by Ami Kealoha
For a nearly lost art, there are a surprising number of milliners in Manhattan. But Nolita legend Kelly Christy, who's been sewing, blocking (forming felt around wooden molds), and trimming hats entirely by hand for nearly 20 years, is in a class all her own.
For the past nine years, Christy operated out of her Elizabeth street storefront until, wanting to focus more on design and wholesale, she packed up shop this last May and relocated her workshop to a SoHo studio. There, she continues to create her renowned classics "with a twist" to the same wide acclaim. From elegant bespoke bridal pieces to eminently stylish fedoras, Christy's handiwork often makes its way onto Isaac Mizrahi and Diane von Furstenberg runways, regularly appears in Martha Stewart Weddings, and was selected for the 2003 Cooper-Hewitt Design Triennial. "You can be taught how to make things," she explains, "but you can't be taught how to design. It's just in you."
Her creative instincts are largely inspired by a love of laughter and nature. "It's funny because I'm never out in it," the longtime New York City resident quips. The kitschy results, fanciful disks adorned with mini-scenes of ice skaters, and bird nest-bedecked toques, are both currently featured at Barneys New York. Equally if not more popular, are more utilitarian wearable toppers, which make up the core of Christy's collection. Her latest, a bowler made from ultra-soft Czech rabbit-hair felt, stitched with old-world attention to detail, and completed with her impeccably chosen trimmings, has everything that makes a hat a Kelly Christy. And with the mercury plummeting, there's no better time to top yourself off.
Famed downtown hat-maker Kelly Christy sounds off on her migration to SoHo, her inspirations, and the newest addition to her gorgeously crafted collection of head-gear.