Van Huynh AKA The Hat Doctor is the Lead Hatter and expert of millinery at the world famous JJ Hat Center.
Although Van has created hats for celebrities and influencers alike, he remains an approachable character and exudes positive energy towards anyone he encounters. We sat down with him recently to pick his brain on how he got started and what motivates his passion for creating hats.
Where are you from and how did you get started in the hat industry?
I am from Brooklyn, New York born and raised. I got into the hat industry as a part time hobby collecting hats of all sorts from my travels. It could've been a souvenir novelty hat or a department store hat, whatever is fun!! But soon after I was influenced by my wife in the idea of felting my own felt and using felt to make a hat from a DIY article in a Japanese newspaper. Simply because I didn't have any resources or much income to make such a career leap. I ended up teaching myself. My wife was then attending FIT and would bring me all the millinery books she can carry and I would just study and buy thrift store hats and reverse engineer them, made as many mistakes as possible. Soon after I just sold locally by word of mouth and decided to go to FIT for the millinery program and while I was attending I was lucky enough to get hired at JJ Hat Center where I started from stock to sales to sales repair and now I'm here. I guess it was better to start from the bottom then halfway lol.
Who or what influences you creatively?
Alexander McQueen is one of my favorites, I don't really follow trends. I just try to have fun and let that begin ...but a lot of my creativity has to do with pop culture, cartoons icons, film and media. I keep my creativity simple by intuition and design minimal so everyone can impose themselves in any which manner they please with ease.
Can you describe your personal style and explain your views on fashion?
My personal style is partial to patterns especially polka dots of sorts. I try to keep my look clean and easy on the eyes but layered so there's always more to see, in a nutshell, I would say I would be themed as a contemporary western turn of the century bank robber. I like the sassafras.
My views of fashion are simple: fashion should be an expression of one character, all of which we know, but the allure of fashion is to let fashion be an extension of you and the balance of proportions, which only compliments and emphasizes you unconditionally. So much your distinguished default.
How has your style evolved to the way you currently dress?
My style has changed drastically in which I started leaning towards a more classic and timeless look with a dash of fun and energy.
A style that'll make you feel good and just nefarious it over the top.
How do you help a client choose a hat that will suit them?
That's very easy. I generally break the ice and just get to know them, you can tell a lot by what the person does on their daily day to day - what their surrounding are, what they do and also what they want a "hat" for. Soon after I get some clues I usually try to match their face and stature in the ratio of proportions so they can wear the hat and not have the hat wear them. We have many styles to try so I just let them have fun. "If you have fun, things get done!!" and comfort is very important. If you feel comfortable, you feel great and if you feel great you're much more confident and if so then you're always gonna look good and attract wandering eyes!!
Which clients are your favorite to work with and why?
My favorite clients are the ones that don't mind trying something new. They're willing to "trust" me and I feel creating that bond is a wonderful dynamic in relation so I can express the most effort to leave no room for disappointment and all there is left is finesse and creativity on my end.
What is the process from start to finish for a client looking to get a custom made hat?
The process is straight forward. The client can do some homework on their hat. The more information I have the better.
You choose a felt quality between rabbit, mixed blend of rabbit and beaver and finally beaver, which is mainly beaver fur, along with what kind of felt finish: fine, velour, silk finish, then our in-house exclusive "Cesar Finish "
Then we'll measure your head size.
We'll discuss your shape of crown, height and brim size, then we'll choose your trimming and ribbons, bow styles and such..
3-5 weeks and you'll have your custom hat.
What are your plans for 'Van Huynh" in the new year?
Plans for the new year would be to solidify my name as the epitome of quality and a standard in the industry, a staple of trust and long-standing products. "What's a hat if it doesn't last after.....that?"
Create a strong fan base and try to basically change the world one hat, ahead of time!!
There is an incline in hatmakers recently, how would you stand out or separate yourself from the rest?
I'm always learning and I think that's always the case with any craft.
I believe anyone can make a hat. Anyone can always learn from repetition, some are faster than others. Truly the secret is just to have fun and put in a lot of love, cause love is free and to follow each step and not cut corners from A to Z, even more so if it's 1-2-3. You don't stop till you know it's "perfect" - be able to problem solve any challenge, and keep your mind balanced!!
Where can someone buy your ready-to-wear hats?
Anyone can find my ready to wear hats or order a custom hat at JJ Hat Center on 31st Street and 5th Ave New York, NY.
It's not only a retail store, customs and repairs are done on premises in the workshop by your truly and the decor is all vintage, immersing you in a "time slip " of the turn of the century 1900's. It's been in business for 106 years and we pride ourselves in customer service and one of the greatest hat experiences you can encounter! So pay a visit and cash-in that magical hat experience.