Archive for the ‘Perspectives’ Category

The Life of a Dying Art
July 21, 2011

“You’re a hat maker? Now, that’s a dying art!” people say to me on occasion when we meet. There is a rich history of art forms dying as culture changes and today use of the term dying art is rampant, attached to an odd array of subjects from proofreading to stir fry, stenography, customer service, penmanship, kimono making, hanger flying, ballet, piano tuning, cursive and high school dissection.

The overuse of this sexy term does not dilute the powerful significance that art continues to hold, and though presently we are collectively experiencing expansive change, the death of various arts should not be feared or quickly assumed.

Today any finely expressed skill is often said to be art.  Art has become the catchall term for the best quality of work, referring to almost anything done with intention to do it well and with attention to detail and flow.  Placing a myriad of professional work on the same linguistic playing field as monumental paintings or sculptures indicates that artistic inclinations are common and seek various outlets.

Knowledge of 30,000 year-old Paleolithic cave paintings in France shines light to Homo sapiens’ longstanding drive to create art in the quest to bring greater significance to life. Art taps into an unspoken language and is a translation of the unseen to the seen.  No matter how many things are called art, it will always maintain a shimmer of mystery around it.  It holds an elusive yearning, an attunement to the sacred.  We talk about dying arts, not dead art because while form is tenuous, art is immortal.

There must be a reason for an art form to exist.  With the current rate of change in how people are working, communicating and spending their time, many modes of human expression are dramatically shifting.  If conveying one’s art, whatever it may be, is part of living a meaningful life then all the hype around dying arts sounds either like clamorous fear of change or a fascination with morbidity.  A dying civilization obsessed with death.

One look around the San Francisco Bay Area and you clearly see, hat making is not dying but experiencing a renaissance.  If you, like me, are intrigued with old arts, why not take a hat blocking workshop or visit the amazing upcoming local hat designer market.  Your experience of creativity will inspire.

To find out more visit O’Lover Hats website.


The Bowler Comes Back
November 22, 2010

The bowler began as an English hat style, originating back 160 years ago.  Its popularity spread across continents and class till it could be said that it was infused into the subconscious of Western culture.  The bowler broke the mold of what hats were prior to its entrance.  It is no surprise that, as hats are coming back into prominence, it is also enjoying renewed popularity.

Designed by Lock’s of St. James Street in 1850 for Sir Thomas William Coke, this was the first hat to have a hard top, a smart function for its commissioner was a game warden and would frequently go horse riding.   At first it was called the coke hat, yet as it grew in popularity with the London city gents, it took on the name bowler, since the design was in fact being produced by the Bowler family of Southwark.  Soon the bowler was offered in flexible styles as well, bridging a gap between the soft felt styles of the lower classes and the stiffer top hat styles of the upper classes.  The bowler was the first hat to be mass produced, making it more affordable and popular with the middle class.  It enjoyed many decades of prominence in men’s fashion, until it was surpassed by the fedora in the 1920s.

I have heard many people disagree on what is considered a derby and what is a bowler, usually mentioning something to do with differing shapes and sizes.  They are, however, essentially the same hat.  The bowler took on various dimensions at different times, and was called a derby when it came to America.  The derby was worn popularly by all classes of American tradesmen and artisans.

Hats typically denoted rank in society, but the bowler was the first hat worn across class and did not signify one particular mode of business.  Interestingly, it was one of the few hats chosen by stage and vaudeville entertainers, perhaps because it had become an icon of industrialization and power.  Charlie Chaplin most famously employed it to express the poor man’s woes.  Today, it is commonly seen as a comedic hat due to this legacy, yet its popularity with the creative genre of steampunk has now given this style a firm heading in the arts world as well.

The extent to which this hat seeped into the fabric of society is seen in Rene Magritte’s use of it as an cultural emblem in his surrealist paintings.

You can find a nice version of a beaver felt bowler in O’Lover Hats’ Made to Order Fall/Winter line.

Hats that Sing in the Rain
January 19, 2010

It will be wet, wet, wet here on the California Coast these next couple of weeks.  Remember that not all hats are rain hats and wet weather can destroy your favorite hat if this is the case.  Hats that hold up to the rain are made from beaver fur felt, wool felt, thick weather-treated leather or vinyl.  If your hat is not made from one of these materials, you can maintain the shape, the size and the appearance of your hat by taking an umbrella out with you as you puddle dive.

If you get stuck in the rain in a felt or fabric hat that does not take well to the wet, pat it dry with a cloth as soon as you can, removing all excess dampness.  If your hat has a flat brim, you can press it with a medium-hot iron using a thin piece of cotton in between so the material does not get damaged from the direct heat of the metal.  This will help flatten out a brim that has become wavy from too much moisture in the past.

