Jamesport shop owner bound for London Hat Week

It’s fashion week season — the time of year that flashy runway displays dictate what trends we’ll be seeing this spring.

This year, hats took center stage in London and Paris, proving the accessory shouldn’t be reserved for royal weddings and derby races. Danielle Gisiger, who runs the Black Whale Vintage shop in Jamesport, designs colorful, whimsical hats made for everyday wear. “It adds oomph,” she said. “It makes any outfit complete.”

Ms. Gisiger posts her creations on her Instagram page, which is how she connected with an organizer for London Hat Week and was encouraged to submit her designs. “I had heard of London Hat Week, but for me it was something unreachable,” she said. Out of over 1,500 submissions, Ms. Gisiger was one of about 200 milliners from across the globe selected to show during Hat Week next month.

This year’s exhibition is themed “World Garden,” and each display will incorporate exotic flowers, plants and landscape scenes.

Ms. Gisiger’s design, “Poison,” is a black oversized cocktail beret featuring handmade felt flowers and is inspired by the beautiful but deadly castor bean plant.

Ms. Gisiger’s hat, which she titled ‘Poison,’ will be featured during London Hat Week. (Courtesy photo)

Ten additional hats designed by Ms. Gisiger will appear in a pop-up shop during the festival.

“It’s a phenomenal feeling,” Ms. Gisiger, a native of Switzerland, said.

After studying fashion at the Academy of Art & Design in Basel, she arrived in New York City on an artists grant in 1990. “The minute I stepped off of the airplane, I knew that was it for me,” she said, recounting how she fell in love with the fast-paced beat of the city.

She studied hatmaking at the Fashion Institute of Technology but went on to work in the industry designing high-end couture clothing for most of her career. When she moved to the North Fork full time about four years ago, Ms. Gisiger decided to focus again on her hat designs. “It’s more whimsical, more sculptural,” she said.

Her designs focus on organic shapes and play on traditional styles — her “crunch” fedora, for example.

Some of the pieces appear to have been taken straight from a bygone society, such as her best-selling “bow cap,” a 1920s vintage French-inspired cap with a wide brim and bow. “I try not to repeat designs, but this one I have a formula for,” she said. It comes in 10 colors, frequently sells out during pop-ups at Chelsea Market and she has shipped the hat to as far away as Denmark and Australia.

Ms. Gisiger doesn’t sit down to sketch her designs beforehand. “I start with an idea,” she said. “And a shape.”

From there, she uses a hat block to begin shaping the felt, which is steamed. Then, like a ceramist working with clay, she begins working the felt. “It becomes like pizza dough, soft and moldable,” Ms. Gisiger said. After stiffening up overnight, she adds stitching and decorative touches. The entire process can take two or three days.

Prior to opening in Jamesport, Ms. Gisiger operated her store in Aquebogue, where she taught hat classes. It’s something she hopes to bring to Jamesport after returning from Hat Week.

As she packed a box full of hats to ship across the pond, Ms. Gisiger said she was excited to see the displays, take classes and connect with other milliners. “I’m excited to meet other hatmakers who I follow on Instagram,” she said with a smile. “London is really the hat capital.”

Photo caption: Hat designer Danielle Gisiger, an owner of The Black Whale in Jamesport, has been chosen to show her work at London Hat Week next month. (Credit: Tara Smith)

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