In London‘s famed Trafalgar Square, the pigeons are pecking, tourists are clicking, and atop Nelson’s column, the Admiral is wearing a couture hat. Lord Nelson’s new accessory — a 5-foot Union Jack-themed bicorn — is just one of 21 adorning the heads of statues across central London.
The 4-day project, entitled Hatwalk, is the brainchild of London mayor Boris Johnson. It’s part of a group of works, including a life-size inflatable Stonehenge, he’s dreamed up to encourage Londoners and visitors to “look at and experience the city in a different way.” Hatwalk was curated by celebrity milliners Philip Treacy (the man responsible for Princess Beatrice’s “pretzel” hat at the royal wedding) and Stephen Jones, best known for his work with Versace and Jean-Paul Gaultier. Treacy and Jones built hats for the project and rounded up other British milliners to join in. The other London statues to receive a fancy chapeau include Winston Churchill, Sir Arthur Sullivan, notorious dandy Beau Brummell and anti-slavery campaigner Charles James Fox, who’s swapped pigeon poo for a big bonnet by milliner Pip Hackett.
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Lord Nelson’s hat, which was hoisted 169 feet in the air with a crane and plonked into place in the dead of night (to preserve the surprise) was designed by the same firm, Lock & Co., that created his headgear 200 years ago. With a total of six hats on display in the vicinity of Trafalgar Square, the area is the epicenter of Mayor Boris’ inventive little prank.
Some in the square had come especially to look at the hats and approved of the project. Alan and Christina Holmes, a middle-aged couple from Lincolnshire who are in London to watch the Olympic ladies’ hockey, plan to see all the hats dotted across the city. They have stopped to take a picture of Sir Charles Napier, a Victorian sea captain, wearing a translucent creation meant to represent his galleon tossed on the high seas. Mr. Holmes says the project is “typical” of Mayor Johnson’s style. “He’s not frightened to do something outlandish.”
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Lord Nelson’s patriotic hat also seems to meet with approval, with a patrolling policeman saying that that he would swap it with his helmet. “He has a thing for three corner hats,” explains a fellow officer. A visitor decked out in head-to-toe Olympic garb, Londoner Mary Oatey, says she prefers Nelson’s gear because it features the Olympic torch.
Others, however, are not as impressed by the millinery offerings. A group of four young Danish men visiting London for the Games describe Philip Treacy’s iridescent disc on Sir Henry Havelock’s head as “rubbish.” “It looks like a satellite dish,” says Thomas Vestergaard.
A group of visiting American evangelists also have reservations about the project. “I think it’s tacky,” says Texan Dorothy Boyett, who is visiting London with fellow believers to preach in the street during the Olympics. “It looks like something some college students did.” Boyett had been ministering to the crowd through a loudspeaker earlier in the day and had taken a break to look at the hats. “It doesn’t look dignified,” she says. “It would look much better if Princess Beatrice or Eugenie were to wear them.”