Amsterdam – Hat shops, Bicycles & more

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A long weekend trip to Amsterdam with my family and a quest to visit their local hat shops. I found an artist collective, two great hat shops, a nice fabric & haberdashery, and a funny hat lamp.

Artwear Jordan – Brouwersgracht 145
An artist collective with a focus on women’s fashion, beautiful linen garments, felted hats and jewelry. The founder is a woman from Marin, California. I find American expats all over the place. She was charming and I could have happily worn any of the pieces in her shop.
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De Hoed Van Tijn – Nieuwe Hoogstraat 15
A tall gentleman greeted me and graciously answered my questions and allowed photographs. This shop is a mix of hats, not only mens’s and women’s styles but also covering many price points. There are some nice factory hats as well as couture pieces. He told me that his husband designs some of their hats, along with several other milliners. They were arranged by color rather than by designer collections which made for great pictures.
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A. Boeken – Fabric & Haberdashery – 31-35 Nieuwe Hoog Straat, Centrum
A respectable fabric store with a vast assortment of fabrics. They take up about three shop fronts, each one unique, with a focus on different things. There was also a lovely yarn shop next door, called Stephen and Penelope Fine Yarn. As you can see in the picture, I was not the only one who was distracted by these shops while walking by.
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Oh, good heavens! There is nothing like encountering a “Body Power” naked bike ride while walking over to the last hat shop. I hope you appreciate my careful picture selection of the cyclists from a rear view, having gone past us.
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Hoeden M/V – Herengracht 422
A beautiful hat stop and a charming young woman, Bronte, who was gracious and welcoming, to my rather bedraggled family. The shop was really nice with several enchanting displays and variety of hat styles for men and women. They sell pieces from multiple milliners and also have their own brand, called Bronte which is designed by the young woman’s mother. They have shops in Dusseldorf & London. I haven’t been to the London shop yet, but I will go, soon.
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On a different topic, I love apple pie. In fact I am a bit of an apple pie snob. It needs to be made with fresh tart apples. Overly sweet, mushy canned apple are extremely disappointing. I have had some amazing apple pies as my Grandma made fabulous apple pie for Thanksgiving every year in California. In California, when ordering an apple pie, you would often have a choice of Apple Pie or Dutch Apple Pie. It wasn’t until I was putting my fork into a glorious big slice of apple pie at Winkles in Amsterdam, that the little a-ha moment happened and I thought, “This is real Dutch Apple pie.” Here is a picture,  as you can see, it does not have a crumble topping. I wonder if it is another example of the word Dutch, being confused for Deutsche, the word for German.
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Amsterdam is made of many canals. Brewers canal was gorgeous and our AirBnB place as very small, perfectly eccentric and right on the canal. It was very picturesque.
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I love second hand shops and we came across a large one – Episode. It had lots of hats. Actually they had lots of all kinds of clothing and accessories. I escaped without buying anything this time.
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Perhaps the most unusual hat item of the trip was a red hat lamp in a store on the square in Harlemmerbuurt.
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I dramatically under estimated the bicycle culture of Amsterdam. If I had not taken the picture myself I would think it was a commercial for how civilized a cycle culture can be. This is at the back of the train station by the ferries.
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I am curious as to how they manage the derelict bicycles. Our small block of flats here in London constantly struggles with too few racks to lock our bikes as there are old rusty bike that remain locked to the rack, long after their useful life and likely the owners have moved out of the building long ago.

I possibly should have called my blog Hattin’ & Bikin’ around as I love riding my bike. In Amsterdam it is not just a commuting method it is a way of life. These are not what some Londoners call the Lycra brigade, the cyclists in their road racing kit that do battle with London traffic every morning and evening. In Amsterdam, people take their kids to school, pick up the days shopping and go visiting friends, using their bikes. Take a look at a few of the cycle parking lots that were particularly impressive. The first was a triple layer structure outside the central station, little did I realize there was another one on the other side by the ferries.
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How about the cycle parking near a concert venue!
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Amsterdam was a complete delight with many unique features. It was not the legal prostitution nor the pervasive aroma of canibis smoke that was the most stimulating for me, it was the bikes, and the fabulous hat shops. If you get the chance, it is a lovely place to spend a long weekend.

and remember, Interesting people wear hats.

