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How to Make a Hat
Made is a series of simple, gorgeous short films that demonstrate how everyday luxury objects are made, and honor the process and craftsmen behind them.
“The truth of the matter is I never wore a hat as a kid.”
Nick Fouquet, the French-born hatmaker who catapulted to public view after Madonna and Pharrell wore his creations at the Grammy Awards, can see the irony.
“I have always wanted to be an artist,” Fouquet said recently. Jared Leto, Ann Hathaway, and Bob Dylan are also clients. But he studied environmental science in school and worked odd jobs before a designer friend hired him as an assistant in his shop. Surrounded by industrial sewing machines and textiles from far-flung locales, he soaked in the trade and adopted his friend as a mentor.
“To me hats were the pinnacle of elegance,” Fouquet says. “It turned into a hobby, and then, acquiring all this old equipment from hat makers that were going out of business, it became an obsession.”
One day in Venice, Calif., he met a cowboy wearing a beautiful hat and asked him where he found it. The dude had made it himself.
“Then I knew I wanted to do something like that, and I saw a gap in the market,” Fouquet explains.
Fast-forward seven years, and Fouquet employs a small staff his studio in Los Angeles. They make toppers for pilgrims who travel from around the world seeking old-world millinery enlightenment. The process is as archaic as the search for the perfect thing to put on your head.
First, Fouquet meets with the client who will wear or give the hat as a gift. He discerns what colors, crowns, brims, and shapes will complement their style—and if people suggest they “just aren’t a hat person,” he’ll set them straight.
“I have the opinion that there is a hat for everybody; it just depends on your facial structure, eye color, and what you want,” he says. When people refuse to wear one, “I think it comes from a bit more of an insecurity,” he adds. “Because hats look good on everybody—you've just got to own it.”
Speak to him about it for five minutes, and you can tell this is something he thinks about a lot.
“There is a certain amount of romance that gets involved with the hat that you wear,” Fouquet says. “You do have to love it, but I think it's a little bit more of a poetic thing. You've got to wear a hat with confidence. That goes for a lot of things in life. You've got to wear the hat; you can't let the hat wear you.”
For some, such confidence takes practice. But it can be learned.
“You can spot somebody feeling really uncomfortable first time wearing a hat,” Fouquet says. “They're coming into a restaurant, and they feel really awkward, and they'll look awkward. But if you come in and you own it and you just know and you're cool with it, you look good. You look cool.”
After the initial idea session, Fouquet will form the raw material (beaver, rabbit, straw) over a block of mahogany or poplar wood. He uses twine to cinch the piece, steams the brim to flatten it, and leaves it outside for a few hours to dry.
He’ll then sand the exterior of the hat until it’s smooth enough for wear (“you just know when it’s ready”) and cut the brim to size. Next comes the sweatband—an inelegant word for the strip of internal leather that holds the entire hat together. Fouquet cuts, measures, and sews it using an old zig-zag sewing machine.
Then the fun part: Clients choose the type of external band they want and elect the final shape. The shape alone could range from a high-cut fedora style, a bash fedora, or what Fouquet calls a “Route 83 sort of cowboy shape.” His straw hats start at $550, and the felt ones (like the one you see being made here) start at $950.
“It's not like I draw up or design a hat,” he says about the process. “It's something you do off the cuff because I think the inspiration just comes from so many places and things change. To stick to a precise course, to me, isn't really conducive to creativity. It's something that's going to come from within. Hats are very personal.”
Fouquet has received plenty of criticism about certain of Pharrell’s hats—though the brown, Canadian Mountie-style hat you’re thinking of was designed by Vivienne Westwood. And then there are the routine questions about whether hats are even a modern contrivance.
“I'm sure some people think like they're the ugliest things—I don't really care,” he says. “I'm glad I have people that don't like it. It inspires me.”