Hats used to be an essential component of every well-put-together woman’s ensemble, but in recent decades they’ve lost their hold. No longer: a slew of high-profile royal weddings has seen a rapid rise in interest in millinery, with the industry in Germany catering to the most immaculately put-together heads.
International names flock to Germany
Germany has become a hat-lovers hub, not just for the country’s own hat-makers, but for the internationally renowned names, among them London’s Philip Treacy and the American brand Stetson, that have infiltrated some of the top millinery stores across the country. London may boast some of the oldest milliners in the world, Paris may be a hothouse of couture fascinators, but it’s in Germany that some of the most innovative, as well as the most traditional, names can be found alongside global talent.
The fanciful, the decorative and the formal
Hut Couture’s evolution as one of Germany most sought-after milliners is perhaps surprising, given the fashion landscape at the time of the brand’s founding. The brand began when retailer Marly Verhoeven Vroemen, a Dutch native, began working as an agent for Milanese milliners Borsalino.
The year was 1990, and Vroemen was shrewd enough to realise that, alongside the era’s stark minimalism, there was a growing affection for the fanciful, the decorative and the formal, with a young couturier called Christian Lacroix and his maximalist designs, along with Karl Lagerfeld and his dazzling collections at Chanel, leading the way.
This rising counter movement against all things pared back and stripped down celebrated the exact opposite; the extraneous, the decorative, the formal and ornate. And what could be more fanciful and occasional than a hat?
Quick to catch the mood, Vroemen launched independent hat boutique Hut Gallery in Amsterdam, before taking the label further afield with a store in Düsseldorf.
A home for hats in Germany
Hut Couture’s masterstroke was to seek out international brands to bring to the German market, among them Borsalino, Céline, Patricia Underwood and the iconic Stetson cowboy-hat label. One of the most revered labels enticed to sell under the Hut Couture umbrella is London’s renowned Philip Treacy, who counts Sarah Jessica Parker, Madonna and style-setting pop superstar Lady Gaga as clients.
To chime with hats’ overtones of formality and sense of occasion, Hut Couture brought in capsule collections, collaboration pieces and a bespoke service to make the hat-buying experience a truly luxurious one. One of Hut Couture’s mission statements continues to be to find exciting new millinery talent across the globe and to act as a showcase for these emerging names.
Inspiration from art
At YVA, the Berlin-based millinery brand, the starting point was not fashion but fine art. Katharina Sigwart was an art-history graduate working at the Bauhaus-Archiv in Berlin. She became curious about how the forms and shapes would work on the human frame, and followed her hat-maker mother into the world of millinery.
Sigwart named her brand after discovering that German photographer Else Neuländer-Simon, nicknamed Yva, had a studio around the corner from her own. Inspired by her verve and boldness at a time when women in professions were all-too-often overlooked, the label was born, and Sigwart still regards part of a hat’s function as a way to empower the wearer.
‘I love to deal with faces,’ says Sigwart of her personal approach to her craft. ‘Hats are a sculpture apart, but the two have to match.’ Hers is a truly sensory approach to design; she admits she often finds herself lost in the romance of vintage fabrics she finds and transforms their tales into fantastical headgear from fascinators twisted from peacock feathers or trilbies in shimmering sari-style fabrics. ‘All milliners are gold diggers,’ she says. Long may they keep plundering.