My Hat in a Gallery!

I would like to introduce, Migration, a hat I made of teal pleated sinamay with hand beaded butterflies and a seed beaded crown. This piece was inspired by a mix of several pieces from the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum of Childhood (MoC).

Migration Morley Gallery

Over the last several months I have designed and made three different hats for three hat contests. Not all the hats made it to the second round of judging, but to my delight I got an email that my hat, Migration, was accepted by the V&A Inspired by… contest and that it would be exhibited at the Morley Gallery in London.

Inspired by acceptance

If you would like to read more about my “Inspired by…” entry, Migration. I am in the Exhibition Catalogue on page 3.
If you want to learn more about the UK based “Inspired by…” contest or details on the exhibition Inspired by…2016 is on exhibit from 17 May 2016 – 17 June 2016. Please check the website for the details regarding opening hours.

Migration 2 Rear Right web

Migration 3 Left web

Migration 4 Features web

I recently attended the Gallery Preview and Awards night at Morley College. It was a thrill to see a hat I made on display in a gallery. I just discovered a video of the event on the Inspired by…website. My hat shows up around :13 as well as my family and I on the left side at 1:21 for 1 second! It was a lovely evening with good weather, fabulous music, and creative people.

Inspired by… is an event for adult learners throughout the UK to submit photos of a piece of art/craft they have created with inspiration from something in the V&A collection. The V&A is the world’s leading museum of art and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects. The V&A Museum of Childhood (MoC) is located in Bethnal Green and where I drew my inspiration for this piece. MoC have effectively created a place that is interesting and fun for both adults and children.

I have been attending classes at Morley College for several years and it is a wonderful place to learn new things and meet people. Many of my friendships have grown from classes at Morley.

Migration 5 In Progress

This is a collage of images highlighting the pieces I was inspired by as well as the hat making process.

Inspired by… at Morley Gallery is a small and diverse exhibit, I encourage you to go take a look. It is around the corner from the Imperial War Museum, just a short (5 -15 min) walk from Lambeth North or Elephant & Castle tube stations and Waterloo station.

Loving living in London!

and remember…interesting people wear hats.

Hats 1740 – 1780
by Jean-Étienne Liotard, artist

Liotard was known for his amazing detail in painting the fashion of the day, which was the mid to late 18th century.  The sitters often wore hats and they were painted with fantastic detail which is very interesting for people like me who are a bit obsessed with hats.

Jean-Étienne Liotard exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts (commonly referred to as “The Royal Academy” has now closed, sorry, but if someone asks if you want to see a Liotard exhibit, do not make my mistake and ask if they mean the stretchy garment that dancers wear.

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Marie Adelaide of France, Dressed in Turkish Costume
Liotard Simon Lutrell Turban
Jean-Etienne Liotard. Simon Lutrell of Lutrellstown, 1753-54

He was know to travel a lot so there are a variety of styles of head wear, of which the turban was featured in many pictures. I am quite fond the turbans, particularly the glamorous movie star style. These images highlighted the many ways of doing the wrapping and folding found in a turban.

Jean-Etienne Liotard Laughing Self Portrait
Jean-Étienne Liotard, Laughing (Self-portrait), c.1770

Jean-Étienne Leotard was a man before his time when it came to personal promotion. This late 18th Century self portrait shows a large smile, missing tooth, toque hat and turkish style of dress. Another unusual element is that he is not holding a paint brush but instead is pointing his finger. These elements were unique for the time.

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Lady Ann Somerset, Countess Of Northampton

Liotard’s use of pastels is also noteworthy,  my friend, Dusia who coordinated the visit, brought to my attention his common use of two specific colors which he uses in nearly all his paintings, a beautiful blue (“rich sonorous blue” or “electric blue”, and a salmony red. It is interesting how consistently these colours appear in his paintings.

