While headbands have made a triumphant comeback, we're looking towards another headpiece. Hats and fascinators bring old world skill and design to the forefront of any look, while instantly upgrading an outfit for a special event. Maria Etkind, a New Orleans-based milliner, has found success in making hats for the women of New Orleans and their various events, including brunches in the French Quarter, horse races, and of course, Mardi Gras.
Etkind first fell in love with the art of hat making while living in the Netherlands. She was on a sabbatical from her graphic design work and filled her free time with fine arts and sewing classes. She stumbled upon a flyer for hat making and decided to take a class, which led to several more. Etkind and her husband spent three years abroad before returning to New Orleans in 2017 with a new pastime. Her hobby turned into a part-time job as orders for hats began to roll in. "I was very nervous at the beginning," she told Adore. "A lot of the hats that we see are more towards costuming and a lot of the bigger hats we see are not made well."
The milliner wanted to change that: her orders are all custom and are completely handmade in her home studio. She encourages her Southern clients to deviate from the traditional large, brimmed piece and opt for more European smaller hats, which tend to be more practical for events. "At brunch at Galatoire's, you're sitting next to each other and the brim [of a big hat] gets in the way. Plus, you can't kiss hello."
Fascinators are technically a hat attached to a headband, but in the US a small hat can also be referred to as a fascinator. Etkind enjoys making the smaller hats as they are more sculptural and offer more design options. "They are like little sculptures."
Etkind's clients vary from mothers and daughters to vintage lovers and hat collectors. She's currently working on a classic collection for a bridal party. She can repair and restore vintage hats and also offers styling services. "If you're wearing a hat to an event, it should be the most important thing you're thinking about, because it is on your head and frames your face."
While the designer is rarely found without a hat atop her head, she knows when it is not appropriate to don one and says that there is a fine line (i.e. weddings). Mardi Gras, on the other hand, is the perfect occasion for a new hat. Etkind is already gathering orders for next February's Mardi Gras and will stop accepting commissions in November (so act fast).
The design process starts with a consultation where materials, colorway, and delivery are discussed. Etkind prefers to have 2-3 weeks, with time for a fitting in between. She has her clients wear the hat for a few hours leading up to their event to feel comfortable in it and make sure there are no malfunctions. "It's like breaking in new shoes!"
Some of Etkind's hats are available for purchase on her website and at Century Girl Vintage, where she works a few days a week. Eventually Etkind would like to take her millinery full-time, but enjoys the face time with others. "If you're in your home studio all the time, you don't really get to see the world," she notes. Another goal Etkind would like to accomplish is creating a small rental service for her hats, the perfect option for someone wanting to sport a hat for a single occasion.
The one-woman show acknowledges that handmade hats are pricey and shoppers may turn towards less expensive pre-made options. "As long as people are wearing hats, milliners stay busy!"