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How To Make An American Hat — Folk Art Influences Abound In A La Tête’s Fall 2011 Collection

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Think of the paintings of late American Folk artist Edward Hicks (1780-1849): how he used an earthy palette in his elaborate landscapes, how he often explored images of peace and solidarity, how animals and humans mingled together in each masterpiece. Next, envision the elaborate piecework and appliqué techniques used in one of the Harriet Powers’ (1837-1910) pictorial quilts or, for a more modern visual reference, explore the colorful, quirky, childlike, and joyful aesthetic of Jean Ray Laury (1928-2011).

All these artists and their peers, who since the late 18th century have shaped what has come to be known as American Folk Art, served as the inspiration behind designer Jessie Abraham’s stellar A La Tête Fall 2011 collection. “I used a lot of the bold colors and shapes found in the quilts and coverlets [of the American Folk Art movement] for certain details,” says Abraham, “and the color palette was built upon all primary colors.”

In addition to coverlets and quilts, Abraham thought of the incredible craftsmanship that went into classic wooden toys like the abacus, yo-yos, and marionettes, and tried to reference these toys in her designs.

The Fall 2011 A La Tête collection, then, incorporates such playful pieces as the Madeline ($270), pictured at top, a floppy, fur felt hat with a wide brim, leather trim, and a cheeky, beaded doll tassel accent. “I liked the idea of using toys, but I felt like they needed to be incorporated into the design, not plopped anywhere,” says Abraham. Rather than simply gluing a doll to the hat, then, Abraham built upon the Bohemian vibe of the silhouette by adding a fringed tassel and then using wooden, metal, and plastic beads to create a doll figurine using the tassel itself as the foundation. If you look closely at the doll figurine, you’ll notice a single round pink bead positioned as the head, a bent metal bead above it to resemble a little hat, faceted wooden beads separated by tiny turquoise and red beads positioned to look like arms, and the fringed tassel strands constituting the doll’s body.

Similarly, the Sebastian ($300), pictured last above, has the classic porkpie shape favored by jazz greats like Lester Young (for whom Charlie Mingus penned the song “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”), but a toy car (specifically a 1955 Chevy) placed on the side of the brim adds a playful quality, a sense of childlike enthusiasm.

To reference the geometric quality of many ancient quilts, Abraham crafted such pieces as the Marley ($300), pictured second after the jump, an asymmetrical, draped fur felt hat in an earthy brown color with a slim yellow leather ribbon wrapped around the base of the crown, and a diamond-shaped red bead positioned at the side of the piece, above the sloping section of the brim. Similarly, the cobalt blue Olivia fur felt beret ($195), pictured third above, features a black lace overlay with polka dot details.

Feathers also abound in the collection, as with the Brittany ($245), pictured second above, a mauve-colored fur felt fedora with a leopard print leather strip and a pheasant feather decorating the base of the crown.

For purchasing inquiries, visit ALaTete.net, and make sure to check out some additional hat styles after the jump!

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