Borsalino’s Hat Lab: Where Hats Are Transformed

Every Borsalino for Atica boutique shop is classically designed to optimize your buying experience. The well-lit showroom displays the latest fedora styles. Expansive mirrors offer the best hat-viewing experience from every perspective. At the counter, specialty trimmings, color options and fabrics are elegantly displayed for ideal review. 

Yet, there is another essential component to Borsalino’s boutique experience that is hidden from the eye. Customers may overhear the low hum of whirring machinery as they peruse hats towards the back of the store or watch as their chosen new hat off the shelf is whisked to a back room, reappearing within minutes perfectly tailored to their style preference.

What is this mysterious room in the back? Who are the craftsmen who can take a standard fedora and tweak it to appear custom-made for you?

Let’s take a peek behind the curtain of Borsalino for Atica’s Hat Lab.

Getting the Fit Just Right

“The lab is the heartbeat of our operation,” explains Mendel Turner, the key lab operator in Borsalino’s Crown Heights boutique. “With nearly every single hat purchase, the hat goes through our lab, where we customize the personality of each hat to best fit the wearer.”

Borsalino for Atica’s U.S. stores, located in Flatbush, Lakewood and Crown Heights, each have built-in state-of-the-art hat laboratories. Each in-house lab is fitted with specialized machinery for hat customization and staffed by expert artisans trained in hat craftsmanship. Turner says that the lab is the true “pulse of what goes on here”, applying uncompromising attention-to-detail and a commitment to excellence that differentiates a Borsalino hat from the rest.

To the untrained eye, many hats - especially the classic black fedoras that are most popular among Borsalino for Atica’s Jewish clientele - may look identical. But to a wearer, each hat has infinite potential for expression – from tapering styles (the “pinches” at the crown of a hat) that are unique to specific demographics, to the width of the brim, to unique trimmings that allow the more adventurous hat-wearer to stand out from the crowd.

“Any hat that’s sold may require some type of tweaking,” adds Turner, estimating that 98% of hats go through the lab at some point. “Whether that’s a sharper snap on the brim or stretching the hat to perfectly fit a person’s head shape – our goal in the lab is to make each hat look like it has been made to order for your head.”

Tools of the Trade

Every lab is stocked with the hat-working basics: a steamer, an iron, high-quality brushes and sewing materials to put the finishing touches on a hat. Then comes the next level of customization with a range of hat blocks and specialty blades, allowing Borsalino’s craftsmen to integrate a centuries-long tradition in European millinery with the latest in fashion technology.

“Hat blocks are specially designed wooden stands that allow us to reshape the hat according to its optimal construction,” says Turner. He describes planches, a donut-shaped structure, in which the crown of the hat is placed in the “donut-hole”, allowing the lab operators to iron down a brim to specific curve or style.  

In the world of millinery, blocking is the gold standard in hat shaping and reshaping. It allows a misshapen hat to return to its original form or allows for stretching – for example, reshaping a very round hat for a more oblong head.

Eli Braslauer, the key lab operator at Borsalino for Atica’s Lakewood boutique explains that lab customization begins with choosing the right hat. “We want the customer to choose a hat that is closest to their desired look, since we don’t want to overwork our hats. Because we use luxury materials, our hats are delicate. You would be better off choosing a different hat that better suits your style than drastically changing the shape of a hat in the lab.”

But if the basic structure of the hat is working for you, the customization options are endless.

“We can change out ribbons and trimmings, tweak the pinches to create a different look or even cut down the brim of an older hat for a more modern, stylish look,” says Braslauer.

Though the lab operators are the primary craftsmen working in the hat lab, every team member of every Borsalino shop knows their way around the lab. This allows the salespeople to understand the modifications that they can offer customers during the buying experience, advising each customer on if a hat can be tweaked to their desired look or if they should continue looking for a better match.

“Every Borsalino hat is originally handmade, so no two hats are the same,” says Turner. “Our goal is to help each customer develop a level of ownership over their hat and infuse the hat with their own personal character.”  

“When we start with the highest quality hats and then customize each one to fit a customer’s exact preferences, we elevate the entire hat-buying experience,” he continues. “Our customers walk out the door with a hat that looks like it was made-to-order just for them.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, where we will explore the various services offered in Borsalino’s lab, discover where our master craftsmen learned their skills, and learn all about “Hat Therapy”.