Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Dorfman Pacific is a Stockton-based hat wholesaler. Incorrect information appeared in a story and graphic in the print and initial online version of this article.

STOCKTON - There was a touch of reverence in John Callanan's tone as he held up a fine crocheted raffia hat.

At a glance

Location: 2615 Boeing Way, Stockton
History: The company was started by Arthur Hyman and Jack Dorfman in Oakland in 1921. In 1988, the distribution center relocated to Stockton to cut down on operating expenses.
President and CEO:Douglas Highsmith
Employees: 175 full time; about 30 temporary
"People don't understand the amount of work that goes into a hat," said Callanan, the vice president of design at Dorfman Pacific in Stockton.
"The palm tree grows in Madagascar. It's harvested," he said, explaining the long journey that led to the hat's $150 price tag. "The palm leaf is dried and pulled apart to the finest centimeter, and then it's hand-crocheted."
The hat is one of millions at Dorfman Pacific's wholesale distribution center in Stockton - some elaborate, with flowers and bright ribbons, and others more simple, like a cadet cap that sells for roughly $4.
Dorfman Pacific has about 20 brands in total, including Scala, Stetson, Tropical Trends and DPC.
When President and Chief Executive Douglas Highsmith took over, the company catered primarily to Northern California. It has showrooms across the United States and exports to international locations like Japan, China, Australia, South America and Europe.
Highsmith started out as a salesman in 1973, working his way up the ladder and eventually buying the business.
"It's been my life. It's my only job," he said. "We have more hats in this warehouse than anybody else in the world."
Even as he sorted through stacks of hats to decide what would be added to the 2013 spring/summer line and what would be discontinued, Callanan was already thinking of the possibilities for the following autumn.
"You have classic shapes. It's really the trims that change a lot," he said. "I'm definitely seeing a lot more fashion trims at the moment, and a lot more color."
He finds inspiration in everything from bracelets and hair accessories to popular television programs like AMC's "Mad Men."
"To me, a line is never really finished. I'm always thinking. I'm walking around and looking," he said.

Monday, October 29, 2012

HAT BLOCKS, wood and aluminum, things of beauty

To the factory worker a hat block is a simple tool but to me it is  a thing of beauty. A three dimensional sculpture, that has been lovingly carved or molded to create further things of beauty.
A hat block (wooden) or hat mold (aluminum) is a shape over which a warm dampened felt or straw body is pulled. The felt or straw body is then put in an oven to dry, where it conforms to the shape of the block.
Hat blocks were originally made from carved wood but later industrial molds are made from aluminum.
The center paper covered shape is not a hat block but a wig block.
Bespoke milliners and hatters use wood blocks to lovingly coax the felt to conform to the shape of the block while using brute strength to stretch the felt and trying to avoid burning their fingers on the hot damp felt.
Fedoras, safaris and cowboy hats are made a combination of 2 blocks. The crown is blocked first and is then inserted into the brim which is then blocked. Rope is used to tie off where the crown meets the brim (the neck) and also around the brim edge (the flange).
Cloche shapes are either made in 1 piece for classic shapes but a 4  piece block is needed for cushion brim. A cushion brim is not cut at the edge but folds back onto itself for a smother finished edge.
An ascot shape requires a 3 piece mold. After the felt is oven dried the center piece is first pulled out and then the back and front sections. This avoids stretching the shape.

Industrial blocks are made from aluminum and operate a little differently.
Basically the brim has a negative and positive brim. The felt/straw is sandwiched in between the top and bottom molds, as the molds are self heated, there is no need to dry in an oven, so the whole process is speeded up for mass production.
Here are 2 fedora aluminum  molds where the brim has a straw body being shaped.
Every variation on a shape needs its own distinct mold. Here we see the top and bottom mold. The top can be attached to the machine and will press down on the bottom during the blocking process.
Every head-size  size need its own mold.
The positive mold sits over a flame. the moistened felt/straw is placed over the mold and the operator pushes a button to lower the negative top mold (under pressure) to meet the bottom. This mold is used to make a fedora.
This beautiful old aluminum mold is used to make this gorgeous Callanana millinery cloche.
The first mold will make a fedora cloche. The second will make a beehive cloche. The third is a classic cloche shape.
This is definitely an "off to the derby" mold.
A worker is using this bowler shape as a key tray.
A group of top hats, after being blocked, are waiting their turn to go into the oven. Note the white rope used at the brim edge (flange). The top hat is a very difficult shape to make.
Each top hat head size needs its own block.
Some old ascot cap molds gathering dust.
A selection of wood, aluminum and plastic molds.
Waste not want not. Felt bodies are expensive, so often the excess flange, the felt from the rope tie to the outer brim edge, is used as hat trim. Here is a selection of ladies die trims.
Die cut leaves are always popular.
If you would like to order your very own aluminum hat mold, contact Ruud Fiegen from  Hatblocks Holland.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The "MUST HAVE" hats for fall 2012

The hat fall 2012 season is off to a great start. Designers have pushed the envelope to more extreme silhouettes and some might ever say that have "gone to the birds".

