In Britain, trends are set by the royal family and cream, here customers want freedom and originality, says hatmaker Hana Škorpilová

Photo: courtesy of Hana Škorpilová

Hats are trendy not only at the moment, but personally it seems to me that every era brings with it a certain headwear trend, so even hats never really go out of fashion. What were your beginnings in this field?

It seems to me that hats have their charm in every era and fashion stage. I have been attracted to hats since I was a child. Even as a little girl, I admired the films of the First Republic, where no beautiful lady was without a chic hat on her head. I bought a hat with my first paycheck, and then I curiously examined it at home, wondering how such an elegant beauty was made. When I had small children, I started creating with wool for fun, processing it by spinning on a spinning wheel and using the wet and dry felting technique. I gradually mastered this technique, perfected it and was one of the first in the Czech Republic to start the production of felt and wool hats using the wet felting method.

I tried to unite traditional and modern technologies. I was surprised by the unexpected interest of customers in this technique, and motivated me to conduct art courses and in 2007 to found Atelier Jeruzalemská, where I built my craft workshop. From hand-felted hats it was only a step to milliners. I discovered a set of original modiste molds in the basement of an acquaintance and that directed me to the traditional modiste craft.

The beginnings were difficult, there was no school or course in the Czech Republic where fashionistas could learn. I was very lucky with people and I got to know older milliners who passed on to me not only rare original wooden milliner forms, but also secret, forgotten milliner’s griffins and skills. I gradually gained experience through my own practice and foreign internships and courses. Since 2008, I myself have started to conduct modist courses in hat making and traditional procedures and founded the Modist School.

Photo: courtesy of Hana Škorpilová

Which model do you consider to be the most successful in your career?

I cannot say that any particular model is more successful than another. Each hat or fascinator is original, bearing the imprint of the customer for whom it was made. You won’t find two identical hats. Shapes and colors are popular, but the final product always differs in decoration.

I consider it a great success in my career that my school has managed to organize a prestigious exhibition in Pilsen for the third year already. Together with my students, we have the opportunity to present our work there. It is a unique and extraordinary event. I am proud of all my students. Some make hats just for fun and enjoyment, but many have built their own milliner fashion brand and also place top in international milliner competitions.

However, if I had to mention the type of hat that is among the most popular lately, it is definitely the one called “Dreamy”, with which I took part in a competition in Great Britain. Although it was not placed among the top three, this model had a great response, especially at the professional level. A number of milliners turned to me with questions about decorating techniques, they were interested in a different concept, different processing. The response on social networks was also remarkable and I was very pleased.

Photo: author Martina Nádherná, with the permission of Hana Škorpilová

Which celebrities liked your hats?

Although I also create hats and selected models myself, my core work is in the field of teaching and the basis is fashionist courses. My customers include women and men of all age categories, across all professional fields, from various corners of the country and Slovakia. They want to create a hat for a certain occasion or to go with their favorite dress, they want to learn something new. Hat making is a beautiful and creative process. There is a huge amount of personal creativity, precision craftsmanship and handiwork involved. Each of my clients is distinctive, unique and projects their own soul into the hat.

What do you think is the key to success?

When do you know that a person is already successful? I consider it my success that my livelihood is my hobby. I realize that it’s a gift to love going to work and enjoy it. In the Atelier, I make hats, run my small e-shop or run a dressmaking school. The atelier is a very inspiring meeting space where I create and teach my students. I appreciate the opportunity to meet interesting people, learn about their destinies, and I am happy that I can pass on my experience to them and give them the opportunity to turn their dreams into reality. I embarked on each of my businesses sometimes with unhealthy enthusiasm, great enthusiasm for the cause and immense love. It’s not always enough. It is essential to have the courage to invest and work hard for your dreams. To find an entrepreneur, an economist in yourself and at the same time not to lose the free creator, not to suffocate creativity with worries. A balance must be found. But the result is worth it.

Photo: courtesy of Hana Škorpilová

Have you experienced a crisis in your career? How did you cope with her?

I have been in the retail business since 1998. I went through a period full of abundance and the economic crisis in 2008, which ended with my business bankruptcy. I didn’t give up. I compensated for the trauma of the economic disaster by creating creatively. As a personal hobby, I created a business, built Ateliér Jeruzalémská 5 and founded a fashion school. I always listened to my customers, they showed me the direction to take my business. Their opinions and satisfaction are the necessary feedback for me.

Hat making is a craft with a long tradition. What is the attitude of the next generation? How difficult is it to become a milliner?

It is not possible to properly train as a milliner and obtain a training certificate in the Czech Republic. The field disappeared years ago due to lack of interest. But learning to make hats, learning the craft is possible. Those interested can learn about traditional and modern crafts, for example, in my private Fashion School. There are also amazing opportunities for internships and courses abroad, especially in Great Britain. Fashion and hat making are undergoing a renaissance there, and the offer is wide.