Jean-Étienne Liotard - Portrait of Marie Fargues, in Turks costume
Marie Fargues

Grown-Up tip – To avoid the sleepy feeling I often get at museums & exhibits, I have discovered that if I focus my attention on a particular interest, such as hats and head pieces, my endurance in greatly improved. I have used a similar technique with my children, by asking them what they are going to look for, or offer a suggestion of what animal they can find.

Liotard exhibit
Unofficial name: Its all about the hat
Leanne Dusia Kitty at Liotard RA
Me (Leanne), Dusia, and Kitty – my museum buddies.

Thank you to Dusia and Kitty, for a fun afternoon of learning and inspiration.

I will keep my eye open for more Liotard paintings. I really enjoyed the subjects, the use of colour and of course the Hats.

And remember, interesting people wear hats.

Petershams
at Elephant and Castle

Hurray a new millinery supply place in town that is close to me. This could be dangerous.

Back in October, I rode my bike over on a Tuesday and was greeted by the owner Michelle.  Petershams.com has been around awhile online, but has just opened a physical shop at  The Art Works Elephant which is around the corner from the Elephant and Castle tube station in London at Elephant Road & Walworth Road. Look for the orange door inside the courtyard.

Petershams at Art Works Elephant
Petershams look for the orange door

Petershams has a lovely selection of sinamay and feathers.

Sinamay feathers petershams
Sinamy and feathers

Shelves of basic hat bodies, combs, headbands, veiling, etc.

Supplies Petershams
Miscellaneous Millinery Supplies

And a few skeins of strip straw. This red was so amazingly vibrant. I was very tempted, but I already had a table full of feathers, sinamay, and tubular crin.

strip straw Petershams
A few skeins of strip straw

Let us not forget the petersham ribbon.

Petershams
A variety of petersham ribbon

The shop is small and does not have every size of every colour, of every item, but it probably does have something that will work. And if you are in need of ideas, she has a box of vintage hats under the cutting table that are good fun to look at and try on. I thought these two were fun. The red straw with strawberries and the little beehive of tiny blue tubular crin.

red vintage hat petershams
tiny tublecrin vintage hat petershams vintage hats under the cutting table

Michelle is also from California. How many people do you think are from California, living in London and making hats? More than two?

Michelle Petershams
Here is Michelle Osborne the owner of Petershams.com

And if all of this is not enough, Michelle has a new puppy, that can be found in the back workroom. I am sorry that I didn’t get a photo of puppy cuteness.

Winter Holiday Markets and Wonderful Hats

I had the joy of seeing many of my hat class friends put their hats out for sale at both Temple Church and   Morley College Winter Fairs last week. The cold brought out the winter hats “On the Street” at Somerset House, and my daughter made me a tree ornament. Take a look.

 

Temple winter fair Petula Maggie

Holiday Markets are always fun. I love seeing the amazing creativity and craftsmanship of people, especially my friends.

The first was a fantastically hidden market, the Temple Christmas Fair on Thursday, 3 December at the Middle Temple Hall. It was an intense and beautifully dark carved wood venue with gorgeous products for sale. A couple of hatting friends from Morley College and Edwina Ibbotson‘s were selling their own custom made hats. Petula and Maggie must not have slept for a month prior to the show. My picture above only shows and few of their charming hats.

 

Temple Church

Not to go too far a field, but the Temple Church was selling a book at one of the stalls that was about the truth and fiction of the Knights Templar and the Temple Church in London. I had no idea that going to a Winter fair was going to link up with the Knights Templar from the book Da Vinci Code. I love London.

Temple Church Knights Templar
Book explaining the Knights Templar, Temple Church and the Da Vinci Code

Morley College hosted its Winter Fair on Sunday, 6 December. Many of my Jane Smith, Hat Class friends, Stefania, Dusia, and Clare, were there with their hats, even Jane herself. There were so many hats that they ran out of display space. Morley is also a lovely venue and the main hall has large murals along both walls, that deserve more than a passing glance.

