Nasir Mazhar and his Semi-Religious Hat Experience

Dazed speaks to the hat designer, who has had time to reflect after his awe-inpsiring presentation at the House of Barnabus last week during London Fashion Week.

Photography by Patrick Lindblom Text by David Hellqvist

Is that really a hat? And is it art or fashion? Well, perhaps all of them. After all, this is Nasir Mazhar and with him you never know. The 26-year-old milliner from Stoke Newington just completed his second London Fashion Week presentation after going from Off to On schedule in just one season. While at it, Mazhar also upgraded venue from the Shoreditch staple Hoxton Bar & Kitchen to the mysteriously beautiful chapel at Soho’s House of Barnabas.

Eight creations were presented to the sound of Gregorian opera, lit up by hundreds of candles. The effect was so eerie that, paired with Mazhar’s semi-religious work, most people left shivering, thinking they had just experienced something truly larger-than-life. It’s now a few days later, and Nasir has had time to reflect on his presentation. It turns out that what’s on his mind today is just a headache, the result of post-show celebrations. Between painkillers, Nasir tries to explain himself to David Hellqvist…

Congratulations on a successful and beautiful presentation. What was the main theme behind it?
I started with no direct references or concept. At first it was just a collection of random pieces. That’s how I wanted it, all about craftsmanship.

Was there no red thread at all?
Well, I soon discovered that just having random pieces left it in a bit of a mess so we started developing characters to go with each piece.

What were they?
There were one God and one Goddess - the boy and girl in white masks. The girl in the golden jewellery piece that spun around her head was sort of their daughter – an oracle, a special child with magical powers. And they boy in cap was the son, even though the cap as such didn’t really fit in with the other pieces.

What kind of materials did you use?
We used leather, brass and resin.

The collection seemed religious and almost based around mythology?
Yes, I’m very interested in history, mythology and other cultural phenomena, like national dresses. Maybe that’s why my installations have a museum-like feeling to them.

The venue worked very well with the presentation.
Yeah, initially we were supposed to be in another room in the House of Barnabas but when I saw the chapel I knew it was perfect.

Have you worked with other designers as well in the past?
I’ve collaborated with Gareth Pugh, House of Holland and Richard Nicoll. I love working with other people because someone else has to come up with the concept and I can just create. And it’s not like people just come and asks for things – they ask for my input and let me be a part of the creative process.

You used to work as a hair stylist at Vidal Sassoon. Was that experience helpful for what you do now?
It completely helped. I was looking at and working with heads for 10 years. I know a lot more about shapes, proportions and the weight of heads because of that. The knowledge is embedded in me; it’s just there!

How did you go from hair stylist to milliner?
I used to do elaborate hairdos but when it got too difficult I started using wire and it just developed from there. There is so much material to use when doing hats so I thought ‘why bother with hair’ - it has so many limitations while there are endless possibilities with hats.

And you spent two years working with theatrical hatter Mark Wheeler. How was that?

Mark is incredible, very skilled. I started working with him on Kylie’s Showgirl tour and that’s how I learnt my craftsmanship. We did lots of theatre shows and some contemporary dance at the Rambert Dance Company, but it was mostly ballet.

Are there any other contemporary hatters you admire?
You can’t look at the showpieces from Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy and not think they’re amazing. I love Stephen’s work with Galliano and Comme des Garcons.

Have you been to the V&A exhibition he has curated?
Not yet. I need to go, I have two hats in there – can’t wait!

You did the hat Madonna wore on the cover of Dazed & Confused and the hat Casey Spooner wears on the new Fischerspooner album artwork!
Yeah, it was wonderfully weird to work with Madonna. I kept thinking ‘as if she’s going to wear my hat’. She did wear it, but only half of it, though! The Fischerspooner hat is incredible – it’s more of a sculpture than a hat!

What do you reckon about the state of hats today?
The majority of hats today are really naff. I wouldn’t touch most of the ready-to-wear ones. Hats used to be worn for functionality and to be practical, now they’re too kitsch.

Would you consider doing a wearable hat collection?
Yes, it would be a very simple one in that case, like baseball caps. I would look at what people actually wear today and bring that forward. I don’t want to make crazy hats that no one wears.

What about the collection you just showed?
That was about pure creativity, nothing else.

Would you like to branch into clothes?
If I did it would be sportswear, stuff that people can and wants to wear. Nothing ridiculously expensive – I would want my sportswear to be sold in JD Sports! I just think it must be so depressing to make a collection that no one can afford to buy. I want to reach the masses, that would be fulfilling to me.

Do you wear a hat yourself?
I wear a baseball cap everyday and if I leave the house without one, I go back and get it!

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