British millinery designer working in New York
Born: Patricia Gilbert in Maidenhead, England, 11 October 1947. Education: Trained in millinery at Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, 1972. Family: Married Reginald Underwood, 1967 (divorced, 1976); married Jonathan Moynihan, 1980; children: Vivecca. Career: Clerk/typist at Buckingham Palace, 1966-67; secretary, United Artists, New York, 1968-69; manufactured hats with Lipp Holmfeld (Hats by Lipp), 1973-75; president/designer in own company Patricia Underwood, New York, 1976; launched Patricia Under-wood Knit Collection, 1983; opened in-store shop in Saks Fifth Avenue; Patricia Underwood Too line of women's ready-to-wear introduced, 1990; featured collections in Vogue, has designed for Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Carolyne Roehm, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, and others. Exhibitions: Hats, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1993. Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics award, 1982; Council of Fashion Designers of America award, 1983, American Accessories Achievement award, 1992. Address: 242 West 36th Street, New York, NY 10018, U.S.A.
Khornak, Lucille, Fashion 2001, New York, 1982.
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Smith, R., and Smolan, L., The Hat Book, New York, 1993.
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Meadus, Amanda, "Major Gripe: The Minimalist Wave," in WWD,
14 February 1994.
Gault, Ylonda, "A Crowning Achievement in Hats: Designer Builds Heady Reputation with Stylish Toques in Hatless World," in Crain's New York Business, 18 January 1999.
Karl, John, "Mad About Hats," in Sarasota Herald Tribune (Saradota, Florida), 18 April 2000.
I design hats which complement clothing, flatter the wearer, and rely on shape and proportion rather than ornamental trim to achieve this effect. My designs are characterized by clean, elegant lines that enhance a silhouette and complete a sophisticated look. A simplicity of design avoids the pitfalls of a hat becoming a distraction on a wearer. I create hats in a variety of materials since there are also the practical weather-related aspects to hat wearing. A hat must be comfortable and easy to wear; this is achieved by using high quality, malleable materials and handcrafted workmanship.
My inspiration for a collection comes from my travels, art, and the international world of fashion. Beautifully tailored clothing, innovative uses of materials and application of finishing details are constant sources of new ideas. Collaborations with talented designers including Bill Blass, Marc Jacobs, the late Perry Ellis, and many others, are a tremendous source of inspiration for me. I am always intrigued by color and certain tones that flatter a complexion to enhance beauty.
We are lucky today that one may choose to wear a hat or not, unlike 50 years ago when a hat was considered a necessity of good grooming. Now hat wearing has become a matter of personal style and a way of stimulating response… Hats create amazing possibilities.
The outstanding characteristic of millinery designer Patricia Under-wood's hats is they are, for the most part, completely unadorned. There are no added trimmings, no flowers, ribbons, or even hatbands on her pieces. The shape and the materials are the statement, they provide all the texture and color she feels is necessary. Underwood works with a variety of traditional millinery materials; various straw braids, fur felts, real fur, and knitted yarns, in addition to more unusual materials such as fake furs and her signature sewn strips of leather and suede.
Underwood's hats are designed specifically to work with clothing and to complement it. She strives to avoid overwhelming the wearer, and to avoid crossing the fine line between the flattering and the absurd in millinery. She is described by Colin McDowell in Hats: Status Style, Glamour (1992) as, "Probably the most skilful of the middle-market milliners…Underwood's approach is entirely practical. Her paramount concern is how the hats will relate to clothing." Underwood herself explains, "Why bother to have a hat…if it doesn't go with the clothes?"
Underwood's strength lies in transforming traditional hat shapes and types and creating new interpretations of these classic forms. The change may be made by the use of an unexpected material, or by her subtle manipulation of the form, giving a familiar shape an entirely new look. A cowboy hat, for example, for her 1991 collection was made of fine straw braid, the brim slightly wider than normal, the curve of the brim more subtle, the curl of the edge was slightly exaggerated. The overall effect of the hat was more feminine and sophisticated than a cowboy hat has ever been before. A 1920s-style cloche from the same year was transformed in a similar manner—the crown was squared and the brim became a small visor off the front; the feminine cloche was given a sportier character, suggesting a modern baseball cap. Other familiar hat types she has reworked include boaters, nun's coifs, and the wide-brimmed picture hat.
By changing the expected relationships between the elements of the hat, the crown, and the brim, Underwood creates modern versions of virtually any forms. Her aesthetic is in concert with the minimalist fashions of designers such as Giorgio Armani and Calvin Klein; she takes the forms we are familiar with and eliminates detail until they are reduced to their essential shape.
In response to the frequent pronouncements that "hats are back" as mandatory fashion accessories, Underwood maintains that the hat will not return as a fashion staple, but will continue to exist as an optional accessory. The art of the milliner will therefore survive in modern fashion. Underwood's inspiration is derived from the arts, her travels, and historical fashion. Her palette for the fall-winter 1994 collection was inspired by the work of the painter Modigliani. In general, her preferred colors are muted, natural tones.
In the middle 1990s she added coordinating scarves, shawls, and gloves to her collection. Her work is mostly ready-to-wear, available through department and specialty stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman, and has her own in-store boutique in the latter. Additionally, Underwood continues to do custom work for a select clientéle and has expanded her horizons into Europe and Japan.
Besides her own collections, Underwood has collaborated with many of the top American fashion designers who appreciate her purity of form. Upscale retailers appreciate Underwood's creations as well. Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue, a longtime admirer of Underwood told Crain's New York Business (19 January 1999), "She is very successful because she has a complete understanding of the couture customer. She has a great sense of proportion, keen color sensibility, and the style is pure, never ornamental."
—Melinda L. Watt;
updated by Nelly Rhodes