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My Favourite Room

August 1, 2011

Ladies, throw away your antidepressants and don a hat,” Alison Waters says, flashing a smile so full of charisma it warms the hat pins stuck in a velvet pin-cushion resting beside her bed. “Changing your hat is like changing your personality, truly it is.” Waters is standing in her favourite room, the bedroom, of the South Yarra apartment where she lives with her husband John Hoerner. Boasting sprawling views across the city and the Yarra River, the apartment, like Waters, is filled with colour and life.

“It’s possible there’s 225 hats in my collection,” Waters says as she motions towards the many wooden heads, complete with hats of various guises, that line most surfaces of the room. “Possibly more.” Waters’ fascination with hats has been lifelong. Sent to boarding school in New Zealand at the age of seven, she used to stay with an aunt in Wellington on weekends.“She was incredibly exotic,” Waters says.

Having lived and worked in Europe where the hat culture was established, Waters’ aunt seldom left the house without wearing a hat. “Wellington was incredibly conservative. Every time she walked out into the street people would turn and stare at her,” Waters says. “That’s where I started my love affair with hats.” It’s continued ever since.

The founder of The Waters Group Publicity and Public Relations, a recipient of an anthropology degree, and an enthusiastic supporter of art, literature, and environmental issues, it comes as little surprise that this dynamic woman has recently turned her hand to writing a book about her great passion – hats. “I’m interested in hats because hats matter. Hats are a defi ning point of our civilisation,” Waters says. “I think, in today’s society, there’s a lot of attention focused on the face and the body, but in my eyes our prize is the head and the mind. “During the war in Europe, the thing that you could buy was hat trimmings.

In defiance of the occupation by the Germans, Parisian women would wear the most ridiculously elaborate hats on their bicycles, because they didn’t drive cars because they weren’t allowed petrol,” Waters explains. “And I love that. I love hats as a defiance.” In her bedroom the walls would burst with hats if they could. There are hats in drawers, hats in bags and hats on wooden heads, and each one has a story. Many are special. “When Vivien Leigh visited Australia with Sir Laurence Olivier at the time, in the ’40s or ’50s, they stayed in Sydney and she had to have a special hat, and that is the hat that she had for the cocktail party,” Waters says, gently lifting the hat from a wooden head.

It partially obscures a large portrait of celebrated Australian artist Jeffrey Makin by John Lennox. Waters’ other love, that of literature, is evident from the rows and rows of books that line the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in her bedroom. Hoerner’s enthusiasm for photography stares down from the shelves in the form of photography books and biographies of famed photographers. It’s just a matter of shifting a hat to get to the books.

author: Mary-Jane Duffy
source: Melbourne Weekly
photographs: Darren James
first published: august 18, 2010
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