Alexander Fury: Hats off to the late, great Anna Piaggi and her sense of style

Wear, what, why, when?

The event of Milan fashion week didn't happen on the catwalk: rather, in someone's living room. Granted, that living room belonged to the late, great Anna Piaggi – one of the few people who actually warrants the over-used phrase “icon”, given her extraordinary sense of personal style, and the way she translated that on to the magazine page.

I use the past tense because, as any fashion fan worth knicker elastic will tell you, Signora Piaggi died last year shortly before the spring 2013 collections began in her hometown of Milan. The Milanese must-see event was the exhibition “Hat-Ology”, curated by Stephen Jones and seemingly supported by the great and good of Italian fashion. Everyone from the Mayor of Milan to the Camera Nazionale Della Moda (Italian fashion's governing body) had a hand in it, but Jones –Piaggi's life-long friend and hat maker of choice – was the man behind the exhibition, an intimate recreation of her Milanese home, albeit packed with hats.

Then again, that was pretty much the way Piaggi actually lived. Jones shrouded each vignette with nets because, he grinned, “Anna always asked me to add a veil – so here's more veiling than she could ever want!”

I never met Piaggi. I sometimes sat behind her, a Stephen Jones titfer nestled among her marcel-waved hair, usually dyed a shade between lavender and cerulean, blocking my view. It varied day to day, a cross between a mullet and a mood-ring. She terrified me, in the way some people in fashion do.

The great thing about fashion – if you've grown up idolising its leading characters – is that you could easily end up sitting next to the equivalent of a premier league footballer or a media mogul. What can you say in that sort of situation? It's easy to get tongue-tied around a woman you've idolised since you were a teenager. And, of course, if you say that you could easily get a smack across the face.

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