PARIS, ILE DE FRANCE, FRANCE
What’s always surprising in Paris is the small spaces hidden behind facades, the carriage doors unveiling quiet and flowered courtyards, the feeling of arriving in a provincial village in just a few seconds. That’s exactly what you feel when you arrive in the small courtyard where is located Pauline Brosset’s workshop, in the 3rd arrondissement. A little plate labelled “Pauline Brosset – Millinery – Bespoke Creations” indicates that you’ve come to the right place.
We meet Pauline and discover her small space, optimised so that each post is well-defined: an office, a workbench for the moulding, a sewing machine, and a few shelves to store the raw materials and the different shapes and tools..
She explains us that her encounter with Fernand Sebbah, former director of the bespoke millinery of the Lanvin House, influenced her career. She was trained by his side for several years. In 2010, she decided to set up her own workshop and create bespoke hats, after purchasing the tools of her former boss. These tools are precious, as they aren’t manufactured anymore nowadays.
Two or three appointments are necessary for a tailor-made order. The first one lets her take the customer’s measures, the shape of his head, and define his needs. The following appointments allow them to try the design, check its comfort, its shape… If needed, alterations are possible in order to match the customer’s expectations.
Pauline Brosset is quite unique, as she’s the last milliner in France to master the moulding of beaver felt. She explains us its properties: completely waterproof, very light and always maintaining its shape once moulded.
– MESURING –
During the first appointment, several measures are taken, including the head size and the total height. It’s necessary to have adequate space between the top of the head and the hat’s cap.
She then uses a tool called a hat shaper, to define the shape of the customer’s skull, which she reproduces on a template. That’s the point of the made-to-measure: a process allowing to perfectly adapt the head entry and ensure utmost comfort.
– MOULDING –
After this initial step, we access the material work.
First, Pauline works on the total height. After humidifying the felt with steam, by putting it over a bowl of boiling water, the wide-brimmed hat is placed on a wooden shape as closely resembling as possible to the customer’s head size. She pulls the felt on this shape, then places a cotton thread around it. She lowers the latter to the required height, making sure to be regular. This task requires strength and precision. As the cord is very tight, she uses a tool called avaloir, to place it correctly, then pins it to the shape. All along this process, the material is regularly humidified with an iron, to be softer.
Afterwards, she flattens the edges with the iron and a damp cloth to avoid burning the material. She uses the rim of her workbench to wedge the shape and mark the angle between the cap and the edge.
She then has to leave the felt dry for about 12 hours, before carrying on.
– CUT –
The next step is the edge cut. The back is usually lightly shorter than the sides and the front. To this end, Pauline shows us her ancient manual machine, on which she places the shape and the hat. To hold them, she puts two weights on the felt edges. She then presses the blade arm, rotates the plate with a handle, and shifts the weights progressively. Her action is slow and meticulous, to achieve a neat and even cut.
Once the wooden shape is standardised, she places the hat on a metal ring adjusted to the customer’s measures, and works again on the material using steam.
We then head towards the sewing machine, to fix the rough grain. A large cotton band, placed inside the hat, by the head entry, solidifies the material, while ensuring a high level of wearing comfort. Pauline sits down, affixes her label, pins the band inside the hat, and sews it.
– MASCOTTAGE –
This is where the design finds its whole personality.
Once again, the material is humidified with the iron, to model the cap according to the customer’s desires. Whether it’s split or rounded, Pauline creates all her designs by hand, with no pattern. Her control of gesture is impressive. In a glimpse, she can quickly achieve the different heights on the front, the sides and the back. That what makes this milliner so unique. From “classic” designs, she shapes the felt to adapt it to the different desires and morphologies of her customers.
To finalise the hat, the edges can then be shaped on a “collar”. Again, with the iron and a damp cloth, in a circular motion, she presses the material on this wooden mould to round it. She can also raise the edge of a few millimetres using a pattern, or even trim it with a braid.
– FINISH –
This time, a rough grain is fixed on the outside, with or without a bow, tone on tone or using contrast… The sewing is carried out by hand, with invisible stitches. All the designs are lined, mainly in wild silk, a light and comfortable material. It’s entirely assembled on the machine, before being hand-fixed on the inner rough grain by invisible stitches.
When the design is complete, a premoistened alcohol cloth is used to remove all the impurities. This final touch is called the pampering.
– TODAY & TOMORROW –
The wild silk used for the linings has recently been chosen in a French manufacture.
Le Melon, le Homburg, le Fedora… are iconic models that Pauline creates, but she doesn’t limit herself to any style – the only barriers are the technical constraints.
Her customers are mainly men (only 10% of women), as the moulding technique is primarily used in the manufacturing of classic male designs.