Tell us about What A Great Hat! How did you start it and what are your products?
I’ve been artistic all my life and started out knitting and sewing then moved into working in paper and then eventually started making jewelry using vintage buttons and beads.
I had never worn hats and bought my first handmade hat at the Ann Arbor art festival in 2004. I wore it all day and had no less than 30 compliments on it. It was so much fun that I felt compelled to do my part to bring hat wearing back into vogue. It’s funny – I went to the Ann Arbor art festival to get inspiration for jewelry making and came away with an entirely new appreciation for hats, which launched a new career path.
Do you have a blog, a website, a storefront?
I have a web site: What A Great Hat! and a working studio where I see customers by appointment. I also participate in the finer art festivals in Northeast Ohio. I left the corporate world in 1999 as the communications manager for a financial services firm; writing and public relations were my specialty. I continue to write on a freelance basis and need the flexibility to go out on assignments, which prohibits me from having a true storefront retail presence. And, truth be told, hats are such a niche that having a retail hat shop in Akron, Ohio probably wouldn’t be the best business decision.
Tell us about your design process?
It usually begins with a great fabric, color of felt or vintage item like a buckle, button, flower or feather. Then I think about what shape would complement my inspiration piece. The design process is rather organic – the hat evolves as I work with pieces in my studio that complement it.
What are your favorite materials to use?
For summer hats, I love to work with cotton – so many amazing patterns and colors to jumpstart the imagination. I also love working with sinamay, a natural straw-like product that is great for swirling and sculpting. For winter, wool or silk fabric, or wool felt are my materials of choice.
How do you determine what the best hat design is for someone?
I can usually look at someone and know the style that will work for them. But it’s best to have them come to my studio and try on hats of various shapes. Once we know the best shape for their face, frame, and lifestyle, we can talk about color, pattern, trimmings and all the details and select a hat that I’ve already made or create a new piece that really works for them.
Do you have any favorite colors or styles/eras?
I love the styles of the ‘20s through the ‘50s. The cloche (which is the French word for bell) is a personal favorite. And I adore fun, flirty cocktail hats. Color-wise, I’ve never met a periwinkle blue that I didn’t love, and deep plum/eggplant is also hard to resist.
Do you only design hats for women?
Yes. I’ve also made some hats for little girls.
Have you made hats for special occasions?
I’ve made many hats for the Kentucky Derby and even made one for a woman who traveled to England for Royal Ascot (the horse event that’s attended by the royal family). I’ve also had a lot of fun making cocktail hats for women going to black tie events.
Who are your favorite designers?
Philip Treacy is sort of the king of hat making and his work is amazing. I also like Siggi, and Edwina Ibbotson, hat makers in the UK.
Where do you find inspiration?
I’m always inspired by nature. Old movies are another great source. I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes with designs swirling around in my mind.
What do you enjoy the most in your creative process?
Combining colors, textures, shapes and trimmings in creative ways.
How do you feel after you have created one of your wonderful hats?
Creating hats is a real thrill but the best part is finding the right hat for the right person, especially for someone who claims she can’t wear hats. Seeing her face light up when she finds the right hat is the best reward of all.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?
I was fortunate to find a millinery instructor – Donald Wasson from Cleveland – who is a true gem. He has inspired legions of students to create hats to augment their careers in fashion as well as helping them make connections for launching a career in millinery. It may be that millinery is a dying art, but every milliner I’ve met is passionate about keeping it alive. I have yet to meet another milliner who isn’t helpful and supportive of fellow hat makers out there trying to make a go of it. If any of your readers are interested in learning how to make hats I’ll be glad to share the resources I know of with them.
Are most of your customers from Northeast Ohio?
Yes; I meet many of them at the shows that I participate in as well as referrals from existing customers. But I have made hats for people across the US.
What are your future plans?
To continue learning and growing as a milliner. And to escalate the enthusiasm for wearing great hats by designing pieces that make people feel and look terrific.
Thank you, Paula for taking the time to do this interview and share your art with us. You are keeping the art of millinery alive and we are grateful for that. Your work is truly amazing.
When I think of hats, my mother's hats from the 40's and 50's come to mind. I will have to post them on the blog some day. A few years ago, I gave a friend of mine a copy of the book Crowns, which had just been published. Sandra told me about her involvement with church on Sunday and how it was an all day happening, which led our discussion into the hats that many of the women wore. This book is a treasure and if you enjoy hats, you will love Crowns!