Fur heads

The question is enough to keep you up at night. How does a hat come into being? A proper hat, that is, made with felt. Because it seems a thing fully formed: immaculate and complete from the get-go. One minute, no hat; the next, full hat. How do you go from nothing to hat?

The answer is “you do a lot of clever things”, and they all revolve around a pore-opening masterclass in good old fashioned hydraulics. This isn’t the time or place for a paean to the virtuous Victorian craft of hat-making, nor a step-by-step how-to which will anyway always be better set out elsewhere. Still, though, it must be noted there aren’t many places in the world, and just one in the British Isles, that harness hand and steam and a few contraptions that go clunk to make luxury-grade fur-felt hats from very close to scratch.

It is a process which embraces both the “wet” part of hat-making — the felting of rabbit fur into a smooth and dense material, the end result being the loosely hat-shaped “hood” from which all proper hats start out — as well as the “dry” — the gripping, stretching, and steaming to block the crown and brim, using the more macabre-looking tools seen here.

That’s not to mention shaving, waxing, and brushing — the loving hat-grooming which only the most highly trained hands can do — nor the cutting and sewing of the sweatband, bow, and so on, in the room upstairs. The only hat factory anywhere, this place, from now until the end of time, which can claim to have done all of this since Wellington was little.

The classics of the hatting oeuvre loom so very large that, rather than design within the shadow of the brim of any single one of them — and go all derivative in and around styles honed and perfected since the turn of the century before last — a plan was hatched to combine them all into one, versatile, thing. And so came to pass the “every hat”: a heavy felt, fully blocked, but stopped just short of being set into any one type of hat. It is an abdication of responsibility, really — leaving the task of what to do with this brimmed and lined felt object to its wearer: a preoccupation bursting with permutations. The new hat can be pulled and prodded into the shape of a trilby, a Homburg, or even a none-of-the-above, leaving a simple bowler. Such felt-fiddling is available now in the hat department.