Think outside the hat box

22nd October 2004 at 01:00
Hats and Gloves McManus Galleries, Dundee until November 14 tel 01382 432350

An exhibition of hats and gloves suggests a show that would be a bit of fun and mildly diverting but of little interest to schools except for art and design pupils. Not so.

Hats and Gloves looks gorgeous in the main gallery at the McManus in Dundee, but there is a lot going on under the surface. The display can be divided into three categories: creativity, social history and "Ooh, my mumgran used to have a hat like that".

The exhibition is the last in a trilogy on accessories organised by the City Gallery in Leicester. As with the two previous shows that travelled to Dundee (their only Scottish venue), it has a contemporary element, with hats and gloves produced by 22 top fashion designers, artists and milliners. These include David Shilling, Vivienne Westwood, Stephen Jones, Philip Treacy, Pip Hackett and Freddie Robins. This work is not so much about wearable accessories but ideas and creativity.

Ever wondered what happened to that glove you lost last winter? It may feature in Janet Farahar's work Found and Lost, an arrangement of more than a dozen single gloves and mittens rescued by the artist and displayed, complete with the muddy footprints of folk who trampled on them.

Peter Clark has made a witty hat and gloves-themed collages using old legal documents, maps and other bits of paper.

Serena Partridge, who recently completed a school residency in Ayrshire, has created a display of exquisite gloves that are so tiny you feel they must have been touched with a magic wand.

For anyone interested in fashion, Hats and Gloves is worth a visit if only to see the 15-minute video (on a continuous loop) that was made of Dai Rees's "No More Useless Beauty" collection at his 2002 London Fashion Week catwalk show. It shows models prancing in the designer's punks and mods inspired hats and frocks, while the soundtrack is of what Rees was saying backstage as the show was going on: "Hair and make-up over here! Here!"

After the catwalk show, a professor of fashion at a London art college (wearing ridiculously trendy glasses) tells the camera: "Unfortunately, in the fashion world, it's usually the horrible, prickly designers who succeed and not the nice, sensitive ones."

The rest of the exhibition is composed of the pick of Dundee City Council's own marvellous collections of historic hats and hat-related art. The social history section includes a Dundee Tivoli cinema attendant's cap, a United Nations peacekeeping force beret and a magnificent bicorn hat decorated with ostrich feathers. Oil portraits show people wearing a tam o' shanter, a lace cap and a sun hat, while evocative black and white photographs of Dundee in the 1960s feature, for instance, a teenage girl at work in a jute factory with her hair in huge rollers and a scarf tied over the lot.

A light-hearted look at hats is provided in the section that could have been entitled "My mumgran used to have a hat like that". Examples include a stunning felt halo hat from 1942 which was designed by a leading London milliner, bought in a Glasgow department store and worn to a classy wedding. There is also an awful nylon toque in three hideous shades of green, which was worn by a mother-of-the-bride in 1979 and donated by her.

Deedee Cuddihy A programme of talks and workshops accompanies the exhibition

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