 

Morley winter fair Clare

The Somerset House is hosting outdoor skating this Winter and Fortum & Mason have taken over part of the building for a swanky Pop-Up Shop.

Somerset House

One of the best parts of this time of year is that it is cold and people on the streets are wearing warm hats. These lovely ladies allowed me to capture them while doing a bit of shopping at the Somerset House.

Somerset Lade in dark trilby

Somerset Lady in Grey hat

Somerset Lady in Beret

Hopefully I will be organized enough next year to post the dates of these fairs before they occur.

Also on the winter hat theme, my daughter surprised me with an adorable ornament for our tree. She made it while I was out at the Morley Winter Fair, from a shape found online and a piece of Harris Tweed from my fabric stash. It even has the date in the loop.  The second best part…she cleaned up the project mess before I got home. I love her and my new ornament.

Bowler ornament Eliana

and remember, Interesting People Wear Hats.

1900’s Santa Cruz Milliner Kate Handley

I was delighted to see three different and unique hats by Kate Handley from the early 1900’s in the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (SCMAH) archives.

Kate Handley was born in New York in 1857. The family moved to Santa Cruz sometime prior to the birth of her younger sister Maggie who was born in 1864. Miss Handley’s shop was at 138 Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz California, USA.

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to READ MORE about Kate Handley in a post by Marla from the Santa Cruz MAH. Photo courtesy of Santa Cruz MAH
Kate Handley photo
Photo courtesy ‘The Guide to Old Holy Cross Cemetery’ by Phil Reader and Norman Poitevin.

This first of the three hats is a brown fur felt with orange feathers. This hat was a bit worse for wear, but there is something nice about a hat that has obviously been worn.

Kate Handley brown felt feathersKate Handley brown felt bows

Kate Handley brown felt label lining

The second hat was black fur with a silk ribbon and purple pansies. I loved the hand painted canvas pansies. They added a great texture to the piece and the interesting gathered, feathers shape trim was nice touch.
Kate Handley black fur purple pansiesKate Handley black fur purple pansies (2)Kate Handley black fur purple pansies (1)Kate Handley black fur label lining

Black Straw with a wonderful modern shape and so shiny. This piece you could wear today and nobody would know it was from the early 1900’s.
Kate Handley black straw label (2)
Kate Handley black straw label (4)Kate Handley black straw label (1)
Kate Handley black straw label

It was interesting to see such old hats.  None of the three hats had head fittings, the band around the inside edge of the hat. When did head fittings come into fashion? Were these intended to be worn on large hair styles, thus no head fitting was needed?

The linings were also very roughly sewn. I always envisioned beautiful little invisible stitches in old hats that were all made by hand. However these pieces had  large and inconsistent stitches holding in the lining. I also found the open hole at the top of the linings some what odd.  Why not draw the hole closed or put a small disk to cover it for a more finished look? Ventilation? Conserve fabric?

The labeled side of the black hats were soiled by what looked like make-up, but I would have thought the label would be in the back and the make up from the face. Peculiar. Any one have any ideas? Were labels put in the front of hats rather than the back?

All three of these hats have Kate Handley labels, however each label is unique. If I were to guess, I would say the black fur with the pansies is the oldest, followed by the brown felt with the black straw being the newest. That label was stamped and not a sewn in label.

Kate Handley died 5 December 1940 and is buried in the Old Holy Cross Cemetery in Santa Cruz. She never married or had children.

SC MAH Marla Tina Leanne cropped
Thank you Marla Novo from Santa Cruz MAH and Tina Brown from Ilka Style for this very fun morning of looking at amazing hats from the archives.
Kate Handley feature

and remember…Interesting people wear hats.

2015 Kensington & Chelsea College – Next Generation of Milliners

Kensington & Chelsea College (KCC) Milliners Graduate Collections are Diverse and Interesting. Take a look at select pieces of each of their collections.

