I had a chance to discuss style, photography and some overall thoughts with Tshepo Mokoena of Don’t Panic Magazine. (click the photo or link to read the full interview).
To know me is to know you won’t catch me without a hat on. My collection ranges from wool newsboys to handmade straw stingy brims, while my collection varies there is one universal law that doesn’t change - I don’t compromise when it comes to my hats.
I won’t paint a picture comparing a hat to a crown but I will say that what goes on my head does take on a poetic nonchalant elegant type of vibe. Think the icing on the cake, it’s the final touch that tends to be the signature of the master chef.
I’ve had the opportunity to wear the likes of Dobbs, Borsalino, Stetson, so I certainly didn’t expect to look at any other brands (classic established hat brands tend to do it for me) so you can imagine my initial hesitation when I came across Super Duper Handmade Hats. You can actually say it was by chance. I was at Pitti Uomo in Florence, Italy, coming from a meeting when these hats caught my eye…. I initially walked by but something called me back, it was that same something that makes me decide to take a person’s photo. I almost always walk by and won’t shoot the person unless I’m compelled to look twice - this was the case. I stopped at the Super Duper booth to see if the product went deeper than being a nice looking hat.
My initial conversation with Matteo was relatively short, as a business man I make it a practice not to interfere when others are wheeling and dealing (unless of course I’m involved in the game at hand) and know when to back off - I watched from a distance. That observation coupled with the conversations that ensued solidified my belief that Super Duper Handmade Hats was worth more than just a nod, it was worth space on my space deprived hat shelf…. I’m at the point where if I get 1 new item, I get rid of 2, so imagine if I’m willing to do that, I must really enjoy the product.
1. What’s the philosophy behind Super Duper Handmade Hats?
The philosophy starts with us doing something new in an old way. Old as in the way artisans worked in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Instead of a mass produced product we believe you have to be better and pay attention to every detail.
2. Where do you draw the inspiration from?
I draw inspiration from old photos, old movies. Elements and quality of the past.
3. What is it about Super Duper Handmade Hats that makes it different from the mass produced hats?
Mass produced items don’t pay attention to details, we make the hats the old fashion way on wooden blocks - our hats are handmade. Our hats are also made in Florence, Italy
We don’t try to make or duplicate hats that are best sellers, we try to make something particular,something enjoyable.
4. What makes it different from the high end established brands?
We don’t have a classic collection, we always look to create something new. Many large companies use wool we use fur felt which is more rare and expensive. Quality is our only objective.
5. I’ve seen hats in your collection that I haven’t seen anywhere else like the sailor hat, and even the women’s line looks fresh and has a new yet seasoned feel to it, what’s behind that?
We really look to integrate the past into the present. When we speak of past we’re speaking of elegance. We enjoy what we do and have fun doing it.
6. Why should anyone care about the hat they wear?
if you want to wear something only once quality is less of an issue but if you want to wear something now and have it 10 years from now quality is a must. A quality item will last a lifetime and possibly last long enough to past it to your grandson.
7. Any parting words or thoughts?
before creating the hats I wasn’t into fashion. I was a musician and I find it odd how people look to judge others based on appearance, never judge people just lookin’ to them, I’ve seen a lot of sad people smiling.
What I like about Super Duper Handmade Hats is that they’re not about fashion, you can look at Matteo and realize the guy has style … Style that was developed before being involved in the hat business. Super Duper Handmade Hats doesn’t sell you hats, they help you express your style!
Not only do I like the product - I wear it.
For more information visit Super Duper Handmade Hat
Every SuperDuper hat is completely handmade by Matteo, Veronica and Ilaria.
I’ve been fortunate to have been able to conduct a few interviews but prior to this one I sat down and actually asked myself what was the point of the interviews in general. With the Internet, one simply can go online and research any company they want to know about- it was then that I realized the point of the interviews is not so much to regurgitate what’s in the company’s press kit but to actually get a real feel for the minds behind the product - It’s about the human factor as opposed to the well oiled public relation office.
While at Pitti Uomo in Florence Italy I had the chance of getting my hands on Eton shirt’s info packet describing their Spring / Summer 2012 Collection. Eton’s press packet sparked an interest and I was determined to know if the product was really worth mentioning or if whoever was in charge of the P.R. Just did a great job. “The Eton gentleman knows that style is in the detail…” “The gentleman knows that his accessories are the signature on his personal style…” Eton seemed to be talking my language “Playful pattern combinations…” “The best way to kick start spring is to brighten up your surroundings with a stylish and colorful look,” it’s official, I had to know this company so I decided to go directly to the head designer Sebastian Dollinger (by way of some great Eton team members). Between booking a flight, and other work related issues Sebastian took some time out of his schedule to give me a glimpse into Eton and what contributes to his creative process.
