Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Lola de Bushwick

Chic Hatter Thrives in Industrial Brooklyn
I think that it is clear to readers of Femme et Fleur that I love hats. For some years I worked in business near Union Square in New York City. This is where and when I discovered the Lola millinery shop, and where I purchased her hats -- and was mightily tempted to purchase -- more of her hats. For instance, I remember fondly a little, black-straw number trimmed with lily of the valley ....
Lola at her work table.

Today I'd like to take you inside the Bushwick, Brooklyn studio of hatter, Lola Ehrlich, as she and her staff of 20 work to preserve and celebrate the craft of millinery and the artisinal, hand-made hat.
The spacious, sunny studio surrounded by windows 
with a panoramic view of Manhattan.

Lola was born in Holland, but moved to France when she was a baby. Growing up, she spoke Dutch to her mother and French to her father. Today she speaks English like a French aunt peppered with the accent of a Dutch uncle.
Lola examining two straw fedoras with a creative feather trim
 from her Spring 2013 line
In 1999, while still at my day job, I enrolled in the millinery program at the Fashion Institute of Technology and completed the Certificate of Competency in Millinery Techniques. At FIT, we were fortunate to have milliner Lola Ehrlich as a guest speaker. Lola told us about her first store on St. Mark's Place in New York which she started in 1989. She began on a shoestring and got her friends to help her decorate the space like a Parisian millinery shop. She had only 6 hats for sale that first day and sold them all. She had to scramble to make more, since Vogue picked up on her right away.
This is the Lola showroom for buyers within her studio. 
The mid-century modern furniture was found on eBay.
The showroom for buyers on a raised platform. 
Foreign buyers love to take the L train to the
 far reaches of Bushwick, Brooklyn.

When I retired from business, I asked Lola if I could intern for her. I worked for her for several months, trimming hats, making feather facinators and shopping for supplies in the millinery district. I loved it.
Lola's little millinery shop in the East Village has today evolved into a worldwide business making 16,000 hats a year -- all by hand. Her large, sunny studio with a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline is in a neighborhood of low-rise factory buildings interspersed with small, row houses that is rapidly gentrifying as a hip neighborhood.
 The door to Lola's Bushwick studio.
In addition to the Lola line, there is John, the men's hat line.
Lola hats may be found in these stores (among others):
 Anthropologie, USA, Bergdorf Goodman, New York, Browns, London,
Dressterior, Tokyo, Easton Pearson, Brisbane, Fred Seagal, Los Angeles,
L'Eclaireur, Paris, Merci, Paris, Opening Ceremony, NY, Tokyo,
Paul Smith, NY, Tokyo, Tomorrowland, Tokyo, Tsum, Moscow.
 Arianna making a proper muslin pattern for a hat.
 Pretty colors and bright, warm notes 
 punctuate these samples for the Spring 2013.
Lola's inspiration board for her Spring line features pictures of the 60's French pop "ye-ye" singer, Sylvie Vartan. Sylvie's straw-blond hair and her sunny, floral parasol frame her pretty face. Other images pick out warm pinks, blues, oranges and lemon yellows. You can just feel the warmth of the South of France.
Sylvie goes to Mexico and meets artist,
 Frida Kahlo, an exotic beauty.
A chart aids in assembling this hat.
It shows the number of rows for each color.
I love the way Lola has the blue feathers going every which way on the 
open-weave straw. The fat stitches on the brim
allow for more color. Quirky, hip and chic define the brand.
Felt bodies for Fall/Winter await sizing.
The blocking process: a felt "body" is steamed to make it
malleable, then blocked over a wood hat block to shape the hat.

 Lola's collection of hat blocks.

Almost all of the hat-making process is done by hand.
Excellent sewing skills are imperative. And you have to be quick about it.
You can't be making knots like an art student.
 A selection of threads for sewing on sweatbands and trims.
Ribbons held in common gutters (like you use on your roofs), an
idea from Martha Stewart.

When Lola had her studio in the millinery district in Manhattan, on 8th Avenue and 38th Street, it was easy to walk to the stores selling ribbons, feathers and veiling. Now that she is in Brooklyn, someone must make the trip to Manhattan several times a week to shop for trims. Meanwhile, New York's millinery suppliers are dwindling, and Lola buys many items on line.
Blocked hats await finishing.
The well-organized studio is a bee hive of activity.
Lola discusses the height of a crown with
one of her employees. She is an exacting boss -- as she must be.
Victoria trims a hat.
The John line of men's hats sit on a workbench salvaged from a company that makes library ladders located across the street from Lola's loft. One day Lola noticed that they were putting great, old ladders in a dumpster. So she got some people to help her haul them up to her loft where they now serve to display hats. By the way, Lola's husband's name is John. Simplicity in branding: Lola and John.

Finding unique artifacts in dumpsters is one of the perks of inhabiting 
an industrial space. I call them urban natural resources. 
This ladder has a new lease on life now.
The John showroom in the Lola loft.

Lola collects second-hand books.
Here she puts them to good use to display
a natty John hat. The wearer might be
Robin Hood in the City.
A Lola hat is both classic and hip with a dollop of French chic.
It's all in the details. 
A grosgrain ribbon bow sports a small buckle on these
 animal-print felt fedoras from the Lola fall-winter line. 
Vibrant colors punctuate Lola hats. 
A bouquet of cobalt-blue feathers on a worker's table.
 Hats from the Lola archive.
I adore this filmy pink wide-brimmed garden-party chapeau.
Grace Kelly might have worn it in
The Philadelphia Story.
Lola has started a line of paper gift items called Padegachi with her friend, Muriel, above.
They are making paper tote bags, gift wrap and stationery all with dots printed on newspapers.
The line will launch in stylish shops like Merci in Paris in January.
"Padegachi" is a play on the French "pas de gâchis"
which means "NO WASTE!"
A surfeit of creativity bubbles over to fun gift
items for buyers.
An artist friend of Lola's did these drawings for a comic-strip newspaper
which was given to buyers. She liked the drawings so much that
she put some on a tee shirt (above.)
This is the view from the studio looking toward Manhattan.
 It was a rainy day so we could not see the skyline very well.
An elegant little conference nook in the studio.
A poster in the studio. I will soon be
on the Riviera in Roquebrune.
After my tour of the studio, Lola and I went outside to look at the murals near her building. An area building owner named Joseph Ficalora has organized artists from around the world to paint murals on buildings in what is known as Bushwick Five Points. 

Since the days in the early 70s, when Richard and I and a small group of artists pioneered the Olde City manufacturing-loft section of Philadelphia, I have always loved urban, industrial buildings. Picasso keeps an eye on the hood.
 This four-eyed blue man is my favorite.
 A trompe-d'oeil grocery on a parking garage.
Murals on the ladder company building.
Lola et moi. Merci, Lola!
A bientôt!


  1. I loved this post Carol. In the 80's we carried a very small amount of 'Lola' hats in our hat shop. Her studio was in her home, if I remember correctly. I could be wrong about that. I wonder if this is the same Lola. I remember the experience like it was yesterday.

  2. i love your blog and have been lurking for a good while now. you and your husband are so inspiring. these hats are so great. i especially love the stripy straw ones and the leopard ones with the blue ribbon. and murals. ah.

  3. What a wonderful story and fabulous photo essay! Thank you for focusing on a real live milliner in a real working factory! Better still that it's in Brooklyn!!!

    Valerie and Jean

  4. I just discovered this website through the idiosyncratic fashionistas and was immediately treated to this wonderful post. What a wonderful space that is. And those hats... Just fabulous! When I read about these kind of places, I wished I lived in New York, so I could go see it!