Tuesday, 11 October 2016
GarconJon meets Mr Hat
Stamp collecting may have been a far easier route but, at 12 years old, La Touche decided to buck the trend and start a collection of hats. Within 5 years he had collected over 200 and became known amongst friends as Mr Hat. Now over a decade since buying that first one, he has turned that passion into a career, educating himself on the details of millinery and working with some of London's best hat makers.
Everytime I've bumped into Mr Hat out and about, he always has an interesting story to tell. Keen to join all these tales together, I invited him to shoot in North London where we chatted about his Grandfather's influence, his life in music and why he's writing a children's book. Mr Hat is wearing items from his own wardrobe, alongside pieces from Boden's menswear collection.
His Hat About Town project, where he photographs the weird and wonderful headwear he finds on his travels can be seen at HatAboutTown.com.
How would you describe yourself in 5 words?
Positive, Encouraging, Friendly, Committed, Consistent.
What qualities do you admire most in other?
Loyalty, Consistency and Effort.
Where in the world are you drawn to outside London?
I have many friends and family in the United States and it's kept me coming back year after year. New York for me is London with the volume turn up. I have a sentimental bond with that city. It feels like home and despite the hustle and bustle I still find peace whenever I’m there.
Let's get it out of the way first. Why the hat?
It all started with my Grandfather. He’s the reason why I love hats and why I am never seen without one. Growing up, I always saw my Grandfather wearing hats. It became part of his personality and it transformed him into a superhero in my eyes. I used to put them on as a child and he would always take them back, telling me "when you're older I'll give you one." That day came just before he passed when I was around 19, when he gave me his black rabbit fur felt trilby from the early 1940s. It fitted me like a glove. His hat is the closest thing I have to remind me of him so it's pretty special. For me it’s not about fashion, there's a more personal symbolic attachment for me. As long as I’m wearing a hat, part of him is with me.
What was the first hat you bought for yourself?
It was a black and orange New Era cap that I got from the New Era store near Soho. I was 12 and loved my experience so much that it then became a monthly trip. By the time I was 18 I had well over 200 caps. This hat collecting bug is still with me, I always feel like I’m in competition with myself and for some strange reason I never feel like I can have enough hats. Hat collecting has become my thing I just love it. Each hat have their own story.
What does the Mr Hat title mean to you?
Coming up with the idea Mr.Hat has been a gradual build. I was working on launching HatAboutTown in 2011 and around that time people started calling me Mr Hat as a joke. It wasn't until a trip to NYC in late 2013 when my friends Ricky and Jamel of House of Alt told me to just run with it. As I came back to London I hit the ground running, changed all my social handles, and started to commit to this character.
Do you feel a sense of responsibility to live up to the name?
My aim is to know as much as I can about hats, from the history to construction. I now know more about the millinery aspect of headwear which I have a love for as well. It was never enough for me to just be a hat enthusiast I wanted to know my stuff and learn the craft that is often forgotten and unappreciated. I never lose sight of my purpose to get people wearing hats again.
What's your favourite type of hat?
My favourite style of hat will always be the Homburg. The smooth rabbit felt with a kettle curled brim, trimmed with grosgrain ribbon with a gutter crown finished with a band and bow. It has one of the best shapes for hats and I love the height of the crown. For me the Homburg still feels like an alien but I love that about it. It feels very exclusive as not many people wear Homburg's. When you look back at history there's still a bit of uncertainty as to who invented the hat and where it came from but one thing everyone can agree on is that both Anthony Eden and Winston Churchill contributed to putting the Homburg on the map. This hat has such an elegance that warrants authority. For me it is the Rolls-Royce of hats. I was over the moon when my grandmother found one of my grandfather’s old Homburgs. My all-time favourite is fawn coloured from Lock and Co Hatters.
Do you have a piece of advice for someone wanting to buy their first hat?
Firstly know your hat size, get your head measured. A lot of the time people go into hat shops and just try on the first couple of hats they see and give up when the first two hats don't fit them. That leads to many people thinking hats aren't for them. Once you've got your hat size decide on your budget. I'd recommend keeping to under £100 for your very first hat. I'd normally recommend starting with a smaller size brim for your first hat, as wide brims can be quite intimidating. I usually say to try focusing on a hat that can be worn both casually and formally. That way you'll get two hats.