Emily Dobson - KCC2015 (1)
Emily Dobson
Amy May Morris - KCC2015 (1)
Amy May Morris
Rosaleen Mac Cullogh - KCC2015
Rosaleen Mac Cullogh

Tis the season for graduations. As I am still rejoicing in my son’s graduation from University in May in California, I have an eye toward the graduation collections of the fashion and design schools in London.

Until last year I didn’t even know that going to see the collections of graduating students was even something to be done.  However after attending the Kensington and Chelsea College Graduate Collection for the Millinery department. I am hooked. The collections are strikingly full of imagination and craftsmanship.

Congratulation to Lily Pouzet, Jodie Whitelock, Lottie Fenby, Emily Dobson, Emily Adams, Sylvia Jardim, Rosaleen Mac Cullagh, Amelia Locke, Hannah Wyatt, Natasha Bicknell, Amy May Morris, Maryam Davas, Daphne Ferdinandus.

Each collection of five pieces had at least one piece to which I was drawn. I found pieces intriguing for a variety of reasons: the materials used, the immense imagination, the creative construction, breath taking beauty, and emotional impact.

Lily Pouzet - KCC2015
Lily Pouzet – I love the stiffened lace and the lift of the sheer black. It looks light and dramatic.
Jodie Whitelock - KCC2015 -1
Jodie Whitelock – The clear acrylic was flawless and the “spun sugar” effect was clever.
Lottie Fenby - KCC2015 (1)
Lottie Fenby – Great use of acrylic with crystals for emphasis.
Lottie Fenby - KCC2015 (2)
Lottie Fenby – amazing beads, stones and fringe details.
Emily Dobson - KCC2015
Emily Dobson – My photography skills let this one down. The copper on the leather was lovely and the crystal encrusted leaf, very nice.
Emily Adams - KCC2015
Emily Adams – Its the laser cut wood that got me on this one.
Sylvia Jardim - KCC2015
Sylvia Jardim – Most likely to wear, lovely colors and good fabric textures.
Rosaleen Mac Cullagh - KCC2015 (1)
Rosaleen Mac Cullagh – Snakes shaped out of feathers! Awesome.
Amelia Locke - KCC2015 (1)
Amelia Locke – Veiling, lace and a twist – great for a wedding. There is an essence about it that feels familiar to me.
Hannah Wyatt - KCC2015
Hannah Wyatt – Hand dyed silk with the coordinating needle work. A love use of mixed media and craftsmanship.
Natasha Bicknell - KCC2015
Natasha Bicknell – Structurally interesting wire frame combined with fascinating materials.
Amy May Morris - KCC2015
Amy May Morris – Some times over the top beads is just right.
Maryan Davas - KCC2015 (1)
Mayan Davas – Intense w/ wire and leather
Maryan Davas - KCC2015
Maryan Davas – How did she make the face within the fibrous material?
Daphne Ferdinandus - KCC2015
Daphne Ferdinandus – One side is feathers, the other is flowers and the metal swirl to for a lovely bit of smooth textural tension.
Daphne Ferdinandus - KCC2015 (1)
Daphne Ferdinandus – How did she make those little cubes? The geometric with the organic waves – lovely.

I loved seeing these amazing pieces, and have posted about them in the order that I saw them at the exhibit. Thank you milliners.

I did have two general observations. The first is that those who exhibited a collection with dark fabrics were far more visible against the white mannequin head and white background, than the light colored collections. As you can see from the images for the collections at the top of this post. Second, collections that had some small and some large pieces were more appealing to me when looking at them as a group. I’ve just remembered a lesson I learned from taking pictures of last years graduating collections. Taking a picture of the whole collection does not work for looking back to remember what you liked about the individual pieces, as the details are lost.

I wish all these milliners, good luck in their careers.

And remember…. interesting people wear hats.

 

The Hat Detective – on the trail of Henry Pollak

I have recently discovered the joy of museum collections.  No, it wasn’t the my first time to a museum. It was my first time to see behind the scenes at a museum. I did not realize that museums had people who can show you items that are in their collections but not on display.  I owe a huge Thank You to my Morley College hat friends for showing me how it is done on a  recent trip to the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum of Childhood to view small straw hats and bonnets.

