Interview with Ana Lamata, art historian and hatmaker in Madrid
I visit Ana Lamata at her home near the Royal Palace in central Madrid. Her flat, which is also her studio, is as neat and impeccably organised as the stitching of her handmade hats. There is plenty of light coming through the windows and the plants in most of the rooms give her flat an inviting atmosphere. She is indeed one of the few milliners who still works in the traditional way with the best materials she finds all over the world, beaver felt and the finest hand woven straw, which she buys as raw material and then processes in her own way using the classic hat making techniques she learned in England.
IRMA: Why England, Ana?
ANA LAMATA: England is the only country where wearing hats is still a tradition. I collected hats, from the 1860s to the 1960s, and after finishing my PhD in art history, I went to London to learn how to make them. I had the privilege of learning with Rose Cory, hatmaker to the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and other members of the royal family. She was the best teacher anyone could have wished for. With her I learned all the classic hat making techniques, as well as how to make blocks. Later I met Lorenzo Re, master hat block maker who used to make Rose’s blocks as well as those for most couture houses, from whom I have been buying my wooden blocks until his retirement last year.
IRMA: You also learned how to make paint, ink and silk flowers to complement the creations of your hats.
ANA LAMATA: Yes, it is fascinating to make your own colours, for example with botanical-based pigments or with colours made from dried insects like cochineal or lake.
For the silk flowers, I use organza, crêpe or satin silk that I dye and paint with the colours I make.
I take the patterns from actual flowers that I study and take apart. Then I cut each petal and leave, shape them with heated iron tools and mount them. I even make the stamens by hand. Then I wrap the stems with silk thread also botanically dyed. It is quite time-consuming to make them, but absolutely rewarding.
IRMA: How can a new customer get in touch with you?
ANA LAMATA: Since all hats are handmade and take time to come into being, I work mainly for private clients who order bespoke or custom headpieces.
My customers come because they have heard about my work, mainly from friends, previous customers and other people who appreciate this handcrafted work.
When they book an appointment, we start by talking about them, their lifestyle, what do they want that headpiece for (everyday, a special occasion)… Many things have to be taken into account, like the height, facial proportions… Depending on the customer’s requirements and preferences, I advise them on shape, material and colours. The final headpiece is the result of these discussions. A bespoke or custom hat made specifically for you.
IRMA: A hat is not necessarily a piece you wear every day.
ANA LAMATA: I do wear them everyday. But it is true that usually women come for the first time looking for a hat for a special occasion. Men are different, and they come looking for a good hat to wear everyday. Then all of them come back, because when you start wearing good hats they become as indispensable as shoes. A good hat can make you walk differently, more upright, and make you feel different, elegant, gracious, assertive. They are quite special items of clothing indeed.
IRMA: The inside of your hats is made with extreme precision and attention to detail, although it is only visible to the observer.
ANA LAMATA: I like things that are as beautiful on the inside as on the outside. The inside of a garment shows you the care and attention that was put into its making. Beauty (and quality) is in the details. I make all my linings in silk, using a special type of hand stitching. The leather bands for the head fitting are hand sewn to the hat through silk ribbon and they feature a narrow ribbon threaded through the band and secured with a bow, like they used to years ago. Depending on the situation, the ribbon can be tied tighter in order to take half a size off the hat, which can be useful in windy conditions. Beautiful details with a purpose.
IRMA: And what about the cold protection of the hat in winter? I’m always looking for an alternative to a regular beanie.
ANA LAMATA: For winter hats I use mainly beaver felt, which is the best felt. It is the densest, strongest, lightest and softest felt, as well as water repellant. It is also the most elegant. When I don’t use felt I use wool or silk to make fabric covered hats and turbans. I make turbans draped in cashmere over a merino wool felt structure and with silk lining, which are the most cozy and exquisite winter hats. I also make other styles, like the classic karakul, which is very elegant both for men and women, in special fabrics like mohair or a very special one made of hand spun and handwoven silk cocoons. Also classic shapes like the bowler, made in tweed. The possibilities are endless.
IRMA: Your floral creations can be used for many things.
ANA LAMATA: Yes, originally I made them for hats, but lately I’ve been making flower arrangements out of them that last forever and become more beautiful as the sun fades the colours of the natural dyes and inks.
You can also use a flower as a headband by shaping the stem of the flower around your head. They are so light that they stay there, beautifully floating and adding a touch of light and colour to the face. A great alternative to a hat at any occasion. I also make smaller versions of the silk flowers as hat pins and as boutonniers for gentlemen to wear on the lapel of the jacket, which I find extremely elegant.
IRMA: The art of hat making requires time, research and a constant search for the best material. How do you structure your working day to be successful?
ANA LAMATA: I usually wake up at 5am, have breakfast and practice Qi Gong, ideally for a couple of hours. I start working at around 08.30, unless I have other appointments. Around 12.30 I have lunch and continue working from 2.30pm to 5.30pm.
I make everything completely by hand, from steaming and blocking the material, to pressing, draping, stitching… Many hours, sometimes weeks (for the embroidered hats or the ones I make with straw braid I hand sew), go into the making of each hat. It is a labour of love. And I love to do it. Always trying to make things a little bit better each time. Learning continuously.
I also think it is essential to keep a balance between work and rest, as it is to enrich your soul in other ways. In my case it is by traveling, going to museums… We are fortunate to have in Madrid one of the best painting galleries in the world, the Prado Museum.
IRMA: What are your plans for the future?
ANA LAMATA: I would like to make an installation with the silk botanicals. And just keep on doing what I am doing, meeting new customers who share this appreciation for good quality handcrafted things. We need less things, but better ones. Those that gain beauty with age. Those that grow with you and into you. Those that are an expression of who you are or who you are becoming. Those that tell your story.
IRMA: What is the best way to take care of your hat?
ANA LAMATA: A hat can accompany you for a lifetime, even for generations. Just do not hang them on a hat rack or anywhere like that for a long time. The best way to store it is in its box. Or even better, do not store it, wear it.