Traditional Hat Makers & Master Shoemakers—Head and Feet Above the Rest

A shoemaker's tools, and bespoke shoe in progress / photo by Joyce A. George

A shoemaker’s tools, and bespoke shoe in progress / photo by Joyce A. George

Most people will work to provide a living for themselves while only a small number will provide themselves the living they want to do through the work they choose.

Without question a smaller populace within the populous, those who follow their heart’s call are nonetheless a critically important segment of any community. It requires a particular quality of energy—a blend of vision, courage, tenacity, ingenuity and near boundless energy—to produce something people want, that the producer of said something additionally wants to provide. For the past 30 years this quality of energy, the magic of creativity to be succinct, has literally transformed the Williamsburg/Greenpoint area. This article profiles a few local creatives making beautiful hats and shoes that many of us want to own.

Some hats provide a finial effect, literally decorating the tip of our tops while others function more like shelter from the elements, housing our psychological centers. Others still are hybrids offering both exemplary style and housing which, following the metaphors of finial-hats and shelter-hats through would make the hybrid types, penthouses for the head!

This whimsical observation is brought to mind because two incredibly artful hatters in the area are about to join forces: Ryan Wilde, milliner-extraordinaire, proprietor/partner of the recently shuttered IDA (a collaborative venue launched in 2011 that showcased the assortments of Wilde and jeweler Georgia Varidakis) is joining Sean O’Toole’s venture, Pork Pie Hatters at 441 Metropolitan near Marcy—all of which is meaningful because their pairing is bound to provide a bounty of offerings across the finial-shelter-penthouse array.

Pork Pie Hatters, established in 2011 in the East Village, opened its Williamsburg location in 2012. Progeny of the long-established J.J. Hat Center in Manhattan, the story of how Sean O’Toole came to open two of his own shops is almost a cliché, but not actually because his is an interesting and satisfying story which clichés ultimately are not due to their utter predictability.


  1. Matt Jacks says

    This is old work… ok.. I gave up on finding a shoe crafter. . I’m mostly drawing at this point..(restoring an old farm house) thinking of old school printmaking of my drawings…even my website is a bit dated. I’m working my ass off on my art… staying up till dawn many nights.. I’ve googled you for years to see if anyone I knew from PCA (you in particular) who was still working. I am so excited to that I found you and your work! So excited about that! and you seem to be fairing well. I’ve had some downs (brother died in 04- moved to CT ugh!) and mostly ups lately! Living in rural Maine now– travel to Manhattan about every year now that I can afford it! Maybe I’ll hear from you?