Recently, I was in California, to watch my youngest son graduate from university.  I reached out to Marla Novo a the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH).  I asked to see hats in their collection.  She was very cooperative and I was able to book an appointment to view many hats. Not all museums are this receptive. Some museums require that you are studying in a particular field or have an interest in a specific item.

Many museums have the pieces in their collection available in online catalogues which is a great way to see lots of vintage hats. The Santa Cruz MAH does not yet have their catalog online, but it is a project they are currently working on.  Since I wasn’t able to pre-select the hats from an online catalog, I was presented with a binder with paper sheets, known as Composite Object Condition Forms (COC), with a photo and brief description of each hat.

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It was a daunting task to choose from what looked to me like a hundred possible hats. I had about an hour and a half of Marla’s valuable time and I am not good with decision making.

I had done a little research to see if there were any “Must See” hats in the collection. I had discovered they had a few Kate Handley pieces. She was a milliner in the early 1900’s with a shop on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. I am hoping to create a future post about her, however this post is about a mysterious little black felt hat.

The first hat I choose from the binder catalog was a lovely black fur felt topper but it was the second hat that this post is about. What caught my attention in the COC was the shape of the piece in the photo, somewhat of a more angular crowned cloche. It had a basic description, “HAT, WOOL, BLACK, with Grosgrain Ribbon and Bow.”  I read the COC in more detail. The “LABELS, INSCRIPTIONS” field intrigued me. It said, “ unreadable label inside”.

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I had hoped that perhaps I would be able to recognized the label or make out some details and thus return some value to the woman and the museum which had gifted me this time and opportunity.

But alas when the hat was on the viewing table and the white gloves were on my hands, I would add little to their sparse information. Other than the “Grograin” ribbon was “Petersham” ribbon. Many hats were to follow with little thought to this little black hat.

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The following day as I waited for the glass to be replace on my phone. This was my 1st broken phone. I was irritated at myself, the time and expense, but  dragging my finger across broken glass was not going to be tolerable for very long.

While I was waiting for my phone to be repaired, I had the opportunity to haunt a Santa Cruz antiques shop on Pacific Avenue, called Goodies. I was looking for anything related to hats; hat stands, hat pins, hat blocks, and actual hats.  Off in a corner they had two hats that caught my eye.  One in particular had a pleasing shape. I took it from the rack and observed the sequins and velvet ribbon. It gave me a feeling of familiarity. I turned it over to see the inside.  It had the stamp. It was a sister to the one at Santa Cruz MAH! A very similar shape, but trimmed differently, as the one the previous day. Except I could read this one.  Glenover, Henry Pollak, New York.

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I needed a picture! I needed my phone back! I scurried off to pick it up from its repair and promptly returned to Goodies.  With the shop keepers permission, I took photos of the hat and excitedly emailed them to Marla at the museum.

I felt like I had just found a clue to an important mystery.  I don’t know why hats give me such a buzz and this was another new exciting type of hat buzz.

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Now, who was Henry Pollak, where were these hats made, and when? Why were there two hats of a similar shape from the same designer from New York in the fairly small city of Santa Cruz?

My following research is not extensive or exhaustive and most of my questions remain unanswered. I found various bits of information but no complete story.

The first millinery reference I found of Henry Pollak relating to the millinery trade was in a 1916 journal called the Illustrated Milliner and the last reference I have found is a dissolution of Henry Pollak, Inc in 1990. I am sure there are many stories during the 74 years of hatting and millinery associated with the Henry Pollak name. I have but a few nuggets gathered.

I observed that Henry Pollack hats appear to be fairly common on Etsy and Ebay with estimated dates of the 1930’s through the 1960’s.

There were several variations of Henry Pollak 100% wool hat bodies with additional branding of Glenover, Glenover Fawn Tra Felt, Belvedere, Flamand and Ritz.

1948 – The Trademark I recognized was registered in New York.