A quick note for those who aren’t familiar with Eton, it’s a family owned Swedish shirt company which started in 1928 .
1. A shirt is a shirt is a shirt or is it?
I like to believe that people should get what they pay for. We invest our money back into the product,our product does the advertising. Ultimately what you purchase from with us is the quality of the shirt.
2. How long have you been with the company?
9 years. The people here are great, it’s a fantastic team, the work is challenging but this is my extended family.
3. Seems that Eton shirts is big on details, what’s an example of detailed oriented work at Eton?
You don’t want to make a clown shirt but make a quality garment with something unique. For example we have a white shirt with dark blue piping. When the shirt is buttoned all the way up you don’t see the piping but once you open it you see that small detail. The details are in things like the stitching, the button holes, and combining of patterns.
4. What is a stylish man?
A stylish man is a confident man who is wearing his clothes and the clothes aren’t wearing him be it in jeans or a suit stylish men don’t overdo it, it’s not what they wear but how they wear it.
5. One of the things that stroke me about Eton was that each season was broken down into months and 14 new shirts are introduced every month. The Spring - Summer collection has some 56 different shirts, that’s a lot of shirts between December and March. What’s the idea of that? why not have 12 different collections per year?We look to inspire people to wear more colorful clothing and to be different every month.
6. Will you walk me up until the moment the shirt is purchased.
A. Color inspiration. This can come from anywhere, inspiration for this can be simple as seeing a great color combination.
B. The fabric & ground structure. This is where we decide on what to make the shirt out of - the best thing to showcase what we visualized.
C. Patterns. We decide on patterns and bring them to life with the colors chosen.
D. Combine everything. Everything comes together.
E. The packaging.
F. We share the story behind the item.
G. We showcase the item and let the buyer know it’s the right piece for them.
H. The person makes the purchase.
Now let’s face it there are countless shirt companies out there and I’m sure with time the list of those I decide to interview will surely grow. Let me say it now - I’m not looking for the grand daddy of all shirt companies instead I hope to highlight the companies that I feel think outside the box, the companies that understand style and reflect their understanding not in catchy campaign slogans but in a solid product. Eton is certainly one of those companies. From the stitching, the contrasting buttons, to the details inside the shirt Eton is for the man who wants quality while looking to express his cool. Eton will take a classic shirt add just the right touch and transform the classic with a modern day cool edge.
Shirts, ties, bow ties, cuff links, collar stays, and more.
For more info on Eton shirts visit their website - www.etonshirts.com
I was recently introduced to Grenson the English shoe company that doesn’t have any fancy slogan, instead they have just one simple idea that they seem determined to guide them - “The good shoe”. Now this interview has been a long time coming, not only did I have the chance to Speak the Tim Little, I had a chance to see next seasons collection at Pitti Uomo in Florence Italy recently.
Although the company has been around since 1866, it wasn’t until recently that it made its way on my radar (true confirmation that the more I learn, the more I realize I have a lot more to know). I quickly did my research on the brand and and was impressed by not only the look of the product, but also the craftsmanship. The shoes from Grenson are not simply shoes you throw on… they are (at the risk of sounding like an P.R. rep.) Poetry in motion and artwork when still.
The 3 things that drew me to the brand were:
1. The history.
2. The relevancy
3. The vision/ lifestyle behind the brand.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Little, the owner of the company and was granted insight on the company’s past, present and future. Like many companies, Grenson went through their share of ups and downs. In 2005, the 140 year old company looked to revive it’s brand and thus entered Tim Little into the story. The gentleman who was already creating classic shoes and naming the shoes of his own
line (www.timlittle.com) after blues song titles became the creative director at Grenson. Tim had as mission to stay true to both the brand history and heritage while keeping Grenson relevant and current.
In 2010 Tim Little bought the company and while keeping the past close to his heart, it’s obvious that he has an eye on the future and is making sure to solidify that the following 140 years would be as relevant as the first.
How important is the company’s history in terms of the direction of the company?
The history directs. The core of the brand is the heritage, we (the designer) have as task to keep the brand updated.
What is the process in making a pair of Grenson shoes?
The process itself is broken into 250 parts. It takes 6 to 8 weeks to make a pair of shoes. We use the Goodyear welting system which is an old traditional way of shoe making. Our shoes are made by hand - while some shoes start off soft and lose their shape, Grenson starts hard and becomes comfortably soft with time. Only a handful of
companies hand-make shoes, Grenson has always been one of those companies and has always been considered among the top 10 of English shoemakers.
At one point prior to Grenson you named shoes you designed after blues songs. What is the story behind that?
