“Do you like my hat?”
“I do not.”
Claudia Schulz was one child who would have taken this canine hat dilemma seriously. For young Claudia was mad for hats: how they looked, how they sat, how they felt.
“I always had a passion for hats,” says the Berlin-born Schulz. “I always wore them. When I was a kid, my Mum would knit or crochet me hats. In my early twenties, that’s when I started to collect vintage hats.”
Through her work as a social worker and pre-school teacher in Germany, Schulz kept collecting and thinking about hats. By the time she and her photographer husband moved to Vancouver, Schulz knew it was time to get serious about hat design.
The city had no formal millinery programs at the time, so Schulz studied privately with a local hat designer who has since moved away. “I started to make hats and build the business. I had a studio in Gastown and we opened a store called Mooncruise Gallery.”
In Mooncruise Gallery, you could find Schulz’s hats, international photography and imported products from Europe, particularly bags. “About five years ago, we closed to the store. Now, I have shifted my hat business to mostly wholesale.”
Thanks to New York trade shows, a striking website, word of mouth and great hats, Schulz now has customers all over the world. “There are many in New York, Chicago. I have one customer in Florida, but they are mostly in colder places – the East Coast. Also Italy, France, England….” Vancouver customers will still come down to her Gastown studio or to Goodge Place on West 8th Avenue.
Loyal customers appreciate Schulz’s strong sense of style. “Pretty much everything I am designing, I would wear. I don’t want my hats to be too embellished.” She works her way through the alphabet in assigning each of her hats a name.
One of Schulz’s current favourites is Hilde. “Hilde is an unstructured fedora that is dip-dyed. It’s folded by hand and the lines are stitched in. I like it because it’s raw and rough looking.”
Hilde is from her latest collection: Urban Warrior. The collection “is inspired partially by African beadwork. In it, I collaborated with a talented designer in Montreal named Basma Osama. Her line is called ceramik b. She made gorgeous ceramic beads.” You will see their collaboration in a bolero called Harlow, a brimmed hat called Helena and a cap called Hero.
“Right now, I’m also wearing the Hollie toque a lot,” says Schulz. “It’s also dip-dyed with a leather band in the back. You push the top part, pull it down into the band. It’s for everyday wear. You can put it in your purse.”
“The Hien is an unstructured fedora in black. I waxed it in beeswax to make it waterproof. When it’s raining, I can wear it and nothing is seeping through. So, I love that one.”
Schulz handcrafts most of the hats herself, though she does bring in help “when it gets crazy.” She will also seek advice from her milliner mentor, Vancouver’s William Walker. “If I have questions on how to solve a problem, I will take his advice.”
How does Schulz go about hand-making her hats?
1. She starts by importing wool felt from the States and Europe. “I’m using mostly wool felt. It comes either as a hood – like a big oversize toque or cone – or a capeline. The capelines are used to make a brim hat. These aren’t hats yet, they are not sized, but you start with them.”
2. “Then you use steam and you soften the felt so it’s moldable.”
3. “Then you pull the felt over a hat block. You might pin it with small needles on the bottom of the block or you use string and pull it very tight around the block so you get the right shape.”
The blocking process is complicated. Brims can require their own blocks. “If you have a cap, you can use little push pins and nail them into the block.”
4. “Then you let it sit for 24 hours to get the shape. It dries out the steam.”
5. “You pull the hat off the block, then you might cut the leftover felt into the shape. And you trim it. You put a wire into the brim or you don’t. You can leave it raw-edged. In some of the hats, I’ll put a grosgrain ribbon on the inside.”
For Schulz’s Sky-Ash collection, she dip-dyed the hoods and capelines before she put them over the block. “That collection was heavily inspired by clouds – night grey into black.” Here we see Greta and Gemma.
Schulz’s Sommer collection was focused on hats for summer. Meet Imogen and Inka.
And Thread featured “all kinds of different threads. I remember leather bands, tiny leather bands. I bought some vintage golden antique thread in New York. There were tubes where I threaded through leather bands.” Here are Ella and Elaine.
Schulz does meet people who insist that they do not look good in hats. “They are very concerned about it. But, there is a hat for every person. There is no doubt about it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fedora, a tube or a beanie. There will be something that everyone can wear.”
Others will have questions about hat etiquette. Should the hat be on or off at a restaurant, at a ceremony? “Sometimes I leave it on. Sometimes I take it off and put it on my purse. I don’t think it matters anymore.”
What advice would Schulz offer to someone wanting to start their own business in the fashion industry – hats or otherwise?
“If I could do this whole thing all over again, I probably would have gone to millinery schooling in London or in New York. I think the process would have been faster. I’m partially self-taught, partially through mentors. At millinery school, you learn everything in two, three years. You create a collection.”
Get Professional pictures
“If you want to sell your product, get professional pictures and models. You will be asked by the press to send pictures. People are looking at your photos when you are selling your product, on your website, when you are going to tradeshows. Professional pictures make a big difference.
Schulz will be selling her hats at the artist-rich shiny fuzzy muddy show December 10 to 11th at Heritage Hall.
To see more Claudia Schulz Hats
“Hello again. And now do you like my hat?”
“I do. What a hat! I like it! I like that party hat!”
Written by Elizabeth Newton
* Photographs by Trevor Brady.