South African born Albertus Swanepoel launched his namesake collection in 2006. He is the milliner to seek out during New York Fashion Week and has a portfolio of collaborations to prove it. From Peter Som to Diane Von Furstenberg and Marc Jacobs to Cushnie et Ochs the list is endless. His namesake collection sells at Barneys nationwide as well as Louis Boston and Joan Shepp. He has recently launched a collection for Target and is bringing his hats to the masses.
When did you launch your namesake collection? What inspired you to become a milliner?
I started my company in 2006. I was making hats since 1992, but always had to do 3 other jobs to keep going! It’s been a long road. I started my career off as a fashion designer, I then moved to the US, worked with a glove designer, and hats were a natural progression.
Prior to becoming a milliner you had a career as an editor at Martha Stewart Weddings. Do you look at certain pieces from an editorial perspective, like “This will really pop on the page”?
My editorial career was very short lived! No, I don’t look at hats from an editorial viewpoint. I try to make hats that people can relate to and will wear, but has something special to it in the process. It’s important to me that my hats look special, but not precious. I sometimes make special things for editorial requests as I acknowledge the power of exposure.
You’ve become the obvious milliner for many designers when styling their runway shows. What sparked that?
I started in 2004 working with Marc by Marc Jacobs, then did Proenza Schouler’s first show and it developed from there. When I received the runner up prize in 2008 in the Vogue/CFDA competition, it helped my career tremendously. For S/S 12, I worked with Richard Chai, Billy Reid, Rachel Antonoff and Derek Lam. I did some hats for Proenza Schouler as well, but they got edited out. Hats are sadly the orphan accessory and the last thought of a designer, so I often get contacted very close to the shows to do something.
How does it feel to see yourself in print in the new advertisements featuring Albertus Swanepoel for Target?
It is rather surreal! It’s a bit of an out of body experience. When I did the collaboration with the Gap, there were also huge billboards, but this is even bigger. I’m very grateful to have this opportunity.
How did the Target collaboration differ from others you have done with higher end designers such as Jason Wu, Alexander Wang and Timo Weiland?
The collection I did for Target is probably more commercial than my runway collaborations. Hats for the runway shows are often one-offs or very labor intensive pieces. For Target, I kept to recognizable shapes, with a modern touch, I hope!
Did you approach Target or was it the other way around?
Target approached me.
Are you interested in moving into other accessories lines at any point in the future?
I am really passionate about millinery, but it’s a very niche business, especially at my price point. I’m beginning to think it necessary to add another accessory, perhaps bags or jewelry in the future.
How does the production differ from other accessories?
All my hats are hand crafted one by one in my studio in NYC. Even if we make 50 hats of the same style, they are all done individually, so every hat might look slightly different than the other. I think the element that it was actually created by hand makes a difference in the perception and quality. It’s very different from say bags, shoes, or belts, which are made on a production line and can look very cookie cutter.
Given the Royal Wedding and the massive American interest in the hats worn, do you feel people are now more interested in hats?
I’m not sure. I think there was an uptick in the whole fascinator thing, but Britain has so much more of a hat wearing culture than ours.
In what way do you feel a hat completes one’s outfit?
Christian Lacroix said “Hats are the dot on the i”
Stephen Jones said “Hats make fashion.”
It’s an exclamation mark, something to hide behind or get noticed in. Hats add instant character and status.