are invariably characterized by her deftly elegant treatment of often unconventional materials. In this instance, Gilbert used human hair to form a top hat that matched the hair color of the model who wore it down the runway. The model’s hair appeared to be extended into a surreal topiary placed at a dapper angle over her brow. For the show, Gilbert’s sculptured coiffures reinforced Jean Paul Gaultier’s playful couture transgressions with the dandiacal rakishness that is a signature of the house.
Here, the inspiration comes from morphing but with a Surrealist twist. We can ask ourselves “What is the hair and what is the hat?” It turns out that the hair is the hat and the hat is the hair.
—Jean Paul Gaultier
This top hat was designed for the Gaultier Paris haute-couture show, autumn/winter ’06–’07. One of the collection’s themes was Surrealism, and this hair top hat creates an illusion. From afar, the illusion is of a real black-satin top hat, but with a closer look you can see it is handmade of natural hair. The idea for the couture runway show was to use the brim of the hat to create a sort of bang with the hair of the girl, so the model’s hair becomes part of the hat, which is another layer of Illusion.
The masculine-feminine style is a very strong code in Jean Paul Gaultier’s creative universe. The top hat is originally an elegant masculine accessory and here it is turned here into a chic, sophisticated, and very feminine one.