Arriving from South Africa, Albertus Swanepoel attended the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, which led him to an apprenticeship and ultimately his own glove-making business. The appeal of gloves, however, was “incredibly limited, ” as most people wear them only seasonally. So, renaissance man that he is, Albertus switched gears and slid seamlessly into the world of hats. Now he is firmly entrenched in his new niche, and has been producing haute couture headwear since the 1990s. Grounding his practice in old-fashioned millinery traditions, but using techniques from multiple fashion disciplines, he is able to approach hats creatively and expertly. This is a must for a bold garment that can fall flat if not done stylishly. “I try to make things that people wear everyday and look cool but not nostalgic, ” Swanepoel explained. And New Yorkers are wearing his high-end hats across the city. Albertus has a very optimistic take on his environment: “I think that’s the great thing about Manhattan. There are so many people living here that you can almost do anything and people will want it. ”
Suzanne Newman had always been interested in fashion and design. She began sewing on her parent's sewing machine as a child in South Africa - first teaching herself how to sew clothes for dolls, and then for herself. She began her career in London at a department store, where she stayed for ten years before moving to New York City. As a single mother, Suzanne began making hats under the tutelage of Josephine Trippoli in 1985. Two years later, she opened up her own boutique on Madison Avenue. For fifteen years, she developed her creative instincts and gained an enviable list of followers. In 2002, she moved to her current 61st Street location, bringing her regular customers with her, while simultaneously acquiring a host of new ones. With returning clients from the 80s as well as a host of younger customers, Suzanne continues to enjoy the range in hat requests that she receives. Suzanne finds inspiration in the world around her, often looking towards magazine, theaters, museums, and fashion trends. Since the vast majority of the hats she creates are custom made, she considers the settings the hat might be worn in, personality of the client, and, of course, the client's wishes. For bridal parties, Suzanne can very easily design head wear based on a swatch of a dress. With remarkable attention to detail, there are casual hats for simple occasions and then some extraordinary and extravagant ones for the Kentucky Derby or even England’s grand millinery event of the year, The Royal Ascot. While Suzanne especially loves “hat events” where women often want a hat that “goes all out, ” she believes that a women’s head piece is important no matter the occasion. “A woman looks good in the right hat - the right hat brings out her personality and it’s a form of expression. Express your whimsy! ”Located in the back of the stunning shop is where each step of the hat-making process is completed. Inside, the workshop is piled with all sorts of materials, including a variety of fabrics, straws, and feathers. Most amazing were the hats in progress, including a fascinator in the shape and colors of a coy fish, a shiny blue Spanish-style hat, and a helmet-like pink hat that could have come right out of the 1960s. The designers are constantly on the lookout for new materials to incorporate into their designs, such as 3D printing, and they are always experimenting with new ways to prepare and recycle the materials they have on hand. Suzanne told us that she is especially pleased to have her business be in New York City, as she is often able to source her materials locally. “We have a remarkable amount to choose from, I think the best in the world. ”While chatting with some of the staff, one of the first things that they shared with us was that Suzanne has her hand in every project. If one of them is feeling creatively challenged - not sure if something is working properly - or simply looking for feedback, they turn to Suzanne. And, whenever Suzanne and her assistants go out together, they wear samples of their work. Not only do they make a statement, but it allows them to determine if they need to reinforce parts of a hat to combat the wind, or tell clients to duck low when exiting cars to spare long feathers. There is something beautiful about imagining that scene – these exquisite pieces of art being worn by the people who can best appreciate them.
