Albertus Swanepoel may be the sole reason hats are making a comeback. The 2008 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund runner up, has put millinery back on the fashion map. And seeing his collaborations with Marc Jacobs, Thakoon, Peter Som, Carolina Herrera, and Jason Wu, is appears that just about everyone is on board for the ride.
But Swanepoel career didn’t begin with hats. In fact, the Coty Award winning, South African designer started out creating clothes. With a successful career under his belt, Swanepoel packed up and moved to New York City in 1989. Working to make ends meet, Swanepoel wound up as an assistant to glove maker Shaneen Huxham. Though the work was interesting, the spring and summer seasons were slow times; therefore, the seasonal slows gave cause for Swanepoel to get creative. Swanepoel enrolled in millinery training at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and lucked out when he found a mentor in Janine Galimard, a milliner who worked with Cristobal Balenciaga.
Fast forward to 2005, Swanepoel teamed up with Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, the designers behind Proenza Schouler. Swanepoel designed the turbans in Proenza Schouler’s surf-inspired spring 2005 show, which in-turn launched Swanepoel’s career in to space. Overnight Swanepoel’s career took flight, and from there the rest is history.
Albertus Swanepoel was kind enough to give me some insight into how he got started, and what exactly it is about designing hats that is so satisfying.
How did you get started designing hats?
I started in 1992 already.......... had to do other things/jobs as well up to 5 years ago, when things changed around for me and I could only concentrate on millinery.
If you weren't designing hats, what would you be doing?
I would be a game ranger in Africa, catching poachers.
What about designing hats makes it better than designing clothing?
Hats are small, sculptural objects, and so personally, I like the smaller scale and the concentration of ideas on a smaller format. I think the medium is also maybe more challenging, since there is a restriction on which shapes a man or woman will wear on their head.
To date, what one moment has been the highlight of your career?
My biggest moment was definitely last year November, when I was announced a runner up in the Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund Competition! It is a tremendous honor to be recognized by the industry and a panel of very esteemed judges (Anna Wintour, Reed Krakoff, Julie Gilhart, Diane von Furstenberg, etc.)
Being that you are a hat designer, how often do you wear a hat?
I don’t really wear hats, except in the cold of winter. I don’t feel I have to be Exhibit A of my career!
Swanepoel refers to hats as “the orphan accessory.” We often think of shoes, scarves, or jewelry before hats. However, if you haven’t noticed, hats are one hot trend for spring.
Albertus Swanepoel is available at Barneys New York, Paul Smith in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, in Japan at United Arrows, Totokaelo in Seattle, LouisBoston in Boston and on netaporter.com.