“Bueno, okay. I’m going to give you the story,” Gladys Tamez says with a laugh. It’s genuine and light, with an instant familiarity that makes me feel immediately welcome. The afternoon sun filters into her dreamy, elegant office. Hats in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors line the walls. The renowned milliner sits beside me on her suede couch. Her face is framed with round glasses, and she is wearing one of her own custom-made creations—a black felt velour haloed by a short brim, finished with a braided leather band around the crown. She wears her design like an extension of herself, enhancing her obvious confidence and down-to-earth vibe.
The story goes like this. Before her ascent to her current role as milliner to the stars (Lady Gaga, Beck, Jane Fonda, Beyoncé, and Johnny Depp all count themselves as fans) Tamez ran an in-demand fashion line, called “Franny.” It was on a vacation to Spain that she first encountered the beauty and fantasy that hats could embody.
![BALENCIAGA shirt and GLADYS TAMEZ hat.](https://assets-global.website-files.com/62ee0bbe0c783a903ecc0ddb/6472b101797bf8730c7799b7_img001.jpeg)
BALENCIAGA shirt and GLADYS TAMEZ hat.
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She saw the gallant and decorative uniform worn by the matadors, relished how they transformed the men into almost mythic beings. “Since I was a kid,” she tells me, “I was familiar with hats. It was something that I always loved. I met with a haberdasher in Spain—four generations. My husband and I went, and we started talking to them. They had a bull ring, they use the bolero at a fiesta. I fell in love.” When the 2008 recession forced Tamez to close the doors on her fashion line she began focusing on hat-making in earnest, immediately taking a hands-on, craft approach to her newfound passion.
For Tamez, designing a hat is like breathing life to a fantasy. She conjures her inspirations and manifests them into being, informed by her surroundings and her vivid imagination. “The inspiration can come from a book, a photo, from a dream,” she reveals. “It depends on the process I develop every season, and then from there I develop every hat with a specific idea.” When she designs she seldom touches a pencil, instead letting her hands paint the picture, working with the materials until the design emerges.
“It’s much more sculptural,” Tamez says. “I want to be different. I don’t want to have a basic mold.” While inspired by icons of elegance from past generations, she also sets out to create something truly original. The end result is timeless yet modern, a magical merging of a storied craft with contemporary sensibilities.
There is no such thing as “I’m not a hat person” when collaborating with Tamez. When she takes your measurements, she stays away from what’s in your closet and focuses on the individual. “I look at the eyes when I meet somebody,” she says, taking off her glasses for emphasis, “I will look at the color that goes with you, your neutrals. And I always say, pick the hat that goes with you and not with your clothing. You wear the hat, the hat doesn’t wear you.”
When you wear one of her custom creations it’s as if you’ve been introduced to a piece of yourself that you never thought was missing. You transform. “They’re like: ‘This is amazing, it feels great, I look good.’ The hat gives you confidence, and it’s instant. It’s instant love.” Like Gaga becoming Joanne, a good hat can enable the wearer to undergo a metamorphosis, to embody a wished-for self.
In Tamez’s eyes, a well-made hat is the centerpiece of any good outfit. It should be taken seriously and chosen with care. She maintains the lost art of wood-block molding, using her hands to pull, drape, and sculpt. “They take ten hours to work,” Tamez comments on the process. “Eight hours just to mold and then another hour or two hours to sew.”
She often thinks about the person who might wear her creations as she crafts them: “You wonder who’s going to wear it. It’s the fantasy of imagining the life it will have.” In an era of mass production and fast fashion, there’s a special magic to the craftsmanship, quality, and care that comes with a Tamez creation. The widespread appreciation for her hats is reflective of the larger trend towards the bespoke and the meaningful—the fantasy of reclaiming the art in the everyday.
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Written by Leslie Gonzalez
PHOTOGRAPHER: NICK GREEN.
HAIR & MAKEUP: MUAMERA PULIC USING CHANEL PALETTE ESSENTIELLE AND ORIBE HAIR CARE AT OPUS BEAUTY.
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT: JESSICA LANSING.