Looking out onto the street from inside the confines of the little storefront window, long necked silhouettes and busts wrapped in black lace stared at the ground. Amelia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, told me that she could almost imagine them glancing up from beneath the brims of their hats with a coy smile, could almost hear them whispering and enticing her to enter. Originally from England, East Village Hats owner Julia Knox’s background is in clothing design and the English Language. Eight years ago, after living all over the world teaching English as a foreign language, she moved to New York to continue her work in fashion design. One day, however, she decided to take a millinery class and has been hooked on hats ever since. Julia’s professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) introduced her to Barbara Feinman, who had owned her shop since the late 1990s, but was looking to retire and pass the business along to somebody else. In 2011, Julia became that somebody. In 2016, the lease was up on the old shop, Barbara Feinman Millinery, so Julia made the move just a few doors down from the original storefront to her present location on East 7th, and renamed the shop East Village Hats. It was important to stay close to the original boutique, Julia explained, because “one block can be a million miles in New York. ”When Amelia inquired about how business was, Julia confidently replied, “They sell like hotcakes. ” Amelia then paused with her questions as she observed Julia trimming a man’s fedora with a green and white striped ribbon. Julia then continued on, telling Amelia a bit about the hat making process. First, the hats are formed on wooden blocks. Then they are sewn with a 130 year-old sewing machine, which used to be operated by a treadle, but now has a motor for modern efficiency. At that moment, an older woman walked in and began to look around. Julia asked her politely if she could help her find something, to which the woman replied in a soft Irish accent: “You have some lovely blocks here. ” She pointed to the wooden hat molds lining the brick wall. Amelia listened as they began to discuss all manner of hat things... hats in the United Kingdom versus hats in the United States, the hats at the royal wedding of Kate and William, how Princess Diana rarely wore hats. It was wonderful for Amelia to simply observe and listen. Later, Julia revealed to Amelia that she has been hosting hat making classes in her small shop. “This little workbench is the center of our universe, ” she said, motioning to the bench in front of her, whose drawers seemed to be filled to the brim with lace and feathers and ribbons. She went on to say how the bench rolls out into the middle of the room to make the entire shop a classroom. These classes range from workshops on making fascinators, a dainty head piece she described as “decorative bits of nothing, ” to more serious classes for people in the fashion business, to which she brings teachers from here and abroad to share their art. People do not necessarily need to have experience. “We spend three hours, we drink wine. It’s a lot of fun. ”The community interaction Julia has fostered is a feature specific to the new location; so, she said, is their restoration and repairs. Now, in addition to making custom-made and ready-to-wear hats with a modern minimalist aesthetic and touches of vintage, she often receives beautiful old hats whose owners are looking to restore them to their former glory. With a smile on her face, she told me about an old collapsible top hat that she was recently given. She describe how modern felts and materials are nothing like the fine, smooth felts with which old hats were made. “Recently, I heard about some old felts just sitting in a warehouse in the Garment District. ” Laughing a bit to herself, she added, “I went and cleaned them out! ” Just then, an older man and his wife walked in to pick up the fedora that Julia had been trimming during our conversation. They walked up to the workbench with big smiles on their faces as Julia greeted them. She handed over the green and white trimmed straw hat to the man, who immediately put it on. “You look very smart, ” she announced to him. One might think that in the technological, mass-produced modern age, handmade hats would not be in fashion. However, this is simply not the case, according to Julia. She finds that people are becoming increasingly weary of “fast fashion. ” They appreciate, instead, to see the kind of care that goes into the products made at East Village Hats and to meet the person who made them. Chains simply cannot offer the range of sizes that independent fashion businesses can. Nor can they provide the kind of custom work that Julia offers with her hats. “Hats are making a kind of renaissance, and I can stand by my product. It is designed to last a lifetime. ”
As we entered the brightly colored store shimmering with sparkles and gems, we were met by a Teacup Yorkie named Yobi, who follows his owner, Jeannie, everywhere she goes, including on her newest venture in Manhattan. Jeannie has been selling headwear on Long Island since 1987, and decided to open another boutique on the Upper West Side in 2015. She had been searching on the Upper East Side, where she has a large customer base, for years, but was not having much luck until she ventured to the other side of the park. "I can't believe how nice people are, here! " she exclaimed. She was proud to tell us that she is the only American retailer to carry Philip Tracy, a milliner designer from England, who specializes in velour. Jeannie was also eager to show us her packable, collapsible hats, for which she is apparently well-known. I was particularly intrigued by a stiff hat curled into a ring that could be twisted into different shapes before worn. Jeannie guided the Manhattan Sideways team around the shop in a whirlwind of suede, leather, and sparkles, happy to model any of her designs. Everything is handmade, she assured us. Nothing comes from a factory. While drifting from one intricate piece to the next, Jeannie told me about her background. I learned that she was a teacher with a Masters degree in reading, but that she quickly realized that this was the wrong profession for her. She traveled to Argentina in the 1980s and met a hat designer with AIDS who taught her how to make hats. When he passed away, Jeannie inherited his supplies and her next career began. In addition to hats, Jeannie carries scarves and jewelry – as she explains, "anything connected to the hair and the head. " She demonstrated how a scarf made entirely of beads can be twisted into an infinity scarf, and then pulled out a collection of stone bracelets with magnetized cuffs. There were also pin-less brooches with hidden magnets and light-weight yoga clips that will not pull on one's hair. When Olivia, a Sideways team member, mentioned that she was beginning to recognize a pattern in the inventory, Jeannie confirmed that the pieces in her store are not only glamorous, but easy to wear. She went on to say that many dancers, especially tango dancers, come in to shop, as comfort is very important to them. After I noticed a sewing machine behind the counter, Jeannie acknowledged that she also creates custom-ordered fascinators. When I asked who, in addition to dancers, her customers are, Jeannie told me that she caters to a lot of Orthodox Jewish women and church-goers, where there is a high demand for hats. She went on to say that there are a lot of people who come in and tell her, "Thank you for opening this store. " I was curious, however, what occasions there were at which an average, non-religious New Yorker could wear a hat. Jeannie got a twinkle in her eye and said, "If you buy a hat, you wear that hat. "
In the 1980’s, St. Marks Place was where the Goths, Punks, and Rockers hung out. Search and Destroy is a relic of this eccentric past. With naked toy babies and skeletons piled up in the front display window, the store is intriguing at first sight. A step through the door reveals mutilated animals and dummies, a larger mound of plastic infants, and loads of second hand clothing – studded leather, flannel, band t-shirts, boots, tutus and decorated gas masks. Not in a buying mood? Wading through the masses of clothing and checking out the funky clientele will be a memorable experience.
