Hats off: Milliner Stephen Jones salutes the late, great Anna Piaggi - Vogue Italia fashion editor and crowned queen of high Italian style

 

Anna and I got on really well. I mean, Anna loved hats! She became a friend first of all, but very swiftly became a client. Friendship and hats went along with each other.

When she had her exhibition, Fashion-ology, at the V&A in 2006, we were both interviewed about each other in separate rooms – it was like Mr & Mrs! They said to me, "How are you friends?" and I said, "You know, I love her dearly. But I have to say, if I didn't make hats I don't think we'd be such close friends". The funniest thing? She said exactly the same thing!

The hats came first, always. If I took hats to her apartment in Milan, she'd say hello first. Then she'd grab the box out of my hands and put the hat on. My friends don't have to be hat people, but boy does it help.

Anna was ruthlessly practical. Why did she like small hats? It meant that if she went to Paris for 10 days, she'd have 20 hats.

She wasn't precious about clothes. At the V&A exhibition, she wanted to have a whole series of doors at the back of the set to throw her clothes, her Poirets, all over the doors and over the floor. Or on an unmade bed. That very much wasn't the language of the V&A, but it was Anna's language. She almost pulled out 10 days before the show, because they wouldn't do that.

My favourite story about Anna comes from one of John Galliano's early shows for Dior [spring/summer 1999 ready-to-wear], a Constructivist collection. All the dresses were very fitted, very, very narrow. Anna went down to Dior to borrow something to wear. When she went inside, the press girls announced, "We're terribly sorry Mrs Piaggi, the clothes are very strictly cut this season. Nothing will fit you". Anna selected a red, white and black organza dress, ripped it off the hanger, tied it in an enormous bow around her neck and declared "See, it fits perfectly!".

 

During the exhibition of her hats that I curated in Milan last September, there was one hat that was stolen, the shoe hat that Bill Cunningham [one-time milliner and now legendary fashion photographer for the New York Times] made for her. When I told the photographer, Bardo Fabiani, that this had happened, he said, "Anna would be laughing! She'd be much happier that someone was wearing one of her hats than it sitting on a pole in a museum".

That's my thought, too. She'd love it. She wore them, she gave them life. Clothes aren't anything without being worn. That joy of wearing fashion she really loved.

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