Fiona Bennett x B&O

Images, film and interview were published in an article about sound, design and craftsmanship, in the B&O Play Journal.

Created in collaboration with Mikkel Inumineq.

Handcrafted hats with the audacity and air of the 1920's is a thing you seldom find on the high-street nowadays. But on Potsdamer Straße in Berlin, Fiona Bennett, a world-renowned and respected hatmaker has set up shop – showing the craft to passers-by through streetlevel windows into the magical world of her workshop.

You have been designing and making hats for more than 25 years. What drives you to keep on going?  

A lot of things. I think there are endless topics to create a collection around, to move with the zeitgeist of a society. Structures are always changing and new techniques evolve. Experimenting with the hat as an object and creating something new is what keeps me going.

When it comes to inspiration, where do you look?

I think inspiration is everywhere. As a visual person you are always at work and my inspirations can be very simple – like a painting I like or a piece of paper on the ground. Beauty is all around if you open your eyes.
Something that always surrounds me is movement. Dynamism interests me and is always part of my designs. For example, when you look what happens when you find yourself in a storm while wearing a hat – the shape, the movement of it, the dynamic inspires me.

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What do you think  wearing a hat does to a person? 

They can either protect people or can act as a frame to the face. They can make you look glamorous or soft and cosy feeling. It is a way to express how you feel.
The way someone wears a hat tells a lot about their personality, if someone is more mysterious or more open to others. It is a very individualising accessory which provokes people to play with it.

Do you have a particular person in mind when you design a hat? 

I know my customers personally, and depending on the collection some of them might play a part in it. In general it is not a single person which plays a part, it is rather a situation, a story. 

Where did you learn your trade?

I learned the trade in the 1980s, at one of the last traditional milliners in Berlin which always worked a lot for the operas and theaters in Berlin. Ever since then I’ve worked on a wide range of different projects, like costumes, stage design or interior projects. 

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The girls working on hats in the storefront window – why?

For a very long time I hid the labour involved in hatmaking because it was associated with a more artsy and craftsy kind of feel, rather than a good design. But now that attitude has changed and people are turning back to artisan trades. That’s why I wanted to create a stage for the millinery in our shop windows where people can observe the making of hats. 

When the world turns to factories, you turn to the artisanal approach, why?

What I create for my couture line, mass production is not possible and my customers want their unique custom made hats, they are very personal items and I have worked like this for the past 30 years. Whereas in my second line, Kiss by Fiona Bennett, we have created a line which is mass produced and is available in selected shops world wide. 

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