It was a chance encounter with a Venice Beach cowboy that pulled Nick Fouquet into the world of hatmaking. Inquiring about the stranger’s chapeau, Fouquet learned that the wearer had made it himself. “It was different. I could tell that it had a soul,” he recalls. “It’s hard to describe the feeling, but I was like, ‘That’s a real hat.’ ” Enamored, Fouquet delved into men’s millinery, teaching himself the craft and forging his own irreverent style, eventually leaving his job of making clothing inspired by the WWI and II eras for Hollywood. “It was a passion that turned into an obsession, and then into a business,” he says.
Like many, Fouquet saw hats as a vestige of a bygone time, part of the uniform of midcentury salarymen. He aimed to make trilbies and ten-gallons more in line with his school of SoCal surfer bohemia. “The marketplace was just Borsalino and Stetson, guys making stuff for the old guard,” he recalls. “It was stale, boring.”
Fouquet favors a more wabi-sabi look: Hats are artfully singed and nicked, and accented with vintage textiles and found ephemera.
His singular aesthetic has attracted a cult following, including Bob Dylan and Pharrell. Handmade at his Abbot Kinney studio, Fouquet’s designs are converting more men to the power of a well-chosen hat. But unlike the polite fedoras of the past, Fouquet says his are “as unique and eclectic as the people who wear them.”
1. Leave It to Beaver
“I’ve used really expensive straws or really good wool, but nothing can compare to beaver,” Fouquet says of his preferred material. The felts, prized for their natural water-repellent durability, are sustainably sourced and dyed to his specifications in Wyoming.
2. Getting Steamy
Fouquet uses a steam machine to warm the felt until it is soft and pliable enough to be molded.
3. Block Head
The hat begins to take shape around a wooden form known as a block. Each block correlates to a different hat size or, for bespoke commissions, the client’s measurements. The majority of Fouquet’s equipment is vintage, as hatmaking tools aren’t readily available today. “It was like a treasure hunt,” he says of scouring the country for machinery. “The only way to accumulate these things is if someone dies or goes out of business.”
4. Straight Shooter
The hat is composed of a single piece of felt. Once the head shape has been formed, the brim is flattened out using a specialized tool and more steam. The hat is left to dry, a process that can take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days, depending on how much steam is used while blocking.
5. Smooth Operator
In a dedicated room, Fouquet sands the felt down. This traditional step yields a smooth, cashmere-soft finish. “I use regular sandpaper and a hand sander, anywhere between 220 grit to 720 grit, depending on the finish that we want to achieve.”
6. Throwing Shade
After removing the hat from the block, Fouquet uses a specialized tool to cut the brim to the desired length. He tends to favor a brim that’s slightly wider than average, both for style and for functionality. Left with what he describes as a “sort of UFO-looking object,” Fouquet sews a roan sheepskin sweatband along the hat’s interior rim, which also serves as its structural backbone.
7. Getting in Shape
Fouquet never sketches his designs in advance, preferring to let inspiration lead the way. “If it comes in my mind,” he says, “I can cut out that middle territory and go straight to creation.” It’s now that he sculpts the hat into the desired shape, creasing the crown and defining the hat’s final character.
8. Playing With Fire
Torching is a traditional step to burn off any remaining felt fibers and ensure the silkiest possible finish. Fouquet takes it to the extreme, using a proprietary alcohol-based mixture to ignite and distress his hats. “You do it too long, you can compromise it. If it isn’t long enough, you won’t really see it,” he says. “You have to be really present and engaged.”
9. Feathers in His Clip
When embellishing, Fouquet uses everything from classic grosgrain ribbon to vintage curtain swatches and all manner of bibelots collected during his travels. He looks for “three little elements that can make it unique. . . . Maybe it’s a trinket, a tear in the band, a piece of deadstock upholstery.” One accoutrement that every hat gets is his signature matchstick, rakishly tucked in the band. Fouquet assesses the hat for any finishing touches: edges that need further sanding, bands that could be enlivened with embroidery. Once the exterior is suitably refined, it’s cleaned off and the interior is lined with jacquard, then completed with silk.