Which custom hatter?

Discussion in 'Hats' started by seed, Jan 13, 2009.

  1. Sargon

    Sargon Familiar Face

    Rochester NY
    I'm kinda new around here, but Gary is making me a hat now. When I receive it I'll post some pix here in about a month or so. I also plan on getting a hat from Art and perhaps a hat from Dave Brown in the future. Variety is the spice of life.
  2. 1911 Man

    1911 Man A-List Customer

    JW Hats

    I have a Steve Delk Adventurebilt, and an Art Fawcett. Both are phenomenal works. I also have a couple from JW hats in Salt Lake City, and go to him for a few reasons. One, I live by his shop, and person to person communication on a custom article is quite a good thing IMHO. Two, I can look at the felt and ribbon in person, and decide based on what I like. Third, I also really like the block he uses for his fedoras, it matches my face well. Last, his turn around time is only 2-3 weeks. Price is good, 100% beaver fur fedora is $350.
  3. VERY nice, 1911....
  4. Tomasso

    Tomasso Incurably Addicted

  5. OldSkoolFrat

    OldSkoolFrat A-List Customer

    Parts Unknown
    Som'ting in the water out that way!:cool2:
  6. demian

    demian Guest

    Matt Deckard's post is very useful..

    I too am rather new to all of this, yet have learned via links, recommendations, etc. all I need to here..

    Like any idea, you must have your goal in mind, and work towards it.

    I adore craftsmanship and quality in all things, not names. I have a gerat deal of respect for artisans of all sorts..it is the future I believe.

    That said, I began of course with Borsalino...looked at historical names like Chrities's only to find out that much of their work is outsourced. One is not actually buying a Borsalino made by Borsalino many times, or even made in Italy, but subcontracted by other cos.

    A a connoisseur, this bothered me greatly, and there ended that.

    Quality is nothing as it was in times past (as with most things I have learned), although one must respect them (and others) for doing what they can to stay alive (I suppose).

    Hopefully a resurgence in hat wearing will augment the quality of hats produced...it is a supply and demand thing.

    This basically applys for most others. Akubra however has received great reviews as a mfr. and the best available (per my absurdly extensive research!!)

    Now then, I searched all of the known online vendors from Village Hats to Bencraft to learn also. The marque, the history, all are important to me.

    New hats are simply not where it's at today due to the above to a large extent unfortunately. (This would exclude Montecristi hats..where one can find very fine qlty at a good price it seems from "PanamaBob" as example)

    Initially, I was quite put off by the idea of wearing a hat someone else had owned/worn (vis a vis "vintage")...but you will get past this. Believe me.

    Graham Thompson of Optimo and Art, can restore to like new any hat from the past, so therefore, you are basicaly owning a new hat at the end..

    There are of course vintage quality levels relating to beaver content, etc. You need to spend some time researching.

    IMO, to a large extent one cannot beat a vintage Borsalino.

    *However* enter Custom. The best way to go is custom made...in anything.

    And if you too are a connoisseur, there is no better option.

    There are only a handful of fine milliners around. I will say the top are:

    Graham Thompson of Chicago
    Art Fawcett in California
    Gary White in Buffalo, NY

    Graham is more MODERN. Many of the classic guys do not like his styles I have found, yet if you are younger and like modern (as I do) you will Love his work.

    I find him the best hands down *for my taste* for style, quality, craftsmanship.

    He uses the finest french silk ribbon available, has a spot on eye for style (Which is important), goes to great lengths for his felts whos palettes change yearly...and the best straw hats available anywhere...

    ..all of this comes at a premium however, and one cannot knock him for his success.

    Art Fawcett to is the best. His styles are more classic and traditional. He has hoarded (or made a deal with the devil!) vintage ribbon that has long ceased to be in production, etc. He is this sort of fellow. His felts are everything Graham's are in terms of quality.

    His prices are very reasonable, his wait is ~3months.

    As a note, he can do anything you want however. although I purchased a hat for my father for him, and therefore older, more traditional in style, I am rather confident he could do anything I described.

    However, my opinion is, as any artist/artisan, he has his own *signature* to his work, and I believe one will always see his pasion for the classic designs in his work.

    Gary White in Buffalo is the other. He has no email or web site really. I have no direct experience but I believe him to be a blend between the two in style and equal title holder of the finest qulaity materials.

    He seems very charming and my kind of guy, as the others, who uses and patiently will show you his old equipment from a century ago that is used in every hats creation.

    As for myself, Optimo is where it is at, if you can afford it.

    (Should you have a 23-23.5" head size, I highly recommend looking at the classifieds now as a fellow of high integrity named "Rundquist" is offering his entire Optimo hats for sale very resonably...this is a very rare occurance...and Graham et al. ca resize and do whatever you want to it, and still yo are saving a great deal.)

