One of my favorite aspects of making custom hats is digging into people’s self-expression and what they want to portray with their hat. Madness is inherent to the style of hat that I’m making. Crazy and free are synonyms in this case.
I’m self-taught, predominantly through scouring the internet and forums and looking at other hatmakers and dissecting things they would post on social media or on YouTube. When I work, I always go back to the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi — leaning into imperfections. I’ll distress the hat. I’ll light it on fire. That’ll be part of the look. I’ll get the shape how I want it, spray on the hat stiffener, light a match, and it goes. It’s just burning off the alcohol. There is a certain amount of skill to achieving certain types of ripples or certain types of scarring. Like if a client wants an erratic burn, I’ll do it outside so the wind kind of takes over, or I do it in the basement sometimes if they want it to be very controlled. Sometimes I use powdered paint — but the rest of that technique has to be off-the-record. I don’t know if any other hatters will read this, but that is kind of my secret sauce.
The launchpad for where I am right now was on one of the main streets in Rome, Italy. It was 2017, and I had resigned from my “real job” in leadership development for a Fortune 500 company. My wife and I were on our honeymoon, and we popped into this little cappelleria. There was literally just enough room in the shop to walk straight in because it was floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall hats. I ended up buying a small wool pork-pie hat. I have this picture of me standing outside the shop with all these little hats in the window, and I’ve got my hat on and I’m just so happy. In that store, I had been dealing with a complete stranger, and there was a language barrier, and there were literally hundreds of different kinds of hats, but this guy had helped me pick a hat that I loved. It was this wordless connection between the man working in the store and me. It was like being seen, in a way.
Patti moved out of a Portland studio during COVID and converted her attic into a temporary studio. She plans to open a new space in greater Portland this summer. Visit Mad Patti Hat Co.’s website for updates.