When was the last time you wore a hat? Not a winter beanie, or a baseball cap for the Twins game, or a sun hat while lazing around on the pontoon or weeding the garden. Like a real hat, the kind they used to wear in the ’40s and ’50s basically everywhere: fedoras, pillboxes, birdcage veils. While it may have been a while, if ever, since you donned such a hat, you may change your tune when you discover the work of local milliner Celina Kane.
Kane, who refers to herself as a “born and bred Minneapolis kid,” comes from a family of artists, but it wasn’t until a stint in France during her time at the University of Minnesota that hats “all of a sudden” began invading her brain. “I would look at the rooftops of buildings and see shapes that I thought would be beautiful on people’s heads, or I’d be falling asleep and designing hats in my subconscious state,” she says. “I decided to listen to it.”
She graduated from the U, triple majoring in French, political science, and art history, and, after traveling for a bit, headed to New York to pursue this new passion, studying hat making with couture milliner Anya Caliendo. From there, she launched her own eponymous line of handmade hats in 2015—and has been adorning the heads of Twin Cities fashionistas ever since. “The concept of fashion is so huge, and there’s so much competition, and I like having this small niche,” she says. “There are other amazing milliners who are doing incredible work and have made the niche bigger, but it’s something [I enjoy] that I don’t have to tackle an entire market.”
Her collections run the gamut: glamorous velvet turbans, trompe l’oeil veils with sequined lips and brows, strawberry-shaped hats with Swarovski accents. Celina is making hats fun again, and we’re taking notice.
“It’s an opportunity for me to create my best fantasy,” she says. “When I’m working on a piece, the idea starts with a simple shape, and from there it takes off. Where would I wear this? What story is this telling? It’s creating fantasy worlds that I want to live out by wearing the hat.”
Minnesota Monthly: Why hats?
Celina Kane: When I was a kid, all I would do is draw clothes that I wanted to design. I was always interested in fashion. I put that on the back burner because I wanted to focus and learn other things, but when it found its way back to my brain, it was hats and not a larger fashion idea.
The concept of fashion is so huge, and there’s so much competition, and I like having this small niche. There are other amazing milliners who are doing incredible work and have made the niche bigger, but it’s something [I enjoy] that I don’t have to tackle an entire market. But, mostly, it’s just that it’s conceptual! I love that hats can give you something that no other kind of garment or accessory really does. It’s on your head, framing your face, and no one can not see it. I love that hats give you so many opportunities for self-expression.
It’s an opportunity for me to create my best fantasy. When I’m working on a piece, the idea starts with a simple shape, and from there it takes off. Where would I wear this? What story is this telling? It’s creating fantasy worlds that I want to live out by wearing the hat.
What inspires your designs?
Each collection really has its own themes. I’m inspired by my own interpretations of things I find interesting in the zeitgeist. Things I feel really connected to find their ways into my hats in many different ways. The Mediterranean, Italy, Spain, and France are strong inspirations for me; my last collection was all inspired by ancient Mediterranean flora—giant pots out of straw that sit on people’s heads. The collection I’m working on currently is inspired by the French countryside and Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon [estate], that rustic experience.
What are your hats made of?
I use a wide variety of materials, depending on the season. For fall and winter hats, I use rabbit fur felt; it’s a luxury material that’s so incredibly soft, with a peach fuzz that gives it a reflective quality. In the summer, I work with so many different straws. When you’re a milliner, you’re inherently an educator and advocate for hat production because people don’t know about it anymore.
Every type of straw is created by a different cottage industry. Panama hats are made out of toquilla straw made by artisans in Ecuador. Sinamay is a straw cloth woven by families in Southeast Asia. All these different materials are exclusively made for hats, and keeping hats alive keeps those industries and families alive, which is really important to me. I love feeling like a global community and supporting other small makers. In the ’50s, there were thousands of milliners and thousands of block makers to make the blocks for all these hats, and now there’s just a handful worldwide. It’s not a mass production on any level. Everything is being handmade by everybody.
Do you have any pro tips for someone who wants to wear a Celina Kane hat but isn’t quite sure how to start?
CK: Finding the right shape of hat is crucial. I liken it to glasses because it’s right by your face. Just like you look for a dress that flatters your figure, you look for glasses the same way, and a hat’s the same deal. There are hats that I make thinking, “Well, it looks beautiful! It’ll look terrible on me but I know what face shape it’ll work on.” This can require trying things on. It’s not just attached to your head permanently! There are some general rules you can follow or guidelines: If you have short hair, you might want to go with a shorter brim so it isn’t overwhelming. If you have a rounder face, you might want to experiment with brims to give lift or a higher crown, but I also find that things just work. It’s fun to play around. You’ll be surprised.
For feeling more comfortable, I recommend wearing it around the house for a while. Check yourself out in the mirror. Basically, you have to break yourself into the hat. When you take it off after wearing it for a while, you’ll feel naked. You have to get used to it.
Do you wear a hat every day?
CK: I don’t! It’s a goal for 2020 to be better about wearing my own hats. But I don’t think you have to wear a hat every day to be a hat person.
What’s your favorite kind of hat to wear or make?
CK: My turbans are a hard-body turban, so it looks like it’s one piece. You just pop it on and it’s done. You don’t have to keep wrapping a scarf around your hair. It elevates your look so much; you can wear it with jeans and a T-shirt and you’re really chic, or wear it to an event and be totally glammed up. It’s more versatile than you think.