by Lisa Stasiulewicz
Like many great endeavors, Sheri Wildhagen's appealingly smart hat collection was born out of necessity. She moved from chilly New York to nearly Arctic Toronto and needed a warm hat, but didn't want to look frumpy under a knit cap. So, she whipped up one of her own designs for herself. It wasn't until she made party hats for the guests at her New Year's Eve party in 1999 that she thought about making them for others.
With the encouragement of her husband and business partner, David Greig, Sheri schlepped samples around to local boutiques and got a great response. "Once I realized I had to start producing, I figured I had a business," she said.
While Sheri is an experienced seamstress—she did alterations for Calvin Klein—she has never studied proper millinery. "One good thing about not being trained is I have no boundaries about appropriate materials. I'll make a hat out of anything." Anything has included unconventional materials like sail cloth, Kevlar, and wood veneer. More often, she uses a sponged wool, which has a felt-like feel and is just hearty enough to hold its shape while still being soft and cozy atop the head. All of the Wildhagen hats are completely collapsible and are perfect for stashing in a tote.
Sheri's creative process also benefited from her lack of formal study. She skips the sketching stage and goes straight to creating a prototype from the idea in her head. Once the hat is constructed, she and David take digital photographs and perfect the shape in Photoshop. When they get it right, Sheri figures out how to make it happen with the material.
The results are vintage-inspired designs that look familiar, but are somehow completely contemporary and original. Using the 1920s as a reference, many of Wildhagen's hats look like something Daisy would wear on a brisk beachside stroll with Gatsby. Constructed from panels of fabric that's sewn close around the head, some feature exaggerated brims like the Scoop and the Velo models, and can look almost like runway-ready bonnets. For fall, Sheri adds a bit of whimsy to her collection with the use of elegant bird appliquÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©s.
Sheri now has a permanent home for her wares in the Wildhagen shop in Toronto where she is working on earning the image of "cold weather specialists" by carrying chic, practical snow boots and mittens. "It might not be exciting, but it's useful. I think it's great when you can be warm and look good," she said. So, rest assured, there is no reason you can't face the impending blustery winter weather with your head held high.
There are plenty of reasons to dread winter, but thanks to the new Toronto-based label Wildhagen, your cold-weather hat shouldn't be one of them.