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August 29 2014

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Albertus Swanepoel and Co. Put Their Heads Together

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Albertus Swanepoel hats on head forms by Cushnie et Ochs, Irene Neuwirth, Richard Chai, and Suno

South African-born, New York-based milliner Albertus Swanepoel has been creating hats for such brands as Proenza Schouler, Jason Wu, Alexander Wang, Marc by Marc Jacobs, and Club Monaco since 2004. So today, a few fellow CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund alums—many of whom have sent his custom toppers down their catwalks—have made a little something for him. The hatter will open his very first exhibition, A Milliner’s Story, this evening at downtown boutique Odin, and his wares will rest on bespoke hat forms by the likes of Suno (above, bottom left), Band of Outsiders, Richard Chai (above, bottom right), and more. For instance, Cushnie et Ochs designers Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs turned out a noggin made from black snakeskin (above, top left), and Irene Neuwirth created a pink face adorned with semiprecious stones (above, top right). “I didn’t really give them any direction, and I was very impressed with [the designers'] craftsmanship and technical skills,” Swanepoel told Style.com. “Those things are very important to me.”

The headpieces on view will combine a series of archival looks (like the “baseball bowler” hats he made for Duckie Brown’s now defunct Perry Ellis collaboration); one-off trilbies, fedoras, and beyond fashioned from specialized materials, like cashmere or vintage felts that he picked up in Africa; and a limited-edition range of Sherlock Holmes-esque caps, trapper hats, and more to be sold at Odin. “I tried to keep the hats wearable,” said Swanepoel. “I feel that people should be able to relate to their hats. I love that when people wear them every day, their hats become part of them, like a perfume,” he explained.

Swanepoel, who got his start as a ready-to-wear designer in Africa during the eighties and began designing hats to augment the collection of gloves he launched after moving to New York (“It was the logical thing to do,” he said), feels that there’s a growing demand for men’s headgear. “I’ve definitely seen more of an uptick in my business on the men’s side,” he offered. “I don’t think it will go back to the thirties and forties when everyone wore hats all the time, but who knows!” As for the exhibition, Swanepoel noted, “I’ve been making hats for many years, but I’ve never had my own little show. This is a great chance, and if nothing else, it will encourage people to wear hats every day and enjoy them.”

A Milliner’s Story is open to the public starting July 24.

Photos: Courtesy of Albertus Swanepoel

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