A hat maker only becomes a milliner or milliner, or a hatter, with practice. As I tell students, all you have to do is work honestly, be creative, don’t slack off on your work and, above all, find your own author’s path. Then all you have to do is persevere, reach out to customers and keep them. One of the most important things for DIY hat making, in my opinion, is the necessary equipment. It is also the biggest obstacle. Hats are made on wooden fashionist molds and new ones are very expensive. Occasionally, old molds can be obtained from estates or bazaars. I myself am constantly looking for modish forms for hats. I managed to put together some great equipment and a collection of molds of just about every shape and size for my dressmaking school. I have very rare antique pieces from the 30s of the 19th century, but also modern shapes. I received a large part of the millinery forms as a gift from milliners or their descendants, who support me and are happy that the equipment will continue to be used to preserve and restore the craft of milliners.

Photo: courtesy of Hana Škorpilová

How do you juggle being a mother and a demanding career? How did you manage to balance work and family life?

No need to wash. Being a mother and partner and running a business at the same time comes naturally to me and it has never been different for me. As they say, a happy mother and wife – happy children and husband. I have always been able to run a business and be satisfied in my family and creative life. To be at least a little in the plus side, to feel comfortable at home and to have satisfied customers, that’s the best situation for me. Family background and partner support is the basis. I have amazing daughters and a wonderful husband, we can support each other in what we do and help each other.

Are there men among your customers?

Yes, they are. Although I am a women’s milliner, I do special orders for men, such as period hats, or I customize hats for them. I am also approached by men who want a hat for their lady. It is interesting that even men come to me to learn the craft of dressmaking. But it is true that fashion is still the domain of women in our country.

What is the essential demand of the current customer? What makes a difference in the Czech Republic and abroad?

Above all, every customer wants a beautiful hat. This is crucial. Customers often come to me with a clear idea or a picture. Women who want to make and wear a hat know exactly what they want. They are aware of their uniqueness and want to emphasize their originality. The model hats that I make to order therefore reflect them themselves and the occasion for which they are created. The clients of the Fashion School also perceive the creation of hats in the same way. They often clearly define their intention to learn the craft and the desire to realize their design themselves, which sometimes stems from fashion trends, other times from their own creative process. One could simply say that the creation of hats and the demands of clients in the Czech Republic is greatly influenced by fashion design from Great Britain, where the main trends of what to wear are set by the royal family and the cream of the crop. But it’s not always like that.

Photo: courtesy of Hana Škorpilová

For what occasions do women most often buy a hat from you? And for what occasions is a hat a necessity even today, and when, on the contrary, is it a faux pas?

Interest in hats in my Atelier is mostly influenced by social events, such as company parties, possibly horse races, as well as family events, weddings, christenings and other cultural events. Today, a hat is part of the dress code more often than before.

How did the coronavirus and the deteriorating economic situation in the Czech Republic affect you?

I founded the Atelier in the year of the crisis in 2008, until 2020, before Covid came, my work took shape and the Atelier grew. I created models and study projects, expanded the e-shop. She bought more and more molds and equipment and materials. I prepared large courses, went to foreign internships for training, foreign students attended the fashion school. Covid stopped this period of development. The market has changed. Large courses for groups have turned into individual education, which also has unsuspected benefits. Now is the time and space to attend to every detail and the wishes of the client. I, too, have relaxed and started to enjoy my personal life more. There is more time for everything. I now make hats to order. I enjoy creating individual models. I enjoy and think more about preparing topics for individual courses. With hindsight, I evaluate it so that my business has shifted from quantity to greater human well-being due to Covid. The industry was most affected by Brexit and problems with world transport. Suddenly materials are not available and it is not so easy to order the transport of goods from third countries. The current global economic influence on fashion designers will probably have further effects. We still have stock of material from previous years. Cautiously, we wait with bated breath to see how it all turns out. By the way, it is interesting how the economic and climate crisis was reflected, for example, in the topic of the international dressmaking competition. The theme for this year is recycling, hat update. Newly, for the first time, there is a financial limit of 10 pounds, at this price the creator can buy an old hat and use it to create a beautiful competition model. That’s a huge shift. Earlier, we were not limited and produced expensive models. Creating economically in this way is much more difficult, seemingly very limiting. We have to think in a completely different way, how to use every bit and the rest, save and count. I personally like it a lot. It is easier to work with new materials, but returning the shine and new soul to old things is a challenge, an opportunity to give space to the hidden beauty of the original material. I am very much looking forward to the output of others. We will learn something new again.

Source: MODA.CZ – Pánská móda, dámská móda a vše ze světa módy by

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