Smiling, a lovely woman said "I just saw your window, and had to come in. " She was intrigued by the beautiful hat display at Susan van der Linde's current location on 67th Street. She walked around, flirting with a few different styles before finding her way out, promising to return. "It is fantastic to be on the ground level, " Susan said delightedly. She went on to tell me that she worked as a seamstress on the second floor in the Lombardy Hotel and formally opened her label on the fourth floor of a building on 57th Street in 1995. Relocated to 67th in 2014, her small boutique is certainly a standout with its well-crafted styles and warm personal service. The interior of the shop boasts a clean, museum-like light system, a neutral backdrop, and attractive shelving, allowing the focus to be on the colorful and textured fashions. From her wide-brimmed hat made of horsehair and straw, with a luscious navy silk bow, to her round-crowned chapeau of organically draped brown sinamay, each of Susan's creations is innovative with stylish whim. Though known for hats, she also sells a classic loafer, which comes in many colors, and is fabricated in Italy with a comfortable vibram sole. In 2012, bags and clothes were added to the collection. I could not help but run my fingers over a vibrant orange handbag made of water buffalo leather. Sewing clothing since the age of ten and receiving formal training at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), Susan first became "infected with the passion of making hats" when she apprenticed under the esteemed Milliner Don Marshall in Paris. "He taught me that hats have to look like human hands never touched them, " Susan explained. "No stitches should show. And to never underestimate what I learn from a client, to always adapt. " When the beehive style became popular during the 1960s and hat wearing phased out, Don Marshall was one to make intricate fascinators and veiled caplets, adjusting to his clientele. When Susan meets a client, she is always looking for clues. In contrast to autopilot salesmen, who fit customers to their hats, Susan fits her hats to her customers, a luxury achieved by being a small business with the designer on premise, sewing away downstairs. "If someone likes a style they see here, but she wants it in acid green, I can do that. " A person going on a safari will need a wrap-around, so the hat does not blow off. "I love seeing my client's lifestyle, " Susan clarified when discussing her trunk shows, "it tells me what she needs. " And Susan most certainly complies.
Trash and Vaudeville is actually two stores – Vaudeville, full of colorful, ornamented clothing pieces, is a more kitsch environment, while Trash “is one of the seminal punk and goth stores of NYC. ” Founded in 1975 by Ray Goodman, Trash and Vaudeville began adorning Rockers, Mods, Punks, Goths, and Rockabillies – “everyday working class heroes who just wanted to walk and dress on the wild side. ” Today, the store continues to cater to a similar audience, dressing rock stars, such as Lady Gaga, counter culturists, as well as the average New Yorker and tourist. Besides the bright colors, feather boas, and rubber dresses, the store’s character is derived from the people working here – most notably, Jimmy Webb. He is the epitome of rock n’ roll and an era gone by - wearing tight pants that hug his body, a leather studded vest, metal bracelets that coil up his arm, and a shag haircut that shields his eyes. Jimmy's tough appearance is marked with the gentlest of souls. He tells us that he loves Iggy Pop, that he wants to be a “little piece of a great big thing happening, ” but most importantly that he loves this store. In fact he is completely devoted to it. As he bops from left to right, Jimmy cannot help but charm every visitor... and he treats each of them with the utmost kindness, whether it be a star who walks in, a music lover, or someone who is simply exploring - like us. While the store is aesthetically memorable, Jimmy makes it much more noteworthy. A few years after our interview with Jimmy, Trash and Vaudeville moved from its longstanding home on St Marks to a location on 7th Street. However, the spirit, punk vibe, and killer style (not to mention Jimmy! ) followed the store. We have left up our photographs of the St. Marks store as an homage to the location that started it all. Can't get enough? See more of our interview with Jimmy here.