While Nick Fouquet didn’t make the Pharrell hat that spawned its own Twitter account, he has made lids for the super-producer/style icon. But Fouquet has also made hats for Bob Dylan, someone who you wouldn’t imagine shopping in the same stores as Skateboard P. Such is the appeal of Fouquet’s creations.

The son of a model who has spent time in front of the camera himself, Fouquet began crafting hats about five years ago after working with a fashion designer. He has since gone on to open his own store in Venice, California and his hats are sold at top international boutiques like Barney’s. The hats, many of which are custom made and cost well over a grand, have a rough hewn edge to them that belies the painstaking attention to detail focused on each one. There’s certainly inspiration from the American West but these aren’t just cowboy hats. They don’t fit into any category, really, which is what is so refreshing about them.

We spoke with Fouquet to learn about his creative process, the things he can’t live without, and his signature matchstick.

What made you want to get into hats?
Hats were a total accident. I went to school for environmental science and sustainable development, but I’d always been into fashion. My father was in advertising and a model. I worked for designers but ultimately I saw a huge gap in the market. I wanted to do my own thing and every other category was so oversaturated. So I was looking at hats. There were minimal people doing them and they also hadn’t changed much in 150 years, the same silhouettes, same styles. I just saw an amazing opportunity [to make hats with] more personalization as a way to express my creative voice.

Where do you draw inspiration from when you’re creating new styles?
There’s a personal aesthetic that I’ve grown accustomed to personally through traveling, music, movies, and culture that serves as inspiration. Also I may be walking down the street and see someone wearing something really cool and I’ll keep that in mind. There’s a lot of different facets to the brand. It’s this really luxury bohemian, rustic, European yet Californian sensibility. That’s a little ambiguous, but ultimately [the inspiration] is anything and everything.

What kind of craftsmanship goes into the hats?
It’s a super labor-intensive process to make a hat. There’s 28 steps just to making one hat. Felt is an extremely precious and expensive material. It comes as a dome-shaped fabric that is really furry. Through a long steaming process you mold it onto a mahogany or poplar wood block and you give it its shape. Then you sand it, you burn it, patina it. It’s an art.

How did you learn it?
It was a lot of trial and error. To do hats, you have to come up with your own recipe. Everyone does things a different way. I formulated my own method but I learned from some old cowboy hat makers in the midwest. I’d have a guy in Utah, a guy in Dallas, someone in Montana. These were old school guys who had an old school mentality. They were like who’s this young guy and what’s he trying to do? So I kind of shocked their system a little bit in terms of what I wanted to do. Keep in mind that these guys are like 50, 60, 70 years old and have been making hats the same way. They beautiful, but it’s hard to differentiate one style from another.

photo by Ashley Noelle

photo by Ashley Noelle

What were their reactions when they saw what you wanted to do?
They were like, you’re fucking crazy and this shit looks stupid.

The patina process is one of the defining characteristics of your hats. Why is that important to you?
Each time you do it, you never know what’s going to come out. Sometimes it’s a big mistake and that accident becomes something really beautiful. I love it because it feels like [the hat’s] got a secret story, a soul.

Can you buy one of your hats off the rack or are they all custom?
You can buy them off the rack. We work with Barney’s in New York and Maxfield in L.A. We have [accounts with] 33 of the best stores in the world. Then we have our shop in Venice. The bulk of our sales are definitely custom. It’s a collaborative effort [with the customer]. They have an idea. I have an idea. We talk about the direction and color and size and brim and shapes, all those fun creative parts. Then we make it come to fruition. It takes 12 weeks for the process to be completely done. It’s not that it takes 12 weeks to make a hat, it’s that we have a lot of orders.

What does a bespoke hat cost?
The felts start at $950 and can go up to, for a rare mink felt, $2,000. A top hat can be $1,800 or a Mad Hatter can be $1,600. Generally for a good custom one, with all the bells and whistles, it’s like $1,350.

Who are some of the celebrities that have worn your hats?
It’s not a big secret. Axl Rose, Madonna, Pharrell Williams, Justin Bieber, Bob Dylan, David Beckham. The list goes on.

What does it say that such a diverse group of personalities and styles are attracted to your hats?
The brand and the designs speak to a wide demographic. Whether it’s someone who’s into hip-hop culture or a rock n’ roller or a surfer or an actor or a stockbroker, they can vibe with it. I think that’s so cool.

via Instagram/nickfouquet

via Instagram/nickfouquet

What is the difference between your hats and the ones that most people are used to seeing?
Most mass market hats are made out of wool which is a really shitty fabric. With rain or with use, over a year it’s going to deteriorate. We use 100 percent beaver felt. It’s the sort of hat that you get and it’s a luxury item, but you’ll have it for the rest of your life and you can even pass it down to your kids. Beat it up, wear it in the rain, it will still stand the test of time.

How would you describe your personal style?
I mean my personal style is artful dodger meets Keith Richards meets a country club member meets a Venice bohemian meets a Japanese samurai. It’s kind of a culmination of a bunch of those characters.

Your father is a model and you grew up around the fashion business. How did that upbringing influence your approach to starting the brand?
I was really fortunate because my dad had a lot of style growing up. He really educated me on brands and fabrics and how to wear things. It was really cool to adopt that into my own sensibility.

Did you appreciate that as a kid?
I fully did. I always had such an affinity for clothing. It sounds weird, as a heterosexual male, to be super into clothing and fashion, but I always have been. I always wanted to do things different. I always wanted to wear things that other people weren’t wearing and I think that translates into the hats because they’re all really unique and different.

How did the matchstick in the hat band become your signature detail?
That was adopted early on. I wanted something to stand out and it became the spark of inspiration.

Hats used to be a staple of a men’s wardrobe but aren’t worn as much these days. Do you think more guys should be wearing hats?
Yeah, especially today with the cosmopolitan man who is conscious about what he is wearing. To me, hats are the pinnacle of elegance in a wardrobe. If you don’t have a good hat in your quiver, then you’re blowing it.

What kind of statement do you think wearing a Nick Fouquet hat makes?
It adds character, distinction and style.

Do you see yourself moving beyond hats at some point?
Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s so much still to be said with the hats. But creatively I want to express my voice in different categories and in different ways. I’ve been working on some stuff that I’m excited about with other accessories like bags and candles and soap and things of that nature.

Do you have any favorite hats in your personal collection?
Believe it or not, I only own one hat at a time then I’ll usually sell it off my head because someone really wants it. It’s unnecessary for me to have 10 different hats. I’ll just make another one and it always pushes me creatively to do something better than I did the last time.

Are there other personal things that you can’t live without?
I can live without everything. Ultimately, I can.

Justin Tejada is a writer and editor based in New York City. Follow him on Twitter at @just_tejada.