- Fur hats are true to their roots, whatever you call them

Hats for men today have barely changed over the past fifty years - whether they be peaked baseball cap, ubiquitious ushankas or neatly trimmed fur trapper hats. Of course there are bowlers and toppers, fedoras and brown derby's, but these are to do with formality or a welcome bit of flamboyance. Yet apart from the beanie - itself an evolution of a 'caul' or cap from the fifteenth century, the styles that originated in fur or felted fur are now classics.

It shouldn't take ancient cockney rhyming slang to persuade you that hats have a history. Britain is awash with Tudor fever - this time, it is the arrival of the BBC's production of Wolf Hall, author  Hilary Mantel's story of Thomas Cromwell (Henry VIII's spinmaster.) Anything to do with the Tudors is like catmint to most of the British, particularly Henry VIII.  And hats are everywhere in the production - just as they were in the sixteenth century, when Henry VIII passed an ordinance that the working man was to wear woollen, or cloth caps, rather than the 'bonnets' or the higher orders, and when no man went without a head-covering - even in church.

Yet hats did not only indicate status, they also were subject to customisation, flamboyance and personal expression. And many were in fur - particularly in Europe, the Holy Roman Empire, Scandinavia and, of course, Russia. And while these hats had their own histories, some going back over a hundred years, they are also the basis for our own concept of what a fur hat might and should be. Then, as now, the grandest were sable; then, as now, a hat with earflaps and adjustable crown was worn in freezing climes.  I have excluded beaver felt hats in this, because, that, as they say, is another story.

In this cover of the first issue of Revillon’s magazine La Fourrure, September 1869, the ‘tartar’ tradesman on the right is in traditional Russian sable hat with peaked crown.

Marlene Dietrich in mink busby's Catherine the Great in The Scarlet Empress, 1934, illustration by Mark Karl Hughes.

Marlene Dietrich in a still from Josef von Sternberg’s Scarlet Empress, in a mink busby, costume design by Travis Banton. Photography Don English, John Kobal Foundation

Marlene Dietrich wears fox cape by Zukor's Novelty Fur Company 1934.

Adolph Zukor, founder of Paramount Pictures made his fortune as a furrier, founding Zukor's Novelty Fur Company in the American mid-west before investing in Famous Player’s Lasky in 1912. Furs therefore played a prominent role in Paramount’s films, promoting furs as the ultimate in luxury and glamour.

Binx Walton, in mink hat and veil by Noel Stewart, photgraphed by Jamie Morgan, styled by Robbie Spencer for Dazed and Confused, Summer 2014. This image owes so much to Holbein and the clarity of his and other Northern European Renaissance artist – in which symbolism is rife and no men appear without a hat.

Hans Holbein, Portrait of Georg Gieze, Gieze was a Hanse merchant from Danzig, then in London working at the Steelyard, 1532. Poised as was the convention then for the man to set on the left of a portrait, Holbein’s marvelous George Geize bears an uncanny similarity to Jamie Morgan’s fashion photograph. Unusually for Holbein, who revelled in painting textures, there is no fur here. He wears the flat cap of the merchant, or certainly by this time, non-noble orders.

Joanne Whalley as Queen Katherine of Aragon in BBC 2s adaptation of ‘Wolf Hall’ by Milary Mantel. Costumes by Joanna Eatwell. She is wearing a recreation of the English hood, rather like the gables in contemporary English architecture. Completely overdone it on the rus – they would have been much more subtle and less ropey for the Queen of England at that time – sable, marten, fox, lynx, ermine and the occasional English mink.

Hans Holbein, Lady with Squirrel and a Starling, c.1525-6. Thought to be Anne Lovell, the sitter is wearing a style of headdress called a ‘Lettice cap’, made specifically from the fur of some poor mite whose fur was white. It was therefore not only less expensive than ermine, but people were not breaking sumptuary laws which invariably ruled that only the king and certain nobles were allowed to wear it. This cap was shaped like an English hood, with a ‘gable’ construction and the front border allowed for hair to be revealed. Quite informal, therefore, but the bottom curved forwards, covering the ears and clamping the cap on at the jawline. It was minimal in the extreme, with no fastening and no ‘hood’.

Let it snow .... ermine cloche, ermine cape, the height of chic 96 years ago.
Immaculate art deco illustration by the great George Lepape, Vogue, January 15th, 1919

David Bailey, Vogue 1965
Snow-white mink hood by Otto Lucas. Not much change from Vogue 1919 – just more bling.

The Limbourg Brothers, Les Petites Heures du Duc de Berri, 1410. The duke sets out on a pilgrimage , dressed in  a mantle lined with sable and a sable hat, as befits his status. This hat has a large brim, in three parts, and a soft crown. The brim could be worn up or down and was often decorated with badges and other jewellery. Sable was the grandest of furs as it was only available from Russia, its availability strictly controlled.