If you are caught by a surprise storm and your hat gets soaked, remember if it dries too quickly the hat can shrink.  A good tip is to put it back on your head before it dries completely, so it dries to the shape of your noggin and fits you proper again.  It is no fun to put on a hat that used to bring you joy, only to find that now it gives you a headache. And as a person who wears hats, you like to feel good.  Now let’s go singing and dancing in the rain.

A New Year For Could
January 15, 2010

As each new year begins I stretch out and take stock of what inspired me most about the previous year and how I can do more of that in the year to come.  Two questions come up again and again in this conversation that in the past seemed to oppose each other.  What must I do to maintain my happiness as a productive, contributing artist?  What must I do to maintain my business?

This balancing act can more broadly be expressed as the desire to do the work one wants versus the understanding that there are things that accompany these efforts that might not be as interesting or fulfilling, but that seem necessary to connect one’s work to the world without and generate income.

One tremendous gain I had last year was realizing that when I use the word “should” in mind or conversation, I take away my free will, the source of creative juiciness.  When I replace the word should with could, I find that the things I do to grow and develop the business of my creative work become more enticing as I allow myself a choice in the matter.  Using the thought and phrase, “I could do this or I could not do this” allows me to slow down and saunter along in wonder, What do I really want and how do I go about creating this?  Is this thing I believe I must do really necessary?  Why do I believe it is necessary?  What else could I do to achieve a similar result that might be more fun or more in line with who I am in this process?

At times when I am faced with things I must do it is wonderful to remember, even in these instances of “have to” there is usually an option.  Oftentimes reframing a “must do” as a choice involves changing my perspective on the action or task in front of me, to remember how it is I brought myself to this place and what the task accomplishes in regards to my life’s dreams and desires.  As I go through the motions, if I focus on why, in the end, this “must do” piece of work is meaningful, then I open up to alternatives in execution that can make it more of a creative act.  Perhaps there is something stylistically that can be done that more rightly reflects my nature.  I have not been stymied yet using this approach.

What do you really want for your creative development this year?  What could you do to activate this?  Replace the word should with could to release your free will and open up to the realm of possibility.  Sometimes the results you seek can be achieved in ways you didn’t anticipate.

The Value of Price
October 10, 2009

In a conversation with a friend last night, I was told that the price point of my hats made it so she was unable to afford one, though she dearly wanted to own many of them.  She went on to commend me on how great it was that I valued myself enough to charge the prices I do. The truth is that my pricing is a mathematical formula that takes into account what is necessary to create the product (cost of labor, cost of materials) and the cost of bringing this product to you.  Beyond this, the product produced is valuable to our community on multiple points.

Amidst a market inundated with stylish and functional hats that cost between $15 and $65, it might seem like a statement of self worth for a hatter or milliner to charge $150, $250 or $850 for a hat. Though I have developed more self worth to feel it is appropriate to charge prices that are much higher than the mainstream, this is simply what it costs to create this style of hand blocked, high quality straw and fur felt hats.

A product’s price whether it is a new hat or a television, must include some amount to contribute to what is necessary to keep a business running, including items like water, electricity, telecommunications, marketing efforts, repairs and of course, rent.   When you buy something the price reflects not only what is costs to have it made but also must contribute funds to what it costs to operate on a day-to-day basis, while also allowing a small amount to let the business grow, whether that means paying off the inevitable debts incurred getting started or putting money towards purchasing new equipment.

The value of the handcrafting is layered.  We artisans use better materials and take more time to produce our functional objects than those businesses whose production is geared towards a mass market where volume and high profit margins reign.  This country’s economy sways precariously on the stilts of less costly foreign labor. Our landfills compound in size with the waste of cheaply made items that fall apart after a few months.  If loved and cared for by its owner, a well made hat will last through your lifetime and perhaps beyond, becoming representative of your personality and identity to those in your family who might not ever know you.

Like other artisans, my work is an expression of my joy.  Holding a high regard for quality and aesthetics, we artisans aim to put more beauty and distinction into your lives. We see it as our role to share a unique vision of how to create a usable object, so that your senses become refreshed when you encounter our handiwork.  And at the same time the price is simply what it takes for us to be present and continue to bring you something just different enough to make you feel your individuality through your affinities.

Hatmaker Showcase in San Francisco Represents the Change of Guard
August 17, 2009


The bay area has long been a place for expressive offbeat fashion, distinct from the temperament of LA and New York.  Despite lacking a pivotal presence in the industry, the bay area produces a strong indie designer scene emanating from the artistic personalities that thrive in our metropolis.  Within this milieu lies a smaller group of apparel makers, milliners and hatters.  With the cool fog and bright sun, the bay area climate allows optimal conditions for one of the most functional accessories, one that has been used across time and culture for protection from the elements and denotation of status, cultural affiliation and sexuality.  It is the ability for hats to make a statement of personality that makes them all the more attractive to the original thinkers found aplenty in this area rich in counter culture and the arts.

