I am often asked where do all the ideas come from for my creations? For me it all starts with – where will this hat be worn? I am known for my racing hats but have many other collections so this question is always where it starts for me. Which collection am I thinking about, and where will this hat be seen? Is it for a wedding, garden party, luncheon, the streets of New York, a race track, a ball – you get the idea.
Once I have an image in my mind I do a sketch. I almost always use colored pencils and especially like Prismacolor.
A sketch is great for many reasons. It gives a visual representation of my idea for me to see and think about, and it is good for my staff as a starting point to create a sample. A sketch is especially good for a customer when we are collaborating on a special order. The sketch allows a customer to see the style, the flow, and the colors that are going to complement their outfit. My assistant designer can take one of my sketches and realize each step to a completed hat with a minimum of questions!
The next step is to choose the body and trims. If I am creating a straw body for example I will hand dye the straw to the color I desire and once it is dry it gets hand blocked on a wooden block. I love blocking. It is strenuous yet elegant, and I love seeing the form take shape.
This process takes skill and is time consuming especially if you are not adept at doing it. One thing to remember, the longer a process takes the more expensive the product is going to be. I always take this into consideration when designing a new piece.
Once the body is blocked, sized with a non-toxic sizing to give it some structure, and it is dry, it is then ready to be cut and wired, unless an additional width is to be added to create a wide derby style hat. (More about this in another blog). The brim is hand cut to the desired width and most hats will have a wire sewn into the edge all the way around the brim and trimmed.
This wire is what gives the hat a structured look and changes it from a floppy hat to a structured hat. The wire has a life and can be bent to create certain looks.
Once the hat has structure and is wired, a grosgrain with my label and drawstring is sewn into the inside of the crown.
The grosgrain acts as a comfortable surface against the skin and in hot weather absorbs perspiration. I actually pre-wash my grosgrain so in case you do perspire it will not shrink. I started putting a drawstring in my hats in 1994 to adjust for comfort. Most of my Women’s hats are blocked to a size of 22.5 inches which is a common size. When we do a special order, we will block the hat to the exact size of the customer’s head. I have many, many blocks! These are just a few.
Once this is completed the hat sits on a form and the trim process can begin. Before we talk about this process it is important to know that all my trims start from flat fabric and are cut and shaped to the desired look. We use a lot of silk and shantung and organza but also use many other fabrics and of course metal, wire, wood and the list goes on and on. We are fortunate to be in New York City in the fashion and the accessories districts.
There are not many fabric houses that will cut you a yard for a project and we are fortunate to have relationships with a few. With regard to accessories like beads and buckles and feathers and all the other items we use, we can hand pick everything right down to individual beads from these stores. It is kind of like an old hardware store where you pick up a wooden tray and hand pick the pieces and put them in small bags. Gotta love NYC! I hope this old-world shopping never goes away. I do have to say that sky rocketing Manhattan rents have closed many of these jewels since I opened my studio in 1994. It is also wonderful to be greeted by name when I or one of my staff members goes in to shop.
The trim process – depending on how detailed the trim is - length of time to trim, and cost of various trims all effect the cost. Trims are created and then hand sewn to the hat. This is where the hat starts to take on it’s personality and starts to comes alive!
If the hat is part of a collection as opposed to a one-of-a-kind design we shoot it with a model in a studio or on location. (More about this in an upcoming blog.) One single collection can contain as many as 80 hats and each hat has a name. Since each hat in the collection must theoretically be duplicated over and over it must look like the original design/photo. We make a spec sheet for each hat in the collection and add them to the binder with the photo. That means each part of the hat including the trim is measured and added to the spec sheet. When one of my staff members is tasked with making a hat they refer to the photo and the specs.
When the hat is completed it is tagged with my hang tag which has my logo, name of the hat, a brief description of the materials and the phrase that proudly says “Made in New York, USA”.