If during the course of the 1900s films won the title of “seventh art”, at the beginning of the 21st Century, then fashion is set to become the fully-fledged “eighth art.” And within the world of fashion, hats today are the accessory which best focus on creativity. A triumph of the imagination which finds expression in the many artisan hat shops still to be found in Italy, especially in the regions of Lombardy and Piedmont. Amongst these workshops stands out the historic Melegari hat shop in Milan.
Crossing over the shop’s threshold in Via Paolo Sarpi, no. 19 in Milan’s Chinatown and not far from the Garibaldi train station, is like entering not only into a movie theater, but also like walking onto the “set” or into an editing room where they are working on the laborious tricks behind the magic.
Siblings, Sergio and Paola Anzani are currently running the Cappelleria Melegari. They like to point out the cultural proximity of hat production and the worlds of cinema and theater – harmony that can also be found in the chronology of the brand, founded in 1914 by Ferdinando Melegari under the name of “Cappelleria Lombarda.” The year 1914, the same year that in the United States, Charlie Chaplin created his iconic screen persona, the man with a bowler hat.
In the wake of Chaplin, an unbreakable bond between the world of films and the art of the hat was founded; as if every star is linked in spirit to a model, expressing his or her charm and flair. Here then are the numerous classic models available for sale at Melegari’s: from the “flat hat” of the American comedian, Buster Keaton to the valued Borsalino, Panama, Fedora and Stetson hats – products loved by Hollywood celebrities and directors like Johnny Depp and David Lynch, but mostly closely tied to the classic icons of Italian style, like Federico Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni.
Melegari considers the memory of the past as an integral part of its style, and because of this, they also offer a service for restoring old hats, in addition to creating custom personalized models and replicas of historical models; an opportunity which, Sergio Anzani likes to point out, receives particular interest among the public of Eastern origin, interested in the relationship between the past and present and between nature and artisan and industrial production.
For Melegari, the production of a hat means to relate natural elements and products with the manual ability of man. Just consider the ironing and fixing the shape where jets of hot steam and a large bag of hot sand are used or of the wooden forms for the modeling of semi-finished products, or even the leather and silk ribbons used for adorning.
Historically speaking, the Melegari brand is specialized in felt. Sergio Anzani passionately describes the uniqueness of this material. In certain respects, it is “moody” and cannot be easily worked and one must known its every detail, as if felt were a person of flesh and bones. Also, In this way, Melegari aims at promoting the centuries-old excellence of Italian felt handwork; among the models for sale, standing out are the Barbisio hats, historic milliner from the area of Biella, in the Piedmont region.
The technical skill of the Anzani siblings is also to be found in the everyday relationship with the tool leading to each hat. The workshop is home to a rich variety of valuable lathes, scales, welders and machines for the hot embossing of initials; all fully functional and in some cases, dating back to the 1800s. They are a living testimony of the long industrial tradition found between the city of Milan and the near-by Monza. It was not by chance that two new shops were opened in these two cities; one in Via Meravigli, Milan (near the Basilica of S. Ambrogio) and one in the center of Monza. The Monza store, in particular, thanks to its vicinity to the city’s main bridge (the “Ponte dei Leoni” or the “Bridge of the Lions”) pays homage indirectly the fundamental role of water and steam in the making of hats.
Without the support of the historic network of textile companies and artisan milliners from northern Italy which were the teachers even for Sergio Anzani, and on the other hand, the global assertion of Italian fashion in the 1900s, would perhaps not have been possible. “Made in Italy” holds a large part of the Melegari stock and includes products like high quality shirts made in the textile districts of the Lombard cities of Bergamo and Brescia as well as numerous Italian and international brands, such as Trussardi, Bottega Veneta and La Martina, which have enriched their collections with the technical and creative contribution of Melegari.
What then is artisan elegance according to Melegari? It is a matter of “making.” That something, very similar to the creativity of artists; a slow and daily process of intense work, like that of nature and experience which has shaped the landscape of the world around us and which allows us to fully reveal our uniqueness to the world.
Photo Credit : Luca Pradella