The last place you’d expect to find a master milliner is on a small Parisian street best known for its delicious udon noodles and bento box lunches. But authentic Japanese cuisine is just as rare as handmade hats in Paris, so their co-habitation on the rue Sainte Anne is not so odd after all.
Up a winding set of stairs behind a cobblestone courtyard is the discreet home of the renowned Maison Michel where for a price not more than some designer jeans, you could own a timeless, one-of-a-kind accessory that is guaranteed to turn heads.
Striking in its small, cozy configuration, the multi-room showroom and atelier hums with the sounds of straw weaving machines, seamstresses chattering, the shuffling of hand-written orders and the hissing of heaters baking fabric atop wooden hat molds.
Occupying the same space since its inception in 1936, Maison Michel was rescued from oblivion by Chanel’s Paraffection division in 1996 on their mission to save the heritage of struggling haute couture ateliers
Maison Michel is one of seven such ateliers d’art that now functions independently under the Chanel umbrella, supplying to their Mother Company as well as competing couture brands and independent clients in effort to keeps their skills impeccable honed. It is also listed as an Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant (Living Heritage Company) along with Bijoux Commelin and hundreds of other French companies recognized for perpetuating traditional artisanal crafts.
Maison Michel’s private clients run the gamut from dandy to diva, and include men on a mission for made-to-measure fedoras, women plotting their flamboyant headgear for a day at the races and soon-to-be-brides looking for an original accoutrement to their wedding wardrobe.
After consulting at length with the brand’s art director, Ludovic Kornetsky, a design is crafted to order and then fabricated by hand on the premises. Count three weeks to two months for delivery and approx 300€ to 3,000€ per hat according to the complexity and material of the design.
Maison Michel Timeline
1936: Hatmaker Auguste Michel founds his company on rue Saint Anne in Paris
1975: After taking over the company with his wife, Claudine, Pierre Debard stocks the studio with refurbished Weissmanns, old straw sewing machine that allow for the creation of large, invisibly-stitched hats. These sizable, wide-brimmed hats catch the attention of designers such as Pierre Cardin and Yves Saint Laurent.
1980: Maison Michel starts making hats for couture and ready-to-wear fashion houses such as Chanel, Givenchy, Nina Ricci, Guy Laroche, Lanvin and Christian Lacroix.
1996: Chanel takes over Maison Michel
2006: The first Maison Michel Paris ready-to-wear collection designed by Laetitia Crahay, head of accessories and jewelry at Chanel, is launched worldwide.
Maison Michel Glossary
Bob (Sailor’s hat)—Small Breton hat generally made of fabric with an upturned brim.
Canotier (Boater)—Flat-topped straw hat with a narrow brim.
Capeline (Wide-brimmed)—Lady’s hat with a wide, flexible rim usually made of straw or horsehair.
Cloche (Cloche)—Hat with flared brim (e.g. pink hat above left)
Feutre (Felt)—Non-woven, waterproof fabric produced by matting and pressing hairs or wool (Maison Michel sometimes uses rabbit hair).
Forme (Block)—Full limewood mold in which hats are shaped (Maison Michel has more than 3,000).
La Couseuse (Seamstress)—While particularly cherished for thier fine craftsmanship of large, wide-brimmed, sewn straw hats, seamstresses also make “cut and sewn” hats such as sailor’s hats, caps and other cloche hats using patterns.
La Modiste (Milliner)—Working from an illustration, the milliner is in charge of designing the hat prototype using fabrics such as wool, cotton, silk and sometimes even leather. The milliner is also responsible for the hat finishings and trims.
Le Chapelier (Hatmaker)—Craftsman who shapes felt or straw, passes it through a steam box to moisten fabric, then stretches it on a limewood block before baking it in an oven to set exact shape.
Panama (Panama)—Men’s summer hat (though super chic on women) in very fine, soft, light straw plaited from thin strips cut from the leaves of a palm.
Weissmann—Rare, straw sewing machine capable of making large, invisible stitched hats.
Price: 300€ to 3,000€ per hat according to the complexity and material of the design.
Timeframe: Count three weeks to two months for delivery.
Appointment: You may contact me to help schedule an appointment
Inside tip: If you can’t afford made-to-measure, opt for the house’s ready-to-wear collection which is distributed worldwide and fabricated using the brand’s famed artisanal techniques.
All images courtesy of Maison Michel