My own collection is Tom Little, it reflects not only my designs but
also what influenced me and my love for the blues.
As for Grenson, I stick to the history of the brand. I design, but
allow the brand to be more reflective of it’s history than be a
reflection of me.
There are 2 names connected to you and Grenson - Joe Hutchings & Allison Hargreaves what role do they play?
Joe has been on board since 2005 and deals with sales. Alison Hargreaves has been with me prior to me being with Grenson since 1996. The two of them play major roles and help in making sure that things run smoothly.
For those who think there are too many shoe makers, too many brands, what makes Grenson relevant?
If you look at all the shoe brands, possibly 80% aren’t shoe companies - they are brands that make shoes. Grenson is a shoe maker, the product is contemporary and relevant. 140 years of experience goes into every shoe. I don’t think the customer in the know wants shoes from a perfumer - shoes from a shoe maker.
How do you compete with the newer brands and stay fresh in the public mind?
We look to connect with the public by producing a great product. We come up with some creative ideas and collaborations without use of much advertising dollars.
I had a chance to see the new collection and some of the items could be considered unexpected.
Different but the same. We have a core look, but keep it interesting for people who want something fresh. Take the sky blue brogues, it’s the same style from the past, yet it has a new feel. We’ll do a shoe in a classic leather with a new twist, we love surprising people. True consumers never forget heritage brands and part of Grenson’s brand is
about designing new product - ‘Keep moving’.
Man of Style or Fashion?
Style because it never goes out of fashion, but fashion goes out of style … personal style last forever.
What is Style?
Style is your interpretation of how you want to look and be seen. Having confidence, wearing something that is your personality.
Why should anyone look into Grenson as opposed to another brand?
Grenson is the real thing… a real product. A proper shoe made the old fashion way. The good shoe.
The vision / Lifestyle behind the brand.
Who is a Grenson man?
It’s not about a certain type of person, it’s about a certain attitude. People who tend to purchase Greson shoes are people who like to purchase real things from real makers. Grenson is for the person who enjoys authentic product.
Is there a lifestyle behind the brand?
No. We are more simplistic, we like to make nice shoes - we don’t
impose a lifestyle.
Style is not simply about buying the latest, it’s about having items that are a reflection of who you are.
Not only do I like and respect the brand …. I rock it as well! Guerre
Click here to find out more about Grenson shoes.
I had the chance to write for Chill Magazine based in Ontario recently.
(click the link to read the entire article on pages 70 & 72)
"A magazine designed to appeal to the attitudes and lifestyles of the outgoing, active Canadian. Contemporary not trendy, authentic not replicated, Chill, a surprisingly compelling and humorous magazine, has become a staple in our readers’ down time. Whether Chill concurs, promotes or confronts a particular issue, it will always culminate with a relaxed, settled disposition, designed to de-pressurize and simply Chill the reader."
I remember being in Paris when I was first invited to visit the New York showroom where the Stetson master brand lives. I have to admit that when I thought of the brand name Stetson, the first thing that came to mind was classic American cowboy hats. I’d like to think that I have an open mind when it comes to fashion and style, so I accepted the invitation not really knowing what to expect. I quickly learned that the area that maintained the most growth over the past few years for them has been and remains their dress hat collection, which accounts for over 50% of global sales.
Now showrooms are nothing new to me, and at this point, I am not easily impressed, however the experience at Stetson was golden. There I learned of their history dating back to 1865, this is a company rich in tradition, proud of it’s product, and ever expanding in terms of ventures and collaborations (currently they have collaborations with Albertus Swanepoel, and Billy Reid). Stetson not only makes hats, but also functional clothing ranging from jeans to t-shirts, to button up shirts, to boots. Their Stetson Original has been among the top 20 men fragrances for the past 20 years (a feat that few fragrances can lay claim to), and their corrective eye wear launched in the 1980’s is one of the best selling collections of men’s frames.
One of the things that particularly stands out about Stetson is their commitment to quality, something that is evident in the master craftsmanship of the products that bear the brand name.
While speaking to Pamela Fields, the company’s Chief Executive Officer, I was invited to take a look at the company’s lending library, which not only was a testament to the years of work, but also an excellent source of hat history in general (the library is open to the general public upon request). It was Pamela that also explained to me that every item had a story, and while fashion was important, at Stetson ” we put great value on being authentic and true to our heritage. Products have to function first, be fashionable later.”
I left the showroom wanting to share my experience with others. For those who look for a connection between themselves and the product they wear, I can say that Stetson embodies a functional product that has that little extra detail for those who demand both quality, and great style.
Stetson dress hats can be found at Barney’s, Brooks Bros, Saks, Bloomingdale’s. Western hats at Shepler’s, Boot Barn, Cavender’s