Thibault Vancauwen is a French hat maker, fond of craftsmanship, heritage and traditions. He is not a “mad hatter”, just truly passionate - and this is why at Bertelles we admire him and his work.
After his first project of eco-conscious “made in France” sneakers, Thibault wished to return to something simpler. Something more personal, where he could participate in all the stages himself without being dependent on anyone or anything else. This is why he decided to take on a traditional artisanal approach for his next project.
You may ask where Thibault got the courage to turn to artisan hat making, a profession that has almost completely disappeared. "I think I watched too many western movies as a child, mainly Italian, sometimes American. I was fascinated by the style of those guys, and I noticed their hats right away », Thibault tells us. It was after some unsuccessful research to find similar hats to fill his own style that he decided to embark on this adventure.
Thibault started to learn the craft with a milliner; he describes the experience as an exchange of knowledge. This opportunity to learn and share, without any financial transaction, reinforced his desire to go back to this more simple approach - returning to the essentials of the craft. After this “master-apprentice” experience, he explains: « I continued to learn on my own, with my machine and my felts, creating a lot of hats of different shapes, colours and customisations. At first, I wasn't particularly passionate about sewing. Sometimes working on your sewing machine all day long, you can get fed up quite quickly. But when the product is finished, it's so special and worth it! » This hard work has led him to where he is today.
It is also thanks to social media that Thibault was able to quickly reach a wide international audience. The main markets for him are the United States, China and Japan, as these foreign customers particularly appreciate high-quality French savoir-faire. Thibault works mostly on a made-to-order model: there is no stock, only prototypes, and customers make their order based on them. This production method allows him to explore his creativity constantly and to never get bored. In addition, it is a more sustainable way of producing, as he will never overproduce. True craftsmanship with values of tradition and sustainability.
For the future, Thibault would like to further develop his project and is thinking of an industrial line. Nevertheless, being independent is essential for him since it is the process from beginning to end that really motivates his hat making. At the moment, he sees the future with several collections: a premium line, an ethical line based on refurbished hats (“up-cycling”) and a third, entry-level line.
When asked to describe the style of his brand, Thibault likes to use the description that someone gave him a few years ago: "They are not spaghetti-Western hats, but bœuf-Bourguinon hats". By this, he wants to prove that France has a real culture in workwear and a clothing heritage to share with the whole world. He imagines hats inspired by workwear and heritage - in other words: hats that are worn, worked, aged. For Thibault it is important that his hats can be associated with French heritage and for example with workwear, popular and civilian style, or even with military clothing. As for the latest “Selvedge” Bertelles collection, Thibault draws his inspiration strongly from the 1920s to 1960s casual fashion, the style and details of clothing and the atmosphere in the photos of these periods.
In general Thibault takes a long-term view of fashion and avoids buying brands that are too trendy and won’t last in time. He prefers to buy ethical brands that share a real history and good values, or else clothes in second-hand shops or on Ebay, pieces that have already lived. What interests Thibault are products that pass from one generation to the next, and this is something we can fully agree with at Bertelles.
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This text is an edited compilation of an interview conducted by Bertelles with Thibault Vancauwen, which took place on 01/02/2021 in Brussels.