I completely understand that the amount of money spent on handmade accessories can seem extravagant. Several people made comments along those lines regarding my Alfred Dunhill glasses case a few months ago. But if you have pursued a policy of investing in the very best clothing and accoutrements for several years, and stuck to the principle that every item must be practical and regularly used, then frankly you eventually run out of things to buy.
Not suits, ties and handkerchiefs, it should be said. If you look hard enough you can always find holes to fill there. But other items – bags, pens, belts, wallets, hats, glasses cases, dressing gowns – are limited by the principle of use. If you buy more you stop being an enthusiast and become a collector.
With this in mind, I looked recently to fill one more gap in my collection: a top-end panama hat. It had come some way down the list because in London the weather is rarely consistent enough to feel that any day requires such a hat. There are perhaps 10 such days a year. And a fine panama is not the sort to be taken on holiday – I spend my time being buried in the sand by two children under five, after all. One mishandling or misplaced foot and the fine panama weave would never be the same again.
After a fair bit of research, conversations with men I respect and rather more discussions with the man himself, I opted for a panama from Brent Black. This, then, is the first in a short series running through that process and displaying the end result.
Brent, it is fair to say, is a character. A forceful personality. But then, I’m always a little disappointed when I meet someone in this industry and they are not. Plus, it takes a particular temperament to set up a business selling the finest hats in the world, based on repeated visits to the makers that establish real personal relationships with everyone involved. And the visits require going from Hawaii to Montecristi, Ecuador.
Brent has been in the business (having left advertising) since 1988, following a visit to Montecristi. He rather fell in love with the process and the people, as I’m sure we can all empathise with, and, unlike the rest of us, had the ambition to personally commit to making a profitable business that also helped save the craft of fine hat weaving.
A quick visit to Brent’s website will tell you much about his character. He likes short sentences. And dry jokes. But he is a genuine individual and, I hope by this point, a friend. More importantly, his hats are absolutely stunning and provide great value in an age when there are very few sources of good hats around.
More on the process of making next week.