Photography ©Gabriella Marks

Hat Tricks

Finding the Perfect Fit at One of Santa Fe’s Custom Hatmakers

by Eva Tolpa

April/May 2014

It’s unusual for a town of Santa Fe’s size to have one custom hat shop, much less four, and a visit to any of them is an education. You’ll learn why beaver fur makes the softest, strongest felt (it has barbed interlocking fibers) and why the highest-end straw hat costs several times as much as its felt equivalent (each Panama hat is woven by hand). You might even get your head measured by a conformateur, a 19th-century French sizing instrument that resembles a steampunk torture device. 

Montecristi Custom Hat Works

Montecristi Custom Hat Works (montecristihats.com) is a 38-year-old Santa Fe institution whose felted and straw hats enjoy an international reputation. Owner Milton Johnson can tick off an impressive list of places he’s recently shipped orders: Nigeria, Serbia, Abu Dhabi, England, Australia. And it’s not just the majority of his clientele that originates outside New Mexico; it’s his material suppliers as well. “We have three families [in Ecuador] that weave exclusively for us,” Johnson says, noting that many of the crown ventilation patterns he carries are his own design. Montecristi also has a sister shop, Santa Fe Hat Company (118 Galisteo), which carries millinery by Helen Kaminski, Eric Javits, and Patricia Underwood.

Davis Hats

Davis Hats (daviscustomhats.com) was located in Stanley, New Mexico, until Roger Tomlinson bought it in 2013 and moved it to Santa Fe, just off Route 14. A farrier and cowboy who’s also made boots and saddles, Tomlinson is a Western jack-of-all-trades, and he received “intensive direction and instruction” from George Davis, who ran the business for more than 30 years. “I don’t specialize in any sort of style,” Tomlinson says of his hats, “but I do cater to the working cowboy crowd.” Working cowboys tend to prefer 100 percent beaver [fur], which “looks really good but holds up to the rigors of the lifestyle.” 

A man getting sized for a custom hat
A customer at O'Farrell Hats get sized with a conformateur to ensure a perfect fit.
A woman in a hat shop
Montecristi Custom Hat Works carries an eclectic assortment of handmade items for men and women.

O’Farrell Hats

Scott Farrell of O’Farrell Hats (ofarrellhatco.com) has been immersed in hatmaking since he was a kid. “My father opened this business in ’79 in Durango and moved it to Santa Fe in ’96,” he says, adding that he took control of the shop when his father died 10 years later. “Everything here is about personal preference,” Farrell notes, and that retail philosophy extends well beyond variations on Panama hats and Western wear. If it can be fashioned from felt, Farrell will build it. Fedora? Fez? Cloche? Yes, yes, and yes. “We even made a Don Quixote hat once,” he says.

The HatSmith

D. Noble started The HatSmith (thehatsmith.com) with one objective: to sell affordable, custom-fitted felted hats. He’s succeeded by keeping his overhead low and remaining a one-man operation. (Although he co-owns the business with Fran and Art Sundheim, Noble is the sole hat guy on the premises.) About three-quarters of his sales are from customized pieces, but Noble keeps some readymade stock on hand for shoppers who need instant gratification. Over the past few years, he’s built a strong relationship with the state’s film industry; look for his headgear in writer/director Seth MacFarlane’s upcoming film A Million Ways to Die in the West.

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