    At any rate, all above are of the highest integrity and a pleasure to deal with. All could restore your vintage hat, but Graham is set up to do it quickly and more reasonably than the others it seems.

    Take time to learn what you want, remembering it is not the destination that is enjoyable but the journey.

    Anyway, that's how babies are made...you will be very pleased with Art's work. You can do no better, did very well for someone new to this!!

    As Graham said to me, a fine hat ages like fine leather. I believe that is very true.

    Art's hat is a hat for a lifetime...in 2-5 yrs who knows what his prices will become!

    Best of luck

    {EDIT: There are apparently other milliners not as well known who are very talented using quality materials, however, as you will see, mine is the opinions of others far more knowledgeable and experienced as well....and this forum is *the* place for those who have genuine knowledge/expereince on this uncommon subject. But there are others well regarded whos names do not come to mind at the moment.}
  7. Delthayre

    Delthayre One of the Regulars

    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    A curious market

    Mister Fawcett is an excellent craftsman and very easy to work with. He responds to messages in good time in an always helpful and polite way. I own one Vintage Silhouettes fedora, a second is presently being made and I imagine that I will order at least one light weight felt fedora from him. He generally works in classic proportions, viz. high, straight crowns with wide brims and can supply quite distinctive ribbon treatments.

    I haven't ordered anything from Optimo, although I think that I might some day order a brown homburg from them as a gift to my father and perhaps some time later a grey one for me.

    I have seen many salutary opinions of Penman Hats and I expect to see those mentioned increasingly over the next few years, especially hats that aren't modeled upon those from the Indiana Jones films.

    That isn't accurate; Mister White has a website, although I haven't found an electronic mail address. He used to have a rather shoddy website, but his new one is far nicer.

    Gary White isn't mentioned often here, but I intend to some day ride a train out to Buffalo to be fitted for a black homburg. I know that I don't have to visit personally, but I would like to meet a hatter in person at least once.
  8. spiridon

    spiridon A-List Customer

    Gulf Coast (AL)
    Great looking lid on ya there 1911, and I agree it must be nice to have your custom hatter available to you locally.:eusa_clap
  9. seed

    seed Familiar Face

    Obviously each custom maker has their own individual styles and varying degrees of craftsmanship, skill, experience and secrets of the trade. I know it's a fine line between them, but what I am gathering is that the main differences are in the felts. Does anyone know if they basically receive their felts from the same handful of felt makers, or is this something which differs that much? Does any custom-maker make their own felt from scratch? I don't know if I missed it, but I seem to remember they mostly order their felts, pre-made, on which they put their own final touches . Am I wrong?
  10. Mulceber

    Mulceber Practically Family

    Ann Arbor, Michigan
    It depends on what you're looking for. If you're looking for an Indy Fedora, Adventurebilt is king in that arena, with Penman just behind them. As far as I can tell, the only difference between the two is that Adventurebilt has a *slightly* better block (Steve just recently discovered an even more accurate block) and Steve has more experience in the business. For those reasons, I'd say an AB is better than a Penman. But on the flip side, Penman's wait times are about 1/5 of what Adventurebilt's are, and his price is about 3/5 of the AB, so in terms of economy, Penman's the way to go. For Indy hats that is. Peters Bros. makes some nice Indy fedoras and other fedoras as well, but their chief talent is western style hats.

    As for Art and Optimo...for me it's a slam dunk - Art Fawcett. Beaver fur hats (as opposed to Optimo's rabbit) that are hand-made (as opposed to hand-finished) and are about $100 cheaper. I confess, I'm not really sure why a lot of people choose Optimo over Art. I won't deny that Optimo makes some very nice hats, but it seems in every arena, from what I've heard, Art has edged them out. [huh]

    Speaking for myself, I'd say it's just brand loyalty. Personally, apart from a Peters Bros. hat I got early on, all my felt hats have been Adventurebilt. And until Steve retires (in 2-2.5 years), that's the only place I'm going to buy hats. That's not to say that I don't think other people make great hats - I know they do, I've seen their work on here and on COW. But I just feel a strange (perhaps irrational) loyalty to Steve Delk and prefer to turn to him for my hatting needs. I can't speak for everyone else, I just know that's how I feel about it. -M
  11. Tango Yankee

    Tango Yankee Call Me a Cab

    Lucasville, OH

    While it's true that there is a very limited number of felters left, I'll let others more experienced than myself address the issue of the different types of felt hat bodies that can be purchased. But that is not the main difference between hats made by custom hatters.

    The primary differences are the areas you brush aside as being obvious. To say that a hatter is simply putting the finishing touches onto a hat body is akin to saying that a potter working on a wheel is simply putting the finishing touches onto a hunk of clay. You could hand each of the hatters mentioned here an identical hat body and you'll get a different hat from each one back because of the "individual styles and varying degrees of craftsmanship, skill, experience and secrets of the trade."