Best tip for caring for headwear?
A hat's best friend is steam. Some milliners still use kettles to steam their hats which does work but be careful as it does get a bit dangerous. I'd say pick up a hat brush and a hat box too. Those three things are my go-to tips for keeping your hats looking brand new.
How has your self image evolved over time?
I didn't like dressing smart when I was younger. My aunt says she's the one that got me wearing ties. As I started getting more into fashion, I wanted to experiment. I went wacky and colourful from my cap to wearing two watches, then I started wearing more tailored pieces and smart shoes. With that I felt I had to wear trousers, shirt and blazer and that became my look. I would wear my trousers shorter so you could see my socks. It's kind of stuck.
You're a drummer, how has music influenced your life?
My father got me into music from a young age, sitting me on the floor amongst a sea of old records. These records were a mixture of jazz, soul, R&B, old school Gospel and 70s disco from years of collecting. I remember him going through each record telling me who the artist was, the era and style of genre. This early education made me fall in love with great music so much so that till this I'm still listening to his records. My dad was a bassist, so when I was a child he would always be practicing and I would just come in and just sit there watching him. His passion influenced me to learn a musical instrument. I started with piano, which I hated, and jumped on the drums at the age of 12 or 13. It taught me a great deal of discipline and developed my self-confidence. Although I was taught to read, I tend to naturally play by ear.
Has music influenced you in other ways?
It has definitely contributed to my style over the years. Jazz musicians have the best hats as they're so personalised, it becames part of them. I believe music also made me more sociable. You meet many other musicians when gigging and at times it can be a little intimidating when you play with other musicians who are better than you but my dad always told me: play with confidence and simply enjoy yourself. I still live by this today.
Do you have a song which has defined you to date?
I have to give it to Paul Desmond's 'Take Five' performed by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. I remember hearing this when I was young and I said to myself, if I ever have my own show I would love for this to be my theme tune. It always takes me on a journey and Joe Morello's drum solo will forever be up there on my list of favourite drum solos. He was way ahead of his time, his style of playing painted a picture.
You're working on a children's book, how did this come about?
I'm currently working on 'The Adventures of Mr. Hat.' I'm a big kid at heart and obsessed with cartoons. Growing up I struggled with reading and writing, but I was in my element when I had a picture book. If it weren't for the Biff Chip and Kipper books I'd still be struggling today. As I got older and my reading and writing improved I vowed that I would write my own book. I would visualise myself reading at my old primary school and encouraging children to read with the hope I could inspire a child that struggled like I did when I was their age. One day I met Grey Keyte and we got talking about books and she encouraged me to write. Within a few weeks we'd written our first story. I wanted to make sure that I kept everything consistent with my message of encouraging people to love hats. I thought that it'd make sense to start with children showing them how great hat's can be.
How did you become interested in hats?
The foundation of why I love hats is my grandfather. I'm from a Caribbean background and I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. My grandfather always dressed up. Most older Caribbean men like to dress up - even to go to the park. He always wore a hat and I think from the age of 5 I started to see where he kept his hats. Some were in boxes, some were stored on top on his wardrobe. I remember a few times I would pinch one and pretend to be him. He promised me that when I was older he would give me one. I remember when he was in hospital he had his hat by his bed. On the sweatband he always wrote his full name and address, in case he ever lost it. I was 18 when I lost my grandfather. He gave me his hat and it was the same one that I tried on as a child and it fitted me like a glove. Not only was it something to remember him by but it was also the fact that it fitted perfectly. It was something I had to embody and become, a person who loves hats as much as he did. it wasn't just for fashion, it is now something that reminds me of him. That started the love for hats.
The collecting/passionate side of hats came from when I was 12 and there was a cool guy in school called Andre McTaggart. He came in wearing a black baseball cap one day and everyone was fascinated by him and this hat. I wanted what he had. I wanted the hat and the attention. After weeks of saving, I went to Walthamstow Market and I bought one for £15, only to find out at school that it was a fake. Andre gave me a card for a shop in Central London where I could buy the real hat. After a month of asking my brother, he took me into Central London, to New Era. I was blown away – the caps, colours, patterns, logos. I was fascinated. The thing I enjoyed the most was the attention to detail to customer service. From the bespoke fitting to experiencing the history of the brand.
