I made a wonderful faux-pas with one of this designer’s hats. It was at a W.I. meeting, in 1987, and I had been asked to show, and talk about some of our collection to the members . Coming to the end, I picked up one of my assorted hats. Holding it aloft for all to see, I said cheerfully ‘and this is one of my favourites because it is just so awful !’ After the expected polite titter, a voice from the front row said with deadly clarity “That was mine ! It was made for me in 1961 by the Danish milliner Aage Thaarup, to go with an outfit; and the children called it my bluebell hat”.
Of course, the whole room erupted into shrieks of laughter, and my face went rather red, but we were both fascinated to discover that she had disposed of it some ten years earlier, and I had bought it at a jumble sale in another town for ten pence, because of the label….which states ‘Aage Thaarup, by appointment to H. M. Queen Elizabeth II ‘ which I thought was of interest. ( This was back in 1977, and I little knew then that the collection would grow to almost a thousand items as it has today.)
As you can see, it is made of velvet, in a particularly mushy peas green. Flowerpot shaped, it has a double row of self coloured frills around the base, and a short ‘stalk’ on the top….and I still think it is awful !
Aage Thaarup was born in 1906, the second of four sons. His parents were not well off, and although he would have loved to have been a teacher, he had to go and get a job. He started in the hat department in a large store in Copenhagen, and stayed there for three years. From there, he progressed to learning more about the trade in first Paris, and then Berlin, before moving to London,where he tried selling hats as a commercial traveller; but it did not pay enough. Daringly, on a friend’s advice, he went to India, and en route to Bombay, sold a lot of hats to other passengers, and formed a solid client base.
In 1932, he returned to London, and found tiny premises close to Berkeley Square. His reputation grew with each hat he sold, and clients included many Society ladies, including Wallis Simpson. He had a real flair for selecting the right hat for the occasion, finding styles which really suited the wearer and complemented her outfit, although he could barely sew, and relied on others for the actual making.
Later, he was able to move to larger premises in Grosvenor Street, and as well as expanding there, he began exporting hats to exclusive New York stores like Lord and Taylor. By 1936 he was staging memorable fashion shows…at one of which, in New York, his surrealist ideas earned him the repution of ‘mad hatter’
Thaarup had a walking disability,and this combined with his Danish nationality, meant that he did not go into the armed forces during the war; instead he spent time designing some of the hats worn by parts of the armed forces, and keeping his business going. He was responsible for the wide-brim-with-veiling that became the signature look for H.M. Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother to be), and designed the hats to go with her Hartnell outfits worn on the tour of South Africa with the King (George VI) in 1947. Much ostrich feather was used, acknowledging the fact that South Africa was a major exporter of the product. Each hat and outfit were numbered, to make certain no mix-ups occurred !
He designed hats for Queen Elizabeth II from the 1950’s, and finally attained his Royal Warrant in 1961. One notable hat was the tricorne with osprey plume which she wore when riding sidesaddle at the Trooping of the Colour.
In 1957, inspired by the shape of the Royal Albert Hall, he created the ‘edifice’ shown in the accompanying drawing. I wonder if it has survived ?