Portrait by Craig McDean
Albertus Swanepoel is one of only three milliners left in New York City who make hats for the fashion industry. (A milliner is a master of the hat making craft.) The South African born designer has collaborated with some of the top fashion houses, including Proenza Schouler, Alexander Wang, Jason Wu, and Marc Jacobs on runway and collection pieces. His hats have been featured in the glossy pages of W and Vogue, and even on Vanity Fair's August 2012 Alex Baldwin cover. Swanepoel's collection can be found at Barney's and specialty boutiques around the city including our very own Shop at The Standard, High Line.
Standard Culture went inside his Midtown Manhattan studio to learn the basic steps to making the perfect hat. The process looks quite simple, but trust us, it's not as easy as it looks. So if you think millinery is your calling, you'll want to look into apprenticing yourself to a master, like Albertus.
Step One - Steam It!
Take a felted rabbit hood, a loose hat shape, and spray it with a water bottle. Wrap it in a plastic bag, wait for condensation to do its thing. Then place the damp hood onto the steamer.
Step Two - Shape It!
Pull the steamed hood onto a block, a form made from cherrywood, "quite quickly before it dries."
Each style AND size has it's own block. Albertus' studio is adored by hundreds of them. Cherrywood blocks can last forever and be used to make thousands of hats. Albertus gets his blocks made in Paris, and finds vintage blocks at vintage shops, flea markets, or on eBay.
Pull It! Best quote of the day: "My hands are insanely strong at this point, so I can just pull it.”
Rope It! on the rope line to create the perfect brim.
Sink it by using a tipper or sinker, a complimentary piece of the block that's used to shape the top part of the hat.
Step Three - Dry It!
Air dry the newly formed hat for one day, or place it in the oven for an hour.
Step Four - Secure It!
A grosgrain (pronounced grow-grain) is a strip of ribbed fabric made from cotton and rayon that prevents the felt from stretching and makes it so your hat doesn't fly away on a windy day. It's sewn in by hand or machine.
Wish it was just a bit more snug? An overlap is left for future sizing.
Step Five - Wet It!
But only a little bit...the grosgrain is formed by wetting it slightly with a sponge.
Zap It! on the hotblock, the offspring of a cherrywood block and an iron, to set the shape of the grosgrain and lock in the hat's size
Step Six - Embellish It!
Want a custom hat made just for you? Albertus will be at The Shop at The Standard, High Line to consult on your perfect hat - from the shape to the fit to the felt - on Saturday & Sunday, February 14th & 15th.
Images by Ally Lindsay.