Grab your coat, and get your hat.
Leave your worry on the doorstep.
Just direct your feet, to the sunny side of the street.
(Note: There are many spectacular images capturing the amazing beauty of Chateau Dumas and surrounding villages. Allow time for your computer to load the images so that you don’t miss any. This is the fourth in the series on a millinery masterclass held in southwest France. Won’t you follow along?)
celebrating hat making
Down the hill from Chateau Dumas…around several hairpin curves along a narrow French county road… following small signs directing travelers through roundabouts… lies the quintessential French village of Septfonds.
Complimenting the brillant azure blue Mediterranean sky, gaily-colored straw hats in lime green, fushia, purple and golden yellows hang from age-old balconies and say “bienvenue!” to visitors traveling to this charming village.
It is all in celebration of the 17th- annual Estivales du Chapeau–the Internationally acclaimed summer French hat festival. Septfonds is considered the “cradle of the French straw hat.” Mme. Pétronille Cantecor (1770-1846) has been attributed as the founder of the straw hat of Septfonds, and was the creator of the first hat workshop in 1796. Imagine.
Septfond’s three-day festival is filled with a wide array of merry entertainment, amazing demonstrations, local cullinary fare, millinery fashion show and hat competitions include amazing designs sent from milliners and hatters from around the world. I wonder if we will ever have time to really study it all.
The festival ad is quite clever–the original is made entirely of millinery paraphernalia used for creating the perfect summer straw hat.
vintage straw hats
Our tiny troupe of lively millinery afficionados–new and old– from around the world are eager for the festivities as sounds of French music merrily draws us closer to the center of the celebrations. The first stop is an exhibition of vintage French straw hats. Amazing. I can hardly control the urge to try on the simply gorgeous hats.
Over 600 vintage hats were bequeathed to Mme. Dany Caussinus. In French, Dany tells how her benefactor told her that she wanted her to look after the straw and velvet hats, never sell them and someday she would know what to do with them. After 20 years of intensive research, Dany carefully restored each of these historical hats, and now makes them available for displays at special events. Dany’s vintage hat collection has now grown to over 3,000 spectacular designs. It is so difficult to decide which is my favorite…which beautiful hat would you like to wear? They are all so amazing! I think I shall like to make these in a millinery class one day. Dream…again.
(More hats on the video/slideshow below. Just select the “play” arrow button over the photo image.)
Reluctantly, I leave for the next exhibition of competition hats. Novice and master milliners and hatters from all over the world submit their one-of-a kind creations for the event. Some of the hats follow a theme–others are a bit more elegant. Certainly, all of the hat entries are amazing. A vote for my favorite is penciled on a small rectangle piece of paper and slipped into the ballot box. I hope my favorite hat wins the competion.
Down the block . . . around the corner . . . in the village square . . . are festive white tents filled with scores of hats from designers and milliners from around the world. My companions are off to try on the amazing styles from different sellers.
There is a wide variety of musical entertainment — musicians playing an antique hand-cranked large French street organ to a trio of Caribbean steel drums. Cyclists riding antique bicylcles circle through the market streets. It is quite lively.
Many local artisans provide exhibition of timeless arts and crafts. The delicate bobbin lacemaking is breathtaking, How can the needleartists’ eyes see the ultra-fine thread and their hands manuever the bobbins into such intricate patterns? The straw broom making is quite interesting. Then, the next aisle features spinning dioramas and demonstrations, wood lathes turning out lovely hat stands of all sizes and handweaving golden braid from fresh-cut, fragrant straw.
straw hat making highlights
The exhibition highlight is the straw hat making. Fascinating. Men and women demonstrate the straw hat making process from beginning to end. The women stitch colorful straw braid together using specially-designed antique sewing machines. The sewing machines are powered by the women’s feet operating two treadles. The steam-fitted metal molds for the hat blocking are left to the men to attend. There are dozens of metal hat molds that are used to make the hat shapes. I am mesmorized by their skill and attentiveness to the art of straw hatmaking.
There is an announcement in French–the millinery fashion show is about to begin. The show highlights the designs of the International sellers at the festival. Lovely designs are modeled for nearly 45 minutes on the vintage wood runway. The colorful mistress of ceremonies is lively and humorous — the crowd frequently roars with laughter.
the perfect hat
At the end of a long row of vendors, Mme. Alexandra Marks from Liguria, Italy proudly displays her gorgeous creations. Each beautiful hat is unique and handcrafted from vintage hand-braided Italian straw. Many of the embellishments are vintage, too. Alexandra tells me that most of the straw is at least 6o-years-old. Time to find a perfect Italian hat. It is terribly warm and the hat will be cooler. It is so hard to decide…they are exquisite!
Michelle, a travelling companion, discovers a small treasure off to the corner next to the church–a vendor who makes custom hat boxes. Just what I need for the large Italian vintage straw sun hot (see photo above). Mme. Estelle Fontaine makes lovely hat boxes for festival treasures. We animatedly chat back and forth about the box requirement for the new hat–mostly in French, but a bit in English. Estelle carefully measures the hat. We discuss options for the handle and trim for the box. The hat box will be ready in two hours.
Lovely hats are everywhere. I wish we wore them more often in the U.S. A couple of my new European friends enjoy their new hat festival finds at the end of the day. What a lovely end to an amazing day. . .!
More about other lovely sights of a millinery dream trip to France in the days ahead as they unfold.
à bientôt mes amis!
Read more at French Dreams at Chateau Dumas.
Read more at Inspiring Beauty at Chateau Dumas.
Read more at Creativity at Chateau Dumas
I am hooked on French hats lately. Find out what others are hooked on at Hooked on Houses.