Within the past few years, urban centers have been witnessing the resurgence in popularity of fashionable hats, propelled by the multifaceted group of Hatmakers who profess their passion for hats in growing numbers.  One notable characteristic of this trend is the amount of young people coming into the trade while simultaneously more established hat companies either go out of business or sell to larger retailers.  We are witnessing a changing of the guard. 

This is evident locally in the growth of Goorin Brothers, who recently opened two new hat shops in downtown San Francisco and on Haight Street, adding to their location in North Beach.  Goorin Brothers has been operating since 1895, but it wasn’t until the thirty-something Ben Goorin took over operations that the production of affordable stylish hats became a defining feature of the company. 

Paul’s Hatworks on Geary, San Francisco’s 90-year-old custom men’s hat shop, one of the few on the West Coast and the only one in the Bay Area, was slated by owner and master hatter, Michael Harris to go out of business last year, along with all its vintage character, equipment and processes.  This loss was prevented by four women in their twenties involved in art and culture productions and possessing a passion for hats.  They had a collective vision, purchased the shop, apprenticed with Harris and will reopen Paul’s retailing tradition at the end of this month. The Grand Opening will be on August 29th 10am to 10pm, (6128 Geary Blvd @ 26th).

Apart from those with storefront presence, other local young hatmakers are making a splash among those who love creative expression through wearing hats and enjoy supporting the local market.  You can find their well-crafted original hats at indie shopping events and at retailers featuring local art and design.  The first local hatmaker showcase, Show Me A Hat Show, Sugar,  featuring fantastic creations by Jasmin Zorlu, Paul’s Hatworks, O’Lover Hats, Katie Burley and Cica Mica Millinery will turn heads and hearts this Friday August 21st 7pm to 10pm at the Box Factory (865 Florida St @ 21st).  Admission is $3.  Enjoy drinks and deejays while you come out to tip your hat to this fine-feathered group and take first pick of the newest trends in hats.


For more information contact

The Boater
June 4, 2009

IMG_2556Boaters, also known as Sailors, are as dashing today as they were when first worn in the 18th century by British sailors.  They are sporty straw hats, usually with narrow crown and flat top and rigid round brim.  Though its dimensions and trimmings have varied with style trends, the Boater possesses an unmistakable appearance of fun and relaxation that is cemented in our subconscious due to its rages of popularity through time.


The Boater’s fun-loving attitude was first expressed in the 1880s by women who made them the hat of the decade due to their sporting image.  This was a time when women became active participants in sports such as bicycling.  They wore their light colored straws with a strip of dark trim above puffed sleeved white blouses, dark neckties and dark full skirts.


The Italian Gondoliers also adopted the Boater in the 1880s. The Gondoliers trimmed the crisp angles of straw braid with a long doppio natro, the natro usually in navy and red (stripe). This sleeker lined style, with a wider and shallower crown, adjusted the sporting theme of boating to also connote outdoor leisure activities, as a boat ride through Venice elegantly typifies.


Like spaghetti, the Boater came to America by way of immigrants.  So great and prolonged was its public appeal that it was given the name “the hat of the people”. Its influence spanned social spheres.  It was a favorite for vaudeville entertainers and their fans. During pre-war times, the Boater was thought to be worn by some FBI agents as a sort of unofficial designation. The hat’s popularity with Classic Hollywood and the American image can be seen in its namesake comedy, “The Italian Straw Hat” (1927).  For decades on, Hollywood stars like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire further popularized the Boater with American audiences, wearing these dapper hats while wowing audiences with their wit and dance.


The Boater’s image undoubtedly maintains strongest associations with gaiety, boats and outdoor leisure.  Its attitude is seen clearly in the lighthearted 1950’s when its popularity was so widespread that it was worn by all.


Wear your inner Boater this summer.  Or transform yourself from the inside out with one of the new mini-boaters at

Who makes hats?
February 23, 2009


Chris Chun blocked this awesome hat for herself in the February Workshop

Chris Chun blocked this awesome hat for herself in the February Workshop

When I tell someone that I am a milliner, they often cock their head and say “What?”  Or if I tell someone I make hats, they say, “Oh, what’s that called, haberdashery?”  There are distinct differences between hatting, millinery, and haberdashery.

Today the term hatter specifically refers to one who makes hats for men.  A milliner is someone who makes hats for women.  In France the term for milliner today is modiste but originally these crafty designers were chapelliers. 

