Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday's millinery musings - Mr. John: King of Millinery, my hero

By guest blogger Jennifer
Jennifer's Etsy store

A few months ago I took my first hat blocking class from the fabulous milliner, Wayne Wichern, and received initiation into the special mystery of the flat travel hat which has been popular for decades. With a steam iron Wayne turned a shapeless straw bag (hood) into a hat that could be packed absolutely flat and then could pop up to be a real hat when worn. It is quite a remarkable thing to see since it has not a single sewn stitch and is created entirely with the iron. It is a technique passed from milliner to milliner and is best demonstrated. It is feminine, simple and elegant.

Mr. John (1902-1993) gave us the flat travel hat and his legacy to milliners runs deep. For 50 years he reigned without a second. He was the highest paid milliner in the world and has been described as being as famous to millinery as Dior was to fashion. An irrepressible exhibitionist with a Napoleanic streak Mr. John made hats for 1,000 films, hats for celebrities and the famous of each decade of his career, a stainless steel hat, a banana hat with a zipper, an airplane hat, an Eiffel Tower hat, a hat for a live elephant to wear to a Republican convention (requiring Mr. John to stand on a 10 foot ladder in order to fit the hat on the elephant himself) to mention a mere few of his accomplishments.  He was a witty visionary, full of humor and honesty. Women loved his hats, still do, and on occasion a few can be found for sale on ebay.

If you are an old movie buff you'll recognize a few of Mr. John's hats:

Greta Garbo's jewelled  helmet in Mata Hari

Marilyn Monroe's showgirl headdress in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Vivien Leigh's wheel hat in Gone with the Wind

Marlene Dietrich's veiled cloche in Shanghai Express

For a long and fascinating article about Mr. John, read Drake Stutesman's article: "Gives Good Face: Mr. John and the Power of Hats in Film". It is interesting that no book has been written about this remarkable man and his life.

As I labor on in my little workroom, making inventory for my next teaching and vending adventure, I find myself thinking a lot of Mr. John. Ironing hoods into "Mr. John travel hats" I am encouraged by his advice, given long ago, to young designers: "Buy buckram, select materials, and start: practice. Your factory must be in your head."  It says to me to keep things simple, build skills, and trust my intuition.

A Flat Travel Hat with Dot and Bow Veil

Mr. John finally threw in the towel and closed his business in 1970, done in by what he described as "orthopedic hairdos and french fried curls". He couldn't get over that women had traded in their milliners for hairdressers.

Mr. John died at 91 and to the very end bemoaned the loss of women's hats and the beauty and refinement they gave women.

Do you know what Mr. John did for you that you benefit from daily? He put a strap on your purse. He was the first to do it! He also put soles on ballet slippers so they could be worn outside and opened the door for flat shoes. Mr. John liberated us from teetering around on high heels clutching our strapless purses (they aren't called clutches for nothing). Try to picture it,  and if there's time read the article so you can really appreciate Mr. John, King of Millinery. My hero.

1 comment:

Jenilane said...

Some very cool facts about Mr. John! I am a big fan since my grandmother was a personal friend and model of his. I love learning more about that part of her life! Thanks for sharing! :)