Fashion is about communication and it reflects cultures, iconic milliner Philip Treacy tells Shonali Muthalaly during his recent visit to the country

Philip Treacy knows how to get attention. His gravity-defying, wildly inventive and unabashedly eccentric designs have made him the most talked about milliner in the world. He creates headgear for an impressively diverse clientele: From the British royal family to style icons such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Victoria Beckham and Lady Gaga.

It’s a world away from his roots: One of seven brothers, he was born in the Irish village of Ahascragh, County Galway. He started sewing at the age of six, creating clothes for his only sister’s dolls. In 1985, he moved to Dublin to study fashion, after which he went to the Royal College of Art in London. Discovered and promoted by style editor of Tatler, Isabella Blow, Treacy went on to design hats for Alexander McQueen, Givenchy and Valentino, among others.

He was recently in India for the British Polo Day. A fashion show featuring his hats, as well as collections by Beulah London and Hackett London, kicked off the celebrations at The Royal Polo Gala, Taj Lands End, Mumbai.

There’s been a lot of India-inspired luxury on the catwalks lately: Cavalli, Chanel, Louboutin. Will we be seeing India-inspired Treacy designs next?

Of course! Every culture has a history of hats and dresses. India is at the forefront of headgear with the turban. India may inspire me to design a collection next year. I believe that hats can be equally flattering on men as well as women.

The past weekend in India was all about Indian royalty. You’ve worked with the British royal family. Do you see any parallels when it comes to fashion?

Royalty have a different currency to celebrities. Royalties have a different magic, and even India has a very royal, regal culture. Royal India is so colourful and exotic.

In an age of ‘smart casuals’ do dramatic hats and delicate fascinators have a future off the ramp?

Of course! People have decorated their heads since the beginning of time and it would be strange if Indian culture considered hats any different considering…(he points to the men in turbans).

Do you worry about the fact that your designs can be challenging to wear?

No, I’m in a very exciting position; I have an opportunity to influence how people see hats. Fashion is about change. I have a diverse clientele from Camilla (Parker-Bowles) to Lady Gaga. Hats are all about a desire to look your best. The hat is used as armour.

For the general public, the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton was their first introduction to Philip Treacy — 36 of your designs made a debut there. How challenging was it to come up with that many unique designs? Were you upset about the reaction to Princess Beatrice’s hat, which was called — among other things — a lavatory seat?

I set out to make a hat with a boat as a design for catwalk shows from Armani to Valentino. The royal wedding was for real people and one of the most wonderful experiences of all. No, I wasn’t upset. The abnormal can look normal.

At the opening of your Spring collection 2013, Lady Gaga introduced you as the ‘greatest milliner in the world.’ What is it about your work that makes it stand out?

Everybody has a head and a potential to wear a hat. They give you pleasure and there is nothing harmful. I love hats.

Your designs have been described as eccentric, futuristic, radical... Where do the ideas come from?

The ideas come from cultures inspired by the personality of the wearer. I help them to understand how they might look better. There is a difference in a hat made for Madonna to one made for Lady Gaga and from celebs to movie stars. I make hats for anybody who wants to look good… Fashion is a way of communication, it communicates to any culture because everybody is trying to look the best they can. A hat is cheaper than cosmetic surgery and less painful!

Has art inspired your work? And would you call your work art?

I’m trying to make hats. I’m not trying to make art!

Contemporary fashion is influenced most by rebellious style icons. Think Alexander McQueen, Lady Gaga and you. Why? Are people tired of playing safe?

It’s difficult to answer that. Fashion has always been centered around peacocks in the world and we need these peacocks. We like to see what Lady Gaga is wearing. Our clothing is our canvas, it’s how we display ourselves.

So how does a woman find her perfect hat?

They need to come and see me and get some good advice. Women need a little more help with hats; it is the 21st Century after all!