Early milliners have left few records of their business activities but we know they existed in England since the beginning of the 1700s.  The name milliner came from the traveling haberdashers from Milan, Italy.  They sold all aspects of dress and the English called them millaners.  Soon, all who were making stylish hats were called millaners since the materials for use were imported from Milan.

The term haberdasher refers to one who makes men’s clothing and accessories and is a very old term and of uncertain origin.  It was in use as early as the 14th century and in the middle ages haberdashery included daggers, swords, Milan caps, glasses, spoons, knives, and much more. The original haberdasher was probably a peddler or a badger rather than a hatter.  This blog delves into extensive detail on the origins of the term haberdasher

Do you want to learn to make a hat?  Find out more about hat making workshops.

The Fillmore on a Full Moon
January 19, 2009

It was a Saturday night, the full moon shining, as bright as it ever would in this lifetime so they said.  We were spontaneously cruising the Fillmore district in San Francisco, looking to see what was going on.  People I know come here for music.  Known as the jazz district, this San Francisco neighborhood is a hub for performing musicians which inevitably makes it a great neighborhood in which to don a hat.

Musicians wear hats.  I’m not sure exactly where it started, but I think its partly due to the historic conversation that musicians have with the great masters that came before them, from a time when everyone wore hats; partly the hat’s voice of attitude and confidence; and it’s sure to keep those bright stage lights out of your eyes.  I bet a hat helps musicians stay focused and keep with the beat.

Long before the music arrived, The Fillmore was a thriving business and cultural center beginning after the 1906 earthquake when the more severely damaged downtown was being rebuilt.  A Japanese community settled in, but this shifted in the 1940’s when the internment camps emptied out the Japanese whose homes attracted African Americans relocating to the area for war jobs. A number of music clubs catering to the community opened in the 1950’s.  Places like Jimbo’s Bop City, New Orleans Swing Club, The Booker T Washington Hotel and The Fillmore opened and drew in lightning acts such as Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Thelonius Monk.  It became known as the Harlem of the West.

African Americans continue to represent a demographic majority, but the character that once made it a thriving Black community also targeted the neighborhood by city officials as a center of urban slum.  Beginning in the 1960’s a redevelopment project began bulldozing the Filmore down, block by block.  This unsuccessful redevelopment project was followed by urban gentrification.  Now Fillmore Street features an extension of Pacific Heights style boutiques and restaurants.  But the music lives on at The Fillmore, The Boom Boom Room, Yoshi’s and Sheba Piano Lounge.

We sauntered into The Jazz Heritage Center, drawn in by the large becoming photos of musicians shining under track lights.  Once in the the door I sidelined to the glass case of fedoras and pork pies, also gleaming under the lights.  This feature was for another local business, Mrs. Dewson’s Hats, who is a local institution just up the street and known for her wide variety of both men’s and women’s hats and outfitting luminaries who visit the area including the former Mayor Willie Brown with his fedoras.  She happened to walk in while we were there, and took one look at me and said, “That’s a beautiful hat your wearing”.  I was tickled to have my craftwork recognized by a woman who has been in the business for thirty years.  She was happy to share her business is up 35% this year.  We all agreed hats are big right now, exchanged business cards and then left the bright center for the night beyond.

Down the street we were lured by the swingin’ blues music wafting out of the BooM BooM RooM, that famous club John Lee Hooker opened in 1997 on the corner of Fillmore and Geary.  The doorman told us Bohemian Knuckleboogie was playing.  We went in and danced to what they toot on their website as “good music for hard times”.  I tapped, snapped, shook and shimmied to the end of their set, after which I reached behind the curtain and thanked keyboardist Jeff Orchard for making our night and signed their mailing list to make sure I could catch them again.  You can find them playing regularly around the Filmore and you’re sure to fit in wearing a hat at one of their shows.

On an Indie Mission
December 2, 2008

There are definitely less people out at shows right now.  This economy is not stagnant though. It’s good to see that people are still coming out and shopping regardless of the doom and gloom from the press.  It is important, now more than ever, to do our part to support local businesses operating with sustainable practices.

I continue to strategize towards the production of new products.  I will have holiday gift items at the two shows I have over the weekend of Dec 5th – Dec 7th, including hair scarves, berets and custom hat gift cards.  I am running a special, 20% off of blocked fur felt hats from my current inventory, as well as custom orders until Christmas.  What an awesome opportunity for you.  I hope to see you out this weekend.


feather crownIndie Village

Friday Dec 5th

5pm to 11pm

481 9th St, Old Oakland

$5 to benefit Arts and Literacy in Children’s Education (ALICE)


Mission Bazaar

Sat Dec 6th 10am to 6pm

Sun Dec 7th 11am to 6pm

The Armory Community Center, 14th and Mission