The Cashmere Felt
The Story of the Felt Hat
In Italy, in 1857, Giuseppe Borsalino designed a model of headwear that was purely masculine and made of soft, best-quality felt.
The special shape of this hat seems to go back to the street demonstrations which took place during the Risorgimento: in the middle of the riots, men wearing bowler hats ended up with their hats crushed and the crown completely flattened by blows to the head.
Giuseppe Borsalino turns this casual dent - later called the "vaga" or crease - into a distinctive feature of his hat which, from that moment on, became an eternal icon. Good manners requires that a man take off his hat in the presence of a lady as a sign of respect and salutation but the typical shape of the hat made it difficult to do this quickly and elegantly.
Giuseppe Borsalino decides to further model the central crease, pinching the front sides of the hat within his fingers, so creating two small hollows called the "bozze" or pinches, which becomes the spot used to grasp the hat between the fingers when lifting and replacing it.
From that moment on, that model is one of the most famous, well-used and copied hats in the world thanks to its elegance and practicality; it protects the wearer from the weather, and it could be folded and tucked in to a pocket then worn again, without losing its shape. From the 1940s onwards, different models are launched with varying brim widths.
These are widely seen in films worn by famous actors such as Bogart in Casablanca and Delon in the film of the same name.
Borsalino's secrets: How it is madeHat lovers say of Giuseppe Borsalino: "His were the most skilled hatter's hands ever seen"
Prized hats, worked rigorously by hand with the best felts.
The production cycle of the Borsalino's hats has evolved over time but the hand-crafting skills are those of the early years. The true secret of the Borsalino's hats lies in the hands of the person making it as the felt speaks in those strong but sensitive hands, able not only to feel the tiniest imperfection but also to recognise its quality at the merest touch. There are around fifty production phases needed to make a Borsalino's hat, the entire cycle taking around 7 weeks.
The production cycle, passed down over the years from generation to generation, is made up of very precise sequences alternating between machine and hand craft determining the quality of the product: this is the secret of its world-wide success. In the very beginning, the hats were made entirely by hand by Giuseppe Borsalino himself who also personally trained his workers and passed on the secrets of hat-making.
Warm water, arches, work tables, blocks and irons were the simple tools for this almost magical transformation of a cone of felt into a real hat, starting with the careful selection of the raw materials as taught by the French tradition for luxury hand-made headwear. There are basically two phases in the manufacture of a hat: the "blanks" for creating the felt shape and "final" work for finishing and dressing the hat. Work on the "blanks" starts with blowing air through the fur, mixing and blowing again in a special blower then on to the basting machine which draws up the hairs as they fall and, using warm water, interlocks them around a cone giving life to a first felt "cloche" or hood.
This first hood is then checked by hand for any defects and then sized through the processes of steeping and fulling. After drying, the hoods are assembled and divided by quality and colour then finished with lac; they are then dyed and proceed to the first blocking stage: setting the hoods in the aluminium shapers gives the hats their almost final shape.
The "Final" tasks determine the quality and end characteristics of the hats, either by the surface treatment of the felt starting with the pumicing (the first smoothing) using special machines and emery papers, and the second blocking which gives the hoods their finished shape before moving on to the finishing operations: the addition of the trims (sewing the lining, morocco-leather bands, ribbons), pressing, and the careful inspection, always by hand, of every piece. Now, the hat is ready to be packed and shipped to various international markets.