    Just my opinion, of course, but I think it's an accurate take on things.

  12. seed

    seed Familiar Face

    That's exactly how I feel, only I didn't want to be the one to say it...I'm hardly an authority. Yet, this is what I have come to learn and I agree whole-heartedly.

    No, I don't mean to brush these areas aside. There are major differences, such as hand-stitching linings as opposed to gluing them in, etc. I just feel that pretty much these custom makers are so masterful in their work that main differences which can be perceived (other than individual style) is in the felt and or the treatment of it.
  13. Lefty

    Lefty I'll Lock Up

    I'm not sure that you're right about Optimo's felt composition. I've never asked, but there seem to be a lot of older threads talking about various Optimo felts (pure beaver, beaver/nutria, etc.). I'm not arguing the point, I simply don't know.

    As to the sourcing of felt, I know that Art's felts come from Winchester (U.S.). I believe that Optimo sources its felt from Fepsa (Portugal). According to Anolgist, who owns more Arts than anyone, there's a difference between the two felt companies - if you're comparing the same felt. Again, I don't know the composition of Optimo's felt.
    Here's what besdor had to say:
    Run a search on the word "Portugal" and specify the Hats forum for more on the subject.

    Of course, in the end, there's also style. In most cases, you can tell an Optimo from an Art pretty easily by the block and the bow. I'm sure that either could make you a hat in the other's style, but it would be out of the norm. Art is certainly a better value, but anyone who's willing to spend over $300 on a hat should buy what he likes, even if the differences are minimal.
  14. demian

    demian Guest

    I too would like to meet a genuine hatter..

    ..and although speaking in ignorance, from all I have read, (and although Art and Graham are very kind) Gary White for some reason seems to be the one I would like to meet the most of the 3.

    I do believe once you "go custom" you will never buy another vintage or mass produced hat again...or at least you 'll understand nothing will compare.

    But goodness, you are beginning at the top with Mr. Fawcett!

    You will be very pleased and your research already has saved you a fortune in time and money trying other mass produced or vintage hats, trying to make them work, restoring them, reselling them as they were not what you hoped, etc.

    Quality over quantity! (I say)

    I never realized just how *personal* a thing a hat is. It has been a very interesting and enjoyable experience.

    {Edit: "Blindeman" that is a really charming/cute image used of yourself and your baby. Cute idea}
  15. Lefty

    Lefty I'll Lock Up

    This isn't true. Most of Art's customers here have vintage hats, many of which were purchased after or between their purchases of Art's work.
  16. Viper Man

    Viper Man Banned

    Stone City, IL
    I own an Art Fawcett hat and have another on order but my favorite vintage felts will have to be pried from cold, dead hands. :D
  17. Tomasso

    Tomasso Incurably Addicted

    Optimo uses 1OO% beaver;NO BUNNY.
    Care to elaborate on this nugget?
  18. Mulceber

    Mulceber Practically Family

    Ann Arbor, Michigan
    Ah, my mistake. I could've sworn that the lower end of the optimo spectrum was rabbit. Oh well, sorry for the confusion.

    From what I remember from reading a post by Steve Delk, Optimo technically isn't handmade: the ribbon, the liner and any bound edging is put on by hand, but the actual blocking is done by a machine, as opposed to hatters like Art and Steve who use a block and an iron. -M
  19. This is a no brainer. Art. I have 100 hats, at least I don't want to count higher than that;) , most of which have either been cleaned by Art or custom made by Art. I have other customs but I am still not swayed. One, in fact, helped cement the opinion in my mind because the hat was so poorly made that I wouldn't wear it until it was fixed. The sweatband was sewn in crooked, the ribbon on the bound edge was so loose that it left a bubble under the binding when you snapped the brim. :eusa_doh: :rolleyes: The felt was also poorly finished.
    I have never found that to be the case from anything I have obtained from Art---even from the very beginning of his efforts. The best thing is the customer service. He can duplicate vintage styles to a T. Ribbon treatments, bashes and all colors of the rainbow done by hand with carefull attention to detail---not touched by inexperienced apprentices. :eusa_doh: One of his customs has even survived out in a hurricane if that tells you something about durability. :eek: You really can't go wrong and I wasn't paid to write this but I will accept bribes. ;) :p
    Oh and I am one of those guys who has plenty of vintage hats as well.
  20. billyspew

    billyspew One Too Many

    From a Chicago Sun-Times article in 1999:
    "After blocking the hat, Thompson carefully irons the crown and brim. He then cuts the brim and pounces (like sanding wood so the hat becomes softer) the brim and crown. Thompson rolls the brim and places it into a flange, creating the correct snap of the brim. He cuts leather for the sweatband, and his assistant Marlene Avonce does all the chestnut brown silk and rayon ribbon trimming that go around the outside of the hat."

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