I was super lucky today to be invited down by Simon Smuts-Kennedy (aka Hat Man) of Hills Hats in Wellington to come up with a bespoke hat. I’ve never had a beautiful head phallus before, let alone one made especially for me. Hills has been around since 1875, but it’s Simon and his team that have turned a venerable local business into a global contender. They now make hats for the Louis Vuitton owned R.M Williams (boom!), while servicing the local and global hat market. Luckily they also do custom commissions for flashy nerds like me (and those lovely geezers from Fat Freddy’s Drop, who are practically Hills Hats ambassadors). Simon is a marketeer par excellence, but it’s his infectious enthusiasm for what he does that makes you want to OWN.
The joy of bespoke is witnessing the touch and feel process, the hard-earned craft and feeling the anticipation for the emergence of this beautiful thing that only you will own. Once we got over the mutual embarrassment of measuring my freakishly big head (61.5cm if you must know), the morning progressed like some kind of sartorial masturbatory fantasy.
It actually started a few weeks ago with the choosing of my reference. I was channeling a Yohji Yamamoto Pour Homme AW14 number: a turned wide brim fedora with a crested crown. It has a kind of a Hasidic-Jew-meets-1940’s-dandy-who-thinks-he’s-a-cowboy-in-the stairwell-of-Dover-St-Market slash RUN DMC type vibe, if you know what I mean. It’s not like I was going to choose a trilby, right? I believe that if you’re going to do these things, go hard! We spent some time selecting the correct weight and flexibility of felt and then booked in a time to come and get busy. Bruce (the maestro behind the creation of my fedora) pre prepared the basic shape of the hat the night before, so when I arrived it was workably dry and we could get straight to the sweet stuff.
From the blocking to the steam-forming to the trimming, a real sense of proportion is required to get the result. Watching Bruce hand cut the brim without a chalk guide made me anxious then amazed at his surety. Because I wanted something off-piste (they used a military dress hat block to achieve the high crown on mine) there was a lot of consorting between Simon and Bruce to get it right… Which they did first time. I’m a fervent critic of mass-produced fast fashion, so this has been a wonderful experience. I thoroughly agree with Vivienne Westwood, who says it’s better to save your pennies for something that’s made with love by people who care about the details. Hills Hats are total proponents of that.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m already planning my next three (I’m a freak like that). I’m thinking a jet black wide brimmed panama for summer- what would you rock?