Remember when women would get a new hat for Easter? Probably not, as the practice of donning a new bonnet every spring roughly fell out of favour around the same time Irving Berlin songs did.
In general, neither women nor men wear hats as much as they used to, but don't tell that to Stephen Temkin, who is devoting a lot of time and talent to reviving chapeau culture - specifically men's fedoras.
After a first career as a wine buyer for upscale Toronto restaurants, handcrafted hats are now his business. "I'm creating contemporary fashion," he says. "I don't want it to be seen as a nostalgia trip or as costuming. To me, a hat on a man is a very beautiful and functional element of style, period. That's why I wear them."
Temkin, 54, launched his new line late last summer after his wife pointed out that very fact. "'You love hats. You really should be making them,'" Temkin recalls her saying. "That's really how it started."
Now, the basement of his home is his hat-making studio. Since it's "an arcane business," the tools and blocks he uses are decades-old. He also scours eBay for vintage materials, including 26,000 meters of exquisitely preserved grosgrain ribbon created 80 years ago in a now-defunct hat-making village in France.
"What I'm doing is kind of a throwback," says Temkin, who called his label Leon Drexler in homage to his late parents. (The name combines his father's first name with his mother's maiden name.)
"There are no textbooks. My hats are all handcrafted. They're hand-blocked and hand-styled for individual customers."
Made of dyed beaver felt and lined with Italian bridal silk, Temkin's fedoras are unquestionably luxe. Each takes about eight hours to make and costs $425. The thread Temkin uses is filigree silk from Japan and the sweat bands inside the hats are made from vegetable-dyed sheepskin leather.
As Temkin notes, there are other makers of custom men's hats in Canada. Two, he says, are in Calgary, but they make cowboy hats. Temkin is betting that a resurgence of interest in men's hats and the fedora in particular will continue to grow.
Recently, for instance, celebrities such as Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt and Jude Law have taken to wearing them. Fedoras were also all over the spring 2010 runway shows of John Varvatos, Dunhill, Etro, Iceberg and Prada.
Perhaps the most promising indicator for Temkin, however, was the 21-year old who commissioned a fedora recently because he wanted "to look cool."
Who knows? Maybe Easter hats will indeed come back in style.
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