If Nick Fouquet had followed his original career trajectory, he would be an environmentalist specialising in sustainable development today. Instead, he is the founder of an artisanal hat making business, based in Los Angeles' Venice Beach, making headgear for everyone from Pharrell and Madonna, to off-duty hedge funders and gallerists.
In a way, he followed his father, Bernard, into the fashion business. Fouquet senior, a French native, is the 60-something model best known for his appearances as a dapper dad in Tommy Hilfiger's preppy campaigns.
Fouquet junior was raised between his father's hometown of Royan in France and Palm Beach, Florida, and settled in LA in 2008. There, he worked with Mister Freedom designer Christophe Loiron, whom he calls his mentor.
And it was while walking down Venice Beach one day that Fouquet found his calling, when he spotted a vacationing cowboy wearing a Stetson. ‘I asked him where he had gotten his hat and he told me he’d made it,’ says Fouquet. ‘Then all these ideas sort of started flowing and, before I knew it, I was acquiring all this old equipment from hat makers going out of business in the Mid-West, and adding my touches and stylistic viewpoints on what a contemporary hat should look like.’
‘I’d always wanted to do my own thing and I saw hats as an undervalued, underrated sort of niche category and since everything was oversaturated I thought, "well this could be super interesting”.’
Cue three years of sourcing century-old millinery equipment like flanges, steamers and rim presses from Midwest hatters going out of business. The kind of kit no one makes anymore. He brought it all back to Venice Beach and set up shop in what was essentially ‘a small basement garage’.
Fouquet uses 100 percent beaver felt, sourced in the US from a manufacturer who works closely with the brand to ensure Fouquet gets the colours and effects dictated by his imagination. Once he receives the felts, Fouquet will open a conversation with his client and work collaboratively with them on the final product.
According to Fouquet, there's about 22 steps involved in the process, including custom measuring, steaming the felts and moulding them over mahogany blocks, and multiple drying rounds. And then the magic happens. Fouquet uses electric sanding machines, chemicals, dirt, paint and even blowtorches to achieve the aged and worn-in patinas that has set his aesthetic apart and draw attention from leading boutiques and taste makers.
Once the brim is cut to either 3", 3 ¼", or 3 ¾" width, a roan sheepskin sweatband is stitched into the crown and the creative shaping begins, with hands manipulating unique ridges and curves into the felts. He then adds on what he calls his 'accoutrements': Indian or floral fabrics, deadstock linen, French grosgrain ribbon or feathers as trims.
‘Nick’s hats appealed to us for their artistic design and quality of workmanship. His approach to hat making is anything but traditional and each of his hand-crafted designs are entirely unique,’ says Dean Cook, menswear buying manager at Browns Fashion, where Fouquet's hats are available exclusively.