With an abundance of “hat songs” to choose from, we found we had a craving for the voice of the belated mad dog and Englishman, Joe Cocker. His 1986 hit, “You Can Leave Your Hat On” (written by Randy Newman) was featured in a striptease scene in the movie 9 ½ Weeks and has become a professional stripper’s anthem. As such, it may seem like an odd choice for a blog about Degas, Impressionism, and Parisian millinery (at the Legion of Honor) as well as great contemporary hat makers, but we think it works and hope you will agree. Ooh la la!
The “Degas, Impressionism and the Paris Millinery Trade” exhibit currently on view at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor (through August 24th, 2017) is an engaging combination of art and artistry. Caught up in the intricacies of the workmanship in the hats, often turning around to find a winsome Degas or Renoir hanging on the wall is quite startling. It’s best to approach each of the many galleries by first absorbing the expertly curated overview. If you love hats, or Degas, or French Impressionists, this is a show not to be missed. Judging from the Wednesday afternoon crowds, the Legion of Honor — one of San Francisco’s crown jewels – has pulled quite a big fluffy rabbit out of its hat.
Inspired by the exhibit, we went in search of a new generation of hat makers. Abbie Dwelle, owner and chief hat maker at Paul’s Hat Works on Geary Boulevard, is continuing the company’s tradition that began in the Richmond District in 1918. Passed down from apprentice to apprentice, the workshop is an inspiring collection of vintage molds, ribbons, and hat making tools with the owner’s cat lounging behind the counter (a black and white mouser with a mug straight out of central casting). The handmade hats are crafted out of rabbit and beaver felts or Ecuadorian woven straw for both men and women. Need your own one-of-a-kind hat tailor made especially for you? This is the place.
Horisaki hats for men, created by a husband and wife team in Sweden, can be found at The Archive on Sutter Street. The store offers one of the best collections of contemporary men’s clothing in San Francisco and Horasaki’s hats push the envelope in 21st century hat making. For a more traditional, proper British haberdashery, we visited Cable Car Clothiers, also on Sutter Street, and found exquisite Christys’ of London bowlers, top hats, homburgs, boaters and caps. A rare straw bowler (word has it that it is in Elvis Costello’s private collection) is available at Cable Car. Our last stop was Barney’s, for the contemporary collection of CA4LA, a Japanese design team offering a wide range of styles. We remain in search for San Francisco stores representing two of Steve’s favorite hat makers, South-Tyrolean Reinhard Plank and LA-Venetian Nick Fouquet.