Living a Life with Hats

Fashion Trends & Culture - March 10th, 2010

by Kelly Wetherille

For Britta von Lewinski, hats are in her blood. “As a baby, my father would put his hat on my head, so in every photo I’m wearing a hat. My family is a hat-wearing family; and [my mother] seems to have given me a hat face,” she said. But in her young life growing up on a farm in Germany, hats were worn more out of necessity than out of a love for fashion. So how is it that von Lewinski came to be a talented and creative milliner with clients across Europe and Asia?

After graduating from university and graduate school with degrees in English, Spanish and agricultural economics, von Lewinski was recruited by Unilever, where she worked in purchasing and supply chain management for over ten years. While working in the company’s London office, the British tendency to wear hats for special occasions reminded her of her love for the accessory. This prompted her to make her first foray into millinery with a course at the London College of Fashion, where she studied under couture milliner Edwina Ibbotson. The course gave von Lewinski a taste of something special—finally, she had found a way to manifest her love of hats while also discovering a creative outlet. “She really taught me everything,” said von Lewinski of Ibbotson. “She is an absolute perfectionist, and she does everything herself.” Von Lewinski continued to take classes with Ibbotson until something else caught her eye.

“I found out about a course at the Kensington and Chelsea College, so I quit my job at Unilever and did it.” After completing this intensive course, students earn a diploma in millinery, giving them a certified qualification in the craft. Von Lewinski completed with course with distinction, but it was by no means a walk in the park. “It was nine months of incredibly hard work,” she said. “I’ve always worked hard, but this was in a completely different way. I sewed through the night, and we had to do so many different things…making your own blocks, trying different fabrics, sketching, sewing, sewing, sewing, sewing. I remember when I told my mother about this new venture, she said, ‘But you never sewed, and it’s all about sewing. Will you be patient enough?’ And funnily enough, this is the only area where I really can say I am patient. If I have to do it again and again and again, that’s what I do.”

Von Lewinski’s graduate collection at Kensington and Chelsea College was inspired by exotic birds, and earned much acclaim by both faculty and attendees at her graduate fashion show. One particularly awe-inspiring piece is a turquoise blue leather creation with swirling green peacock feathers that have been chemically stripped of much of their plumage. Other materials used in her six-piece collection ranged from high-end silks to run-of-the-mill cellophane.

Shortly after finishing her diploma course, von Lewinski’s husband’s career necessitated a move to Asia. The family’s first stop was China, which proved to be full of inspiration for the hat maker. While based in the country, von Lewinski created a brightly colored, modern variation on the conical straw hats worn by workers in the rice paddies, and she also came up with a design that would become one of her signatures. Using soft, warm cashmere, she fashions a scarf-like garment that is wrapped around the head, creating a practical yet chic guard against the winter cold.

Last August von Lewinski, her husband and her three children relocated yet again—this time to Tokyo. An entire room of the family’s home in Yoyogi is dedicated to housing her hat making supplies, including large wood blocks, feathers, flowers, and felts, silks and lace in nearly every color imaginable.

Von Lewinski finds inspiration in just about everything she sees, from the pagodas at local temples to a lobster she cooked her family for dinner one evening. Her hats are all 100 percent original, and are made specially for each customer, depending on the person’s needs, personality and measurements. Prices range from ¥5,800 for a cashmere turban to upwards of ¥25,000 for the more unique creations.

For a consultation with von Lewinski or to place an order, prospective customers can contact her directly by calling 080-4366-1503.

Photo credit:

Photos by S. Parker