Why wear hair? Or wigs? When you can wear feathers instead.

Roberto Cavalli's Feather covered cap is just gorgeous.

Feathered hats are always special to me, as they were the speciality of my mentor Anne Albrizio's atelier. Most milliners use store bought pads (where the feathers are glued onto a fabric pad) but Anne and her lades glued the feathers individually onto each hat.
If you feel the feathers are too much for you, I suggest this seasons Max and Co's felt cap.

Etro models were also flying high in feather covered fedoras.

Over at LV they scoured the brocants and their great grandmothers attics for inspiration.

The best way to describe these hats is "a bashed up, over-sized crowned cloche; Reminiscent of a Gibson Girl hat. Gibbon girls circa 1890-1910, tended to have an abundance of curly hair, pinned high on their heads ergo the high and extra large crowns, that sat over the massive hairdos.

The stylized hats of the add campaign has been tamed down for the stores, to a high crowned  cloche, with a raw edge. You can create this look yourself by buying a soft, raw edged,  felt fedora and punching the crown out.

Vivienne Westwood also went to the attic for inspiration. Again we see the over sized crown donned over a high top knot hairdo.

Mark Jacobs hat du jour is an over-sized faux fur style that is really more suited as a Burning Man headpiece or as a Halloween outfit. 

So, the most interesting hats are Louis Vuitton's, Cavalli and Etro

but for me the chicest and most wearable on a daily bases is Donna Karan's fetching fedora in black and grey.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


Besides the efficient way of getting around NYC, there is little to admire about subway stops. The 23rd street, "R" stop is an exception to the rule.

It was renovated in the 1970's with squeaky clean white tile and lovely hat mosaic work. As the last vestige of millinery is on 36 and 37th streets between 5th and 6th Avenues, there is still a Millinery synagog on 6th Avenue between 36 and 37 street, one might wonder why 23rd street was picked as the hat subway stop.

The 23rd street subway stop was opened in 1918. Back then 23 street was still the center of the NYC fashion world. Tiffany's was situated on Union Square and Lord and Taylor had opened on Broadway and 19th street in 1918. The neighboring areas of 5th and 6th avenues from 14th -23rd streets is designated Ladies Mile as a reminder of the glorious department stores that were once found there. I am sure that many elegantly plumed hats were seen on the 23rd street platforms back then.
 Here are some of the mosaics that remind us of those bye gone days.
Hat worn by Fay Templeton, Singer and actress.
Boater hat worn by Maud Nathan, reformer.
a dandy fedora worn by Irishman Oscar Wilde. Writer and poet.
Top hat worn by Clement C. Moore, author.
Boater worn by Film Actress Mary Pickford.
Bowler worn by Scott Joplin, Composer.
Veiled boater as worn by Eleanor Roosevelt. humanitarian.
High crowned bowler as worn by James Corbett aka Gentleman Jim, Boxer.

Fascinator worn by actress Sarah Bernhardt.
Porkpie worn by Charles Melville Dewey, Artist.
Breton worn by Edwin Porter, film maker.
Large brim fedora worn by William Randolph Hearst, newspaper publisher.
Plumed tri-corn hat worn by Lillie Langtry, actress.

Boater worn by Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) author.
Shallow crown boater with bird wing trim. Worn by Eva Tanguay, entertainer.
Boaters worn by Billie Burke, entertainer and Florence Ziegfield, theatrical producer.
Bowler worn by William Barclay Parsons, Chief Engineer of the rapid transit Commission.
High crown fedora worn by William A. Pendergast, NYC Comptroller.
Basque beret worn by Edward Penfield, graphic artist.
Snazy boater worn by Arthur Davis, artist.

Bow trimmed hat worn by Gertrude Kasebier, photographer.
A cloth newsboy cap worn by Joseph Barondess. labor leader. Working men wore cloth caps.
A musketeer hat worn by John Barrymore, actor. The right side is usually cocked up to allow the horse rider to swing his sword.

A witch crown hat trimmed with ribbon rosettes worn by prima donna Lillian Russell.
Jockey cap worn by Nellie Bly, stunt person and journalist.
Magic boater as worn by Ehrich Weiss aka Harry Houdini, magician.

Beautiful slouch cap worn by William sidney Porter (O'HENRY) author.
Richly trimmed hat worn by Isadora Duncan, dancer.
If the hat fits, wear it!!

The End.