Wed. Dec 7th, 2022

Hats seem like they have been extinct but in the last few years you find people in pockets around the globe who are trying to bring the culture of hat wearing back alive. Alicia Bleye in Madrid is one such woman doing this, and her hats are a hit with women in both the US and Spain.

Bleye has a creative soul and a deep love for hats. Her millinery atelier is set up on the top floor of her home, and is a second career for her. As she works the sound of the Spanish guitar plays in the background. “I prefer to work with music playing,” she quips. And in her workspace, she has all her hat accessories around her and her large work table.

Starting twelve years ago, her hats have bourgeoned by word of mouth and from Instagram. “Instagram has been amazing for me,” notes Bleye. “I was a professor at a public university for 18 years, and I was tired and bored, ready for a change. So, I started with making hats, first for my friends and then for me, and now I have grown.”

“I’ve loved hats since I was a child and I started to think that there are a lot of people making clothes, but not so many people are making hats in Spain. I started with a teacher who taught me how to make head pieces (fascinator) for weddings- and I learned a lot. Then my teacher taught me how to make hats with wool, initially with the mold and the iron.”

“Making hats are hard on the hand, but I have strong hands.” Because of all the heat it takes to make hats, Alicia is able to take it as she cuts, bends, beads, and irons. “I don’t have any sensitivity to the heat. I take pancakes out of the oven with my bare hands,” she laughs.

For Bleye, starting to make hats was by trial and error, and perhaps hat making was by chance and trial and error to begin with. The earliest hat wearing seem to come out of ancient Egypt, and was thought to originate due to the heat and common style of bald heads in the empire. Hats have always symbolized nobility and a higher social standing. We see that today in aristocratic Britain. The Queen of England is always seen wearing a hat, as well as women at high social functions. If this were one-hundred years ago everyone would be seen wearing a hat, as it was the style in the 1920s.

Before the house of Chanel was known for its fashionable flair of clothing and accessories, it was known for its hats. Gabrielle Chanel started off as a milliner before she transitioned into a diverse brand. Sir Winston Churchill was renowned for his hats, especially his homburg hats with the curbed brim made of felt. Men during, before, and after the American Civil War era were known to wear stovepipe hats, and President Abraham Lincoln wore them best. And even sixty years ago hats were still a thing. Who can forget Jackie Kennedy in her pillbox hats and bouffant hair, like the watermelon pink one with the Chanel-style suit she wore when President Kennedy was assassinated.

But for Bleye, hats are just as much a Spanish thing as they are an American thing. Wide brimmed hat wearing and hat making go back to 17th century Andalucía. But they weren’t for the noble, they were for the poor wanting to protect their heads from working in the sun and rain. Shortly around this time villages in Spain wore hats to accompany their folklore wear and festival activities. Today you can see these wide brimmed hats in Córdoba made from thin felt with a silk band around the hat, similar to Bleye’s Ice Top hat. “In Spain we lost the culture of hat wearing, but in the past 5 years the Spanish are starting to wear hats again, especially women,” and Bleye is determined to be a part of this.

Her process is swift yet thorough. “There is a factory in Alicante that I buy the fabric from. The wool is treated in the factory for strength, appearance, and quality,” she explains.

This fabric is expensive but makes for good hats. She is able to fold the hats and shape them with the help of an iron. In order to shape hats, there has to be a certain amount of weight in the wool. The brim thickness of her hat has to be thick in order for them to take shape.

Adding designs with beads, fabric, and smoldering burn designs to her hats, her craft is all handmade and truly artisanal. Her emerald green felt hats are eye catching. Because of the durability and quality of the hats, the brims can be shaped and molded with the iron. Bleye has them in three designs: Green Snake Piercing hat, Green and Pink hat, and the Amatista hat.

The hats are made from silk, fur, suede with a wild cut, lace, handmade flowers, feathers wired by me, old reliquaries, porcelain, recovered letters and photos, high fashion jewelry, centuries-old fabrics. “My work process is based on total freedom, and creativity flows naturally, without pre-established patterns. Every detail of the hat is designed by me and manufactured in the best and oldest Spanish factory exclusively and in the traditional way. Then I take each hat and personally give it the final finish that makes it unique,” she states.

Alicia Bleye hats can be purchased online and are shipped all over the world. Visit aliciableye.com

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