1959 – Reading Eagle Newspaper, pg 28 in an article about the Union buy out of the Merrimac Hat Factory in Amesbury Massachusetts quotes Henry Pollak. He was described as a sales agent in New York.

1970 – Halston, the American fashion designer and milliner with Henry Pollack Inc., established Halston International, ready-to-wear.

1970 – Legal filing between Henry Pollak, Inc. (the Plaintiff) and the Secretary of the US treasury (the Defendant), related to trade tariffs.

I have enjoyed looking into Henry Pollak and wished I could have found more about the man and the business, but with so many hats to make and other milliners to learn about, I will stop here.  My Hattin Around quest continues, but a Henry Pollak hat will forever catch my attention.

… and remember, interesting people wear hats.

Henry Pollak key

 

Alexander McQueen at V&A – Not to be missed!

The Alexander McQueen exhibit Savage Beauty at the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) is spectacular.
alexander-mcqueen-feather-dress

I have been to several exhibits at the V&A over the last few years. David Bowie was good, Horst was a pleasant surprise, the Italian exhibit was a disappointment. But the Alexander McQueen exhibit is not to be missed. It has been so popular that my husband and I got tickets for, get this, 8:45 AM on a Sunday morning. I was great. There were people there but it wasn’t crowded.

tailored coat

It starts with his craftsmanship in tailoring, then takes you right into some really dramatic pieces, each room a new visceral experience.

I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.

And many of his designs are very powerful.
Antlers
I am not much for birds. Don’t get me wrong I like birds, but I don’t really think about them much. Since starting in millinery, I think about them a lot more, particularly their feathers. McQueen’s use of feathers is astounding.
feather coat

Gothic Mind

“I don’t see it as aggressive – I see it as romantic, dealing with a dark side of a personality.”

Not long after moving to London, my daughter and I were getting on the tube, and there was a man in front of us with the most amazing shoes. To my daughter’s embarrassment, I asked him about his shoes, he said they were Alexander McQueen. That was the first time I remember connecting that name with a piece of clothing. They looked something like this.

AMcQ shoe

Things start to connect. Alexander McQueen’s graduation collection was bought by Isabella Blow. Phillip Treacy made lots of hats and head pieces for Isabella Blow and for Alexander McQueen. I don’t know the order of things, but it is cool when things start connecting. I’d heard of the Phillip Treacy butterfly headdress, but I hadn’t known it was made for Alexander McQueen.
Butterflies

Whether you are into fashion or not, this exhibit has something for everyone. Just to give you an idea of the breadth of experience. My husband who is in the Technology field and a friend’s husband who is a taxi driver, both enjoyed it.

I hate to over sell the exhibit and have you be disappointed, but there were times that I was nearly in tears at the extent of his creativity and mastery. The time, the materials, the craftsmanship, sigh. However with that said many of the things on exhibit are definitely wearable art / performance wear.

bumster

In the 1990’s McQueen’s trousers often were very, very low in the back and seemed to just cling to the buttocks, known as Bumsters.  Wasn’t this about the time when this low back tattoos became popular. We used to call them whale tale tattoos. I wonder if those two things are related.

many of the images were from the V&A website, shoe image from sneakerfreaker.com,

Field Trip to Luton – HA2

HA2 Field Trip to Luton

It was autumn 2013 and I was surprised with an invite to join Edwina Ibbotson and another apprentice, Mee on a field trip up to Luton to visit three millinery suppliers. Boon & Lane the block makers, Baxter, Hart & Abraham suppliers of felt, straw, and petersham, and Randall Ribbons suppliers of feathers, flowers, an endless array of sinamay colors and much more.

Mee, Me and Edwina
Mee, Me and Edwina

We drove to Luton in Edwina’s light blue vintage Mercedes. That is an experience unto itself. It takes me about 10 minutes to figure out how to do the old seat belts. It is an odd hook and magnet device.  The journey to Luton is about 40 miles through London and takes over an hour and 45 minutes, but we arrive mid morning at our first destination, Boon & Lane.

