hatters show their wares in Seattle
Great looking hats aren't
always easy to find, so a show featuring two extraordinary milliners,
Wayne Wichern and Daria Wheatley, is good news.
Wichern, who taught many local
artists the art of hat making, has been working in the Bay Area in recent
years. Wheatley works out of Sedro-Woolley. Although they sell throughout
the country, few stores carry a wide selection. This is an opportunity to see
a lush assortment of colors and styles, and to place special orders.
Post Intelligencer Staff
Homes & Lifestyles __
Craving a quality hand-blocked hat, the kind Joan Crawford wore with
aplomb? Those in the know head for Ballard, where milliner Wayne Wichern
turns out designs for Seattle's most discrimination heads.
Local fasionistas regard Wichern 45, with a respect verging on
reverence. Wichern's hats are unerringly elegant and endowed with
tastefully theatrical touches - a hint of veiling, perhaps, or a bit of
braid. " I'm from Cody, Wyoming - but I don't make cowboy
hats," quips Wichern, nodding toward his cosmopolitan chapeaus.
Wichern studied floral design in Seattle after high school, then moved
to New York to take up ballet. Ultimately, he found a keener interest
backstage, in costume design. Back in Seattle, he parlayed his
experience into a display position at Frederick & Nelson Department
Stores and simultaneously began his studies with the venerable Northwest
milliner John Eaton. "He was from the glory days of millinery - the
forties and fifties," says Wichern of his late mentor.
What began as a hobby soon became a passion, and Wichern an Eaton
protégé. Eaton is gone now, but his hat blocks, burnished a tawny
ochre from years of steam and use, line the shelves of Wichern's studio,
solemn as sentinels.
Vintage styles, however, are only an inspiration, not a template for
Wichern's design. "My job is to use these vintage blocks and update
them," notes the designer, who often employs classic blocks in
irreverent ways - by inverting a pillbox shape, for instance, and
marrying it with a brim from an unrelated block. The Shar-Pei hat is a
whimsical product of such a cross-breeding. Soft, irregular folds around
the crown mimic the trendy wrinkled dog. Universally flattering, the
style is one of Wichern's top sellers. Ditto the Titanic, a dramatic,
wide-brimmed model that transforms any face into a heroine's.
While Wichern's business is largely custom work for private clients, he
is steadily building a following in boutiques from Menlo Park, CA to
Atlanta GA. In Seattle, Wichern's originals can be found at
Alhambra and Karan Dannenberg
Topping It Off
Artisan does it the old-fashioned way.
Custom-produced modern treasures by hand.
Growing up on a farm in Cody, Wyoming, turned out to be
great preparation for Wayne Wichern's profession as a maker of custom
hats. Just as on the farm, he must be resourceful and inventive with the
materials he uses. His career as a dancer and florist helped him as well.
"My floral background certainly prepared me for much of the trimming
and decoration skills that dress my more romantic and frothy hats,"
he says. "And my dance background and interest in costuming generate
an obvious theatrical expression in much of my work."
Largely self-taught, Wichern also learned the art of
hatmaking in part from John Eaton, a Seattle milliner who created and sold
hats to the city's social set from the 1940s to the '60s. "John
taught me the basics of millinery and inspired the rest," says
Wichern, who now teaches private hatmaking classes himself.
Wichern's style is showcased in the meticulous
hand-detailing that goes into each of his chapeaux. Using steam, he
stretches (blocks) the felt , straw or other hat materials over a wooden
hat form to create each unique shape, then lets it dry and finally, adds
trims and embellishments.
Wichern's clients range from women looking for a special
wedding hat to Seafair Pirates, local rock stars and celebrities. He has
also done custom work for several theater troupes including the Seattle
Repertory Theatre, the Empty Space Theatre and the San Francisco Ballet.
With his innovative and elegant creations, Wichern could help to bring
back the era when women rarely left the house without a hat. "Enjoy
the change of pace and wear a hat to lunch or tea," he suggests.
"Hats are theater, and we can all use a few minutes of relief from
our usual personality."
Kathleen F. Miller