It’s always the most basic of ideas that enjoy stellar success. Think Facebook: tap into people’s vanity (i.e. ‘faces’) and voyeuristic tendencies (i.e. let them spy on exes with their current partners – and vice versa) and you have a multi-billion dollar, society-shifting sensation. Or Starbucks (let’s sell coffee!). Or wheels on suitcases. Or wheels on kid’s shoes (although allowing the Heely-heeled rascals to roll riot in Dubai’s hectic malls isn’t so inspired). Or Safer Driver – the company that drives you and your car home after you’ve been on the sauce somewhere (www.saferdriver.ae , available from certain hotels). Or, indeed, hosting parties where all guests simply have to wear hats – as is the idea behind international cult clubbinphenomenon, Hat Club.
‘It all started back in November 2003,’ remembers Dave Mitchell, the London-based founder and promoter for the club nights – which now enjoy 17 residencies in venues from across the UK to Shanghai and now Dubai, as well as hundreds of thousands of ‘members’.
‘We were putting on our own night so that a friend of ours could DJ. We couldn’t afford any big DJ names or promotion at the time, so we tried to think of different ways to attract the punters,’ he recalls.
Since Dan already had an open hat habit, he’d noticed the (both disagreeable and desired) attention his trusty trilby fetched whenever he wore it out and about round London’s clubs. Then came the lightbulb moment. ‘I suggested we get people to dress up a bit – but without the usual cheesy ‘fancy dress’ element. So we decided to just get people to wear hats.’
The inspiration took off (or rather got put on) instantly and hasn’t stopped since. Exactly 160 friends and cap fans rolled up to the first ever ‘hat club’ in London. And exactly 160,000 hat heads attended the most recent London night.
Perhaps the club’s catchphrase, ‘people don’t talk about hat club’ – is slightly misleading, then? ‘In the beginning, we tried to make it an underground sort of ‘club’ thing,’ Dan reveals. ‘One that required membership, with the hat acting as the membership card.’ Evidently the reverse psychology worked, and people talked and talked (and wrote) about the enigmatic society.’
Dan believes it’s all about eroding inhibitions. ‘The biggest strength about the night is the way the hats break down the whole clubby attitude. They seem to stop people getting so moody and stand-offish,’ he explains. ‘I’ll walk around the club and spot strangers commenting on each others’ hats. It’s as though, as soon as they put a hat on, a whole other person flourishes beneath the brim.’
But Dan’s quick to reiterate that Hat Club is most definitely not fancy dress. ‘A hat is a fashion accessory that you might already have in your wardrobe,’ Dan clarifies. ‘But I wouldn’t have a gorilla costume, for example, hanging in there.’
Where does that leave those who claim to ‘just not be hat people’? Or those who get particularly hot in hats? ‘People can come along without hats – we’re not going to stop people having fun,’ Dan relents. ‘What we normally do is take the friend that’s refusing to wear a hat inside on their own. We show them that every single other person in the club, including the bar staff and DJ, has got a hat on. Nine times out of 10, that person then realises they’re going to look stupid without one. We always have hats on standby for these types.’ The hotheaded don’t get such an easy ride. ‘It’s a club, people are going to get hot,’ Dan straight talks. ‘Although in the summer we do a lot of outdoor parties, when people come up with some amazing cooler alternatives.’
Indeed, Hat Club is all about using your head to come up with something different. At every party the person in the best hat wins champagne as well as a clubful of respect. Previous winners have included a man who wore a hollow bowler topped up with a fish tank, a man in complete Indian head dress and a girl who’d fashioned her new year’s hat with a mini-Big Ben, complete with flashing lights spelling out ‘happy new year’. A man who wore a breakfast tray with an entire breakfast on it – including orange juice – all crafted from polystyrene, also bagged the magnum. And the most popular look? Why, the one that started it all off – the trilby, of course.
Returning to Dubai for their second party, it seems we got the concept the first time around. ‘Considering the clubbing scene is still growing over there, I was impressed,’ Dan concedes. ‘Everyone got the idea, and there were some really creative looks going on.’
Of course we got it. The simple idea works because we’re all simple people who want as many reasons as possible to have fun, a party and a fresh look at each other.
Gorgeous presents Hat Club at The Apartment Thursday February 14, 9pm-3am, Dhs85, free for ladies before 12midnight. www.hat-club.com.