by Nate Imig
You see them everyday downtown, at concerts and summer farmers markets. Guys are getting back into wearing hats. There's a shop in Bay View that's making men's dress hats the old-fashioned way.
The Brass Rooster on Kinnickinnic is owned by John and Kate McLaughlin. Stepping into their shop, you can imagine what it must have felt like in the 20's/30's to shop at a specialty store like this. The space is lined with beautiful hand-made hats. But the real surprise is the collection of equipment they use to make their own custom hats.
The equipment is rare and procured from a famous hat maker in Michigan a few years ago. "There's a hat shop in downtown Detroit called Henry The Hatter," says John. "They had been around since before the 1900's. Their master hatter had worked there for 65 years." When he retired, he knew that John and Kate would keep the collection in tact. Now, it lines the walls of The Brass Rooster and is used to create hats every day.
Since the opening a few years ago, The Brass Rooster has had several "famous" clients. They made their first custom hat for Scotty, the front man of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. "You can see him wearing it in their video's all the time," says Kate. They've also made hats for Kid Rock and Ray Lamontagne.
They both agree some of their favorite customer moments so far have been from the men right here in Milwaukee, bringing in their old hats for refurbishing. Kate explains, "all of a sudden, the customer will watch their Dad's hat come back to life and we'll hear stories about what Dad did for a living or hijinx dad and his friends go into…" John adds, "I love that we get to take what somebody wants and make it come to life. A hat is just an extension of your personality, it's an art form."
Learn more about the art of hat making at The Brass Rooster by clicking the story above.