Edwina and the her vintage blue
Edwina and her vintage blue

 

Boon and Lane  are the block makers. This was an experience to remember. There were two men working in the block factory that was filled  with wood and sawdust on one half and different types of sand on the other. They make both wood and aluminium (also spelled aluminum in the USA, so the reason we pronounce this word differently is that it actually spelled differently in the UK vs US) blocks.  The aluminium blocks are used for more industrial use, where they are attached to a heating device and there is a top and bottom piece that clamps together to form the hat shape all at once.

Steve and sand
Steve Lane tamping sand for aluminum hat blocks.

 

Alan Davies and Steve Lane make everything.  When I was there, Alan was working on wood blocks while Steve handled the sand packing in preparation for the molten aluminium. They were welcoming and generous with their time. Explaining what they were doing, the stages of making a hat block and showing us the various pieces of equipment.

Alan and Edwina
Alan and Edwina discussing her custom shapes that have she has carved from polystyrene.

 

Stages of a block
Stages of block making from Right to Left

 

Thus far in my hat career, I’d done very little blocking, but I was completely seduced by being there. As you are sure to have guessed, today would be my first custom made block purchase. I choose a large downward flat 45 degree brim block and an oval head shaped flat topped crown block with slightly rounded edges, to contrast the domed oval crown block I had in my very limited collection. It took a couple of months for the blocks to be made. Shortly before Christmas, Edwina came back one day with her new blocks along with my freshly varnished crown and brim blocks. They were beautiful shiny golden yellow with my name and the year stamped into them. The excitement was only dimmed a bit as I tried to figure out how I was going to get this massive brim block home on my bike. Alas, I could only manage the crown block that day on the bike, I’d have to wait and bring it home on the bus a couple days later. The journey was made easier by using my very large linen furoshiki

Hat Block from Boon & Lane
Hat Block from Boon & Lane
hat blocks from BL
My first custom hat blocks.

 

 

Next stop –Baxter, Hart & Abraham, suppliers to the millinery trade. This place of tidy and well organized. The textile junkie in me thrilled to touch the various different felts. Wool felt, fur felt, and the really furry felts called Melusine. Then there was the colors. My shopping strategy goes, walking around and gather everything I want.  Then doing a mental subtotal of how much it will cost. Then feeling anxious about how much I have, then putting back some of my treasures, until I don’t feel the sense of financial panic. I bought several wool felts to practice on without too much financial impact, but my prize purchases were a yummy small (cone) cognac (gold) and a beautiful large (capeline) grey fur felt. It was glorious and I was so nervous at messing  up the fur felts. I envisioned a gray (grey) large brimmed hat with a fairly simple crown that I could wear all winter. However, it wasn’t going to be that winter that I’d get to wear it.

my treasures from BHA
My treasures from Baxter, Hart & Abraham – Felts, Petersham, and hat boxes.

 

Last stop- Randall Ribbons, the makers of all things feathers and flowers. They had a minimum order. Their website says a minimum order of £30.  I did not spend anything at Randall Ribbons.  I think I was a bit overwhelmed by this point.  I had placed a rather sizable order at the block makers, and purchased enough felt at the millinery suppliers to keep me busy for a while. And honestly I just could not envision how I would trim these new hats of mine. I would have bought a simple hat pin or something, but with a minimum order, I left with nothing. I cannot say the same for Edwina or Mee.

feather sample board at RR

Boxes of flowers at RR

Sinamay at RR

We only went to three places, but it was such a full day. Many thanks to Edwina for the tour of Luton and Mee for being a newbie like me. It was nice to be able to listen to someone else’s questions.

Since the field trip to Luton, I’ve heard the name mentioned several time in relation to the hat making and millinery industry.  In this country they have been making things for a very long time. Thankfully there are others who love doing to research and writing of the history and I get to read the fruits of their labour.  It was oddly relevant as I have just begun taking a strip straw class at Morley College with Jane Smith.

Stay tuned for future episodes about Luton History and my Strip Straw Saga.

HA Field Trip Luton map