Joanna Eatwell, costume designer, Wolf Hall, starring Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, below left.. "For me, the starting point is researching every character, and I look at all available portraiture," she says. "You have your Holbeins and so on and then you start working out how the garments are constructed, becauseunless you work out how they are put together, it will never look like that," she says, stabbing a finger at a cut-out of Holbein's famous portrait of Thomas Cromwell (Independent, Friday 16 January 2015.)

Drawing on right by Jean Clouet a clear example of basic hat shape; Rylance is in a woollen bonnet,  on the right, the Milan bonnet.

Altdorfer, Man in Sable Milan bonnet. This is fitted over a scuffiotto or caul and worn at an angle, 1517. The hat is an evolution of the one worn by the Duc de Berri and is the forerunner of the  Russian ushanka,. This however is  luxurious and decorative rather designed with warmth as a priority.

Like Lord Byron, Vladimir Putin is supposed to be ‘Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know,’ but any similarity to the great Romantic poet ends there. Sable ushanka,, here to demonstrate how good the artists’ representations of sable is in this series of images.

Now this is a Trapper hat: Kate Moss strikes a pose, Steven Klein, US Bazaar, November 1993.

The trapper hat, based on the early styles of the15th and 16th centuries are  as his ‘n’ hers as blue jeans and  as ubiquitious in the streetstyle of New York, Copenhagen and London. This, in fur, is by acclaimed  New York  milliner Albertus Swanepoel, A/W 2014, www.albertusswanepoel.com

Albertus  Swanepoel’s blocked beaver felt trapper with sheared mink ear flaps. for A/W  2014, www.albertusswanepoel.com

Hugo van der Goes, The Adoration of the Kings. The first of the Magi is kneeling before the baby Christ. His sable-edged hat with jewels lies to his right. In the presence of a king, traditionally men present, bar clergy, would have to be hatless as a mark of respect.

Sable, gold, silver and precious stones: headwear as ultimate symbol of power.
The Cap of Monomachus, 13C or 14C Kremlin Museum Collections. A far less valuable version is worn by the Russian trader, seated on the right hand side of the title page of Revillon’s magazine La Fourrure.

And here we are. The Duchess of Cambridge in a wild Russian sable hat; traditional in shape, traditional in meaning in this context. For centuries, sable has been the preserve of monarchy. Fashion has nothing to do with it. It is one of the greatest examples of ‘fixed’ fashion in cultural history.

Jean Paul Gaultier up to his tricks with cross-dressing again! Veruschka wearing the circular shtreimel  with fur instead of the traditional ringlets, from his A/W 1993 collection. Photograph by by Steven Meisel, Vogue Italy, November 1993. So this is a Prussian supermodel from the 1960s wearing  male traditional Shabbat headwear – a shtreimel which would normall by worn by married men over a kippah.  These hats would traditionally have been of sable; this is Gaultier at his fur-loving, rule-breaking best.

Elsa Schiaparelli in a fabulous broad-brimmed, crownless hat, an adaptation of the one above and similar to the kind worn by Venetian women in the 16th century to bleach their hair in the sun. She is feeding Gourou Gourou, her Lhasa Apso.

Feather in my hat:1659, Christopher Paudiss. Portrait of a Young Man in a Fur Hat. The style is hugely influenced by Rembrandt; this hat is possibly fancy dress; it is certain that this has the same ‘dressing up’ quality of many of Rembrant’s portraits. An exotic hat, or an old one was an easy way to reference other histories and cultures.

1744 Jean Etienne Liotard, self potrait in Turkish dress, with fox hat.

Elsa Schiaparelli by Erwin Blumenfeld, Paris. 1938. The designer wears a fox hat from her famous ‘Circus’ collection. Her work with fur was iconoclastic and fun, usually integrated into the collections and treated like just another fabric.  Her interest in ‘oriental’ cultures comes through in this revamping of a traditional Turkish style.

‘VENI, VIDE, VICI’  - Now THIS is Fashion: Richard Avedon, ‘The Fur Caravan’, shot in Japan  in the mid-1960s.
Verushka in cape, with toque by Halton, styled by Vreeland, Vogue 16th October 1966.

Steppes Style: looking across to Siberia, Verushka in Japan, Vogue, 1966, by Avedon, fashion editor Diana Vreeland. Chinchilla toque and cape. Furs by Emeric Partos, and above image too.

Dietrich in toque and furs by Mark Karl Hughes.

Mrs Miniver

‘Miniver’ has all the gorgeous allusions to the age of chivalry, the medieval past and the courts of the Plantagenets and Valois. Fur in fashion repeats itself over and over again, from the white fox lining the robes of ‘Salome’ in the Byzantine Ravenna Mosaics to the mink that trimmed the robes of Henry VIII.

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