When did your taste mature?
I wore caps for so long but I felt self-conscious and insecure wearing my grandfather's hat. I would take it off in Enfield and hold it in my hand until I got to Oxford Circus. I thought it was more acceptable there. It wasn't until I was 19 or 20 that I confidently wore wide-brimmed hats. I went to the Bronx in New York in my 20s and it was there that I got my confidence. I was travelling to the Lincoln Center for fashion week and I decided to keep my hat on for the train journey. I was getting nods and compliments as I walked to the station. The more compliments I got, the more confident I got. I came back to London with that confidence. I then experimented from there.
How do you stay present in the moment?
It requires my full attention so I tend to live each day as they come putting all my time and energy into what I feel is a priority during that day. I try to spend as little time online as possible and more time offline interacting and engaging with people, allowing myself to fully enjoy the experience which makes me feel in control. I get the same feeling from being active. I love running. It’s very therapeutic and really helps to clear my mind. I believe making time for yourself and for loved ones always results in being present in the moment. When I'm in company of friends and family I keep my phone on silent and turn it upside down on its face making sure that they have my full attention.
When you’re feeling down, how do you move forward?
I'm aware that it is important to acknowledge and experience your feelings when you’re feeling down, just as long as you don't stay there. I have a few techniques that I use to help me move forward. At my dad’s, I always play his old records. He would jam out to the songs on his bass guitar and I would sit there in awe of his talent. Even if he's not there I find comfort listening to music from his records. Music is a sure fire way to pick up my mood, laying down listening to music is so soothing.
For me happiness, success and general positivity is like playing keepy-uppy with a balloon. You just have to keep the balloon afloat. Keeping that balloon up is sometimes a challenge but the excitement is in not giving up and remembering that you're choosing to keep that balloon up, you're in control of your happiness.
Do you have a belief system? How do you use it in life?
I believe in myself and that I can achieve whatever I set my mind to do. I know that God is watching over me, my faith in Him keeps me going especially in my darkest moments. Whatever you believe in I think it's important to have faith in something greater than yourself where you're able to offload all your burdens which will allow you to achieve the impossible. I spend less time stressing and more time living. I find being thankful daily really helps to put my mind at peace and keeps me focus on achieving the unexpected. When you really reflect on what you have and how far you've come you'll see just how blessed you are.
What will be your legacy?
The legacy my grandfather left behind made me want to leave a legacy for my children, not only his love for hats and his beautiful black rabbit fur felt trilby, but for coming to England from Jamaica with so little and being able to make a life for himself and his family. He came over from another country and achieved great success and was able to impact the lives of many he came into contact with. Despite being physically disabled from the neck down, unable to use his hands or feet, he was still just thankful to God that he was still alive and able to talk. Proving to me that nothing is impossible and you can always find something to be thankful for, that you can still inspire others and that things could always be worst. My grandfather taught me that he may not be able to run or stand but he could speak boldly with authority and encourage others. I really enjoy working with children especially teenagers and I want to continue to mentor young people encouraging them to aim high, giving them hope. I struggled with my reading and writing when I was younger which affected my confidence but I worked hard and managed to overcome it. It would make me happy to know that my legacy gave hope, inspired and encouraged young people to go onto to achieve what isn't expected of them.
How did your grandfather passing affect your outlook on life?
My grandfather's passing forced me to grow up and get serious about what it was that I wanted to do with my life. Death effects everyone differently, it can make or break you. I channelled the energy from my pain and experience into my work pushing boundaries and achieving the impossible. I guess his death made me fearless I was reminded just how short life is and how you only get one life so just live and enjoy every moment of living. Death shows you who and what really matters in your life, I am now a lot more adventurous and open to new opportunities I find pleasure in overcoming my fears his passing as made me believe that there isn't nothing I can't do.
Advice to your 18-year-old self?
Save your money.
Leave us with your words of wisdom .
Wake up everyday like it's your birthday. You feel happy, special and motivated. Why should that outlook not last an entire lifetime?