Plenty of people spend years striving to stick that special feather in their caps. An easier route? Head on over to San Francisco milliner Jasmin Zorlu, whose sculptural creations have been topping the tresses of local fashion fans since the designer settled for good in the City by the Bay in 2004. With fans that range from Erykah Badu (she once commissioned three Molecular Mermaid Hats) to Barneys New York, Zorlu has spent recent years designing hats and bags for Bay Area hat company Goorin Brothers, working on her own collections inspired by the 1920’s-40’s and scooping up honors like Best Accessory Designer from this year’s San Francisco Fashion Awards. Next up for Zorlu is a men’s collection of caps constructed from rescued men’s wool suiting fabric, due out this fall.
You can keep up with Zorlu on her blog and peruse her work in person at this Friday’s Show Me a Hat Show, Sugar!, a hat-centric event showcasing San Francisco’s wealth of millinery talent. In the meantime, read on for our recent chat with Zorlu, in which she dishes on her forthcoming collection, unveils her love for Myrna Loy and reveals her secret hip hop career.
If you could magically place one of your creations atop the head of one person you’ve never met – living or dead – who would it be and why?
Myrna Loy. She wears the most amazing hats in the ‘Thin Man’ movies.
Tell us one thing we’d be shocked to find out about you.
I write, memorize and perform spoken word with a hip hop tempo here and there. I’ve experimented with making tracks in Garageband. You can hear some of my work here.
We hear you’re working on a new collection. Give us the details.
I’ve been amassing a collection of men’s wool blazers that are slowly taking over my closet. I’m working on an eco line of men and women’s soft caps from them (with a few styles of bags!). I’ve been making hats out of rescued cashmere sweaters for nearly 3 years now and am excited to use a new material that is gentle on the Earth and sustainable too! I can sell these hats at less expensive price points in a response to the economy. Plus, you can sit on them, let a friend wear them and then wash them!
We love the beauty-marked mannequin modeling the hats in your etsy shop. Is there a story behind her? Does she have a name?
Lucy came into my life in 2001 on the hippest street in Brooklyn: Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She’s half human, half mannequin, actually.
You describe your hats as sculptural headwear. What are some of your favorite sculptural elements included in your recent work?
I’ve been making cocktail hats inspired by aquatic life and quantum mechanics lately. Finally I’m getting into wedding hats for the avant-garde bride. I’m creating them out of horsehair (100 percent nylon) combined with rescued nylon mesh fruit bags, handmade abalone shell buttons and feathers.
Pardon us, sometimes we get confused. Can you educate us on the ways a haberdasher, milliner and hatmaker are different?
To me, a Haberdasher is an antiquated term for a person who sells men’s clothing. A Milliner is a person who designs, makes and sells hats primarily for women. A Hatmaker is a person who makes and sells hats. Depending on who I’m talking with, I will call myself a milliner, hat designer or hatmaker.
Seniors are familiar with the term. So are the English, since it’s a strong artform there. A lot of people aren’t familiar with the term “Milliner” or “Millinery.” Millinery refers to the art of hat design. When I was in high school in Iceland, I wanted to be a fashion designer. By some crazy precognition, I made a joke to the school paper that I wanted to be a “Milliner” since I had just learned the word and thought that sounded cool. They printed that I wanted to be a “Millionaire.”
What do you find to be the biggest challenge of being a fashion designer in the San Francisco Bay Area?
You can’t be insular if you want to grow your wholesale business. You need to get yourself to New York City and Los Angeles to show your line. Or get a sales rep or showroom in those cities.
On a Sunday afternoon when you were otherwise unencumbered with work and chores, where would we find you?
In nature! At the outdoor Mission pool swimming or in Golden Gate Park biking.
More after the jump….
What’s the strangest material you’ve ever worked with?
I tried liquid latex on cashmere but it looked like mucus! I need to experiment more by adding pigment to it. I’m working with silicone fabric at the moment given to me by a friend who has a skimboard company. Many people find it quite strange that I work with Fish Skin (the skin of fish like perch, carp, salmon and tilapia converted into strong, textural leather).
For those of us not used to wearing dramatic hats on a regular basis, can you offer some style tips on incorporating them into our wardrobes? For example, when should we wear them and what should we wear them with?
My hats are not for the faint of heart. Wear them whenever you want to attract attention, make new friends or delight an object of your affection. You can wear a Fish skin helmet with jeans during the day and then change into elegant clothing for cocktails. I wear mine under my bike helmet to keep me warm and keep my hair perfect. The horsehair cocktail hats can be worn to gallery openings, the opera or ballet, parties and weddings.
Where can we buy your work?
On www.jasminzorlu.etsy.com, or you are welcome to visit my Nob Hill studio by calling me first to set up an appointment: 415.730.4666. Also at Hats on Post in Union Square, San Francisco, and Mill Valley Hat Box in Mill Valley.
You teach classes. When and where can we learn from you in the coming months?
I will be teaching two workshops this fall. One will be in October on how to draft a pattern for cut & sewn hats, the other will be in November and on making a felt cloche by a method called “freeform hat blocking.” You can sign up on my mailing list on my web site if you’re interested.*
*You’ll also save 10 percent on your first purchase when you sign up for Jasmin’s mailing list.
Keep reading for more SF Indie Fashion interviews….