Each of her designs is more than just a hat — it’s the story behind (or underneath) it.
Claire West’s love of hats dates back to her childhood, when she regularly borrowed hats from family members to complete her ensembles. By the time she was an adult, West had become known for her unique taste in headwear. Going on to work in the music industry, she made her home in creative hubs such as Los Angeles, Nashville, and New York, but it was a trip back to Texas in 2008 that set Claire West Design in motion.
It started outside of Dallas, where West met John Upton Holden, a rodeo cowboy turned vintage hat-buyer who taught her the history of hatmaking. “That sort of fueled my excitement,” she says, “ and I started buying more custom hats from hatmakers around the world. I was fascinated with the tools, techniques, and beauty of this old, careful, handmade craft. It seemed to be a lost art form.”
Then, one day at a bar in Las Vegas, she noticed a group of people wearing all wearing outstanding toppers. “I felt compelled to go and introduce myself to them,” she says. “I don’t know why, but I did, and it wound up they were all famous hatmakers.” Among them was Willee Roberts, a hatmaker who puts each of his one-of-a-kind designs through a Lakota medicine ceremony and who would eventually take on West as his apprentice. West still blesses the hats she makes to this day. “[The hats] are very individual,” she says. “They’re built to not just be fashionable, but hopefully to bless the person that is wearing them. I go all over the world to find the trims and the vintage ribbons, silk, and antiques. All of the things that I use to make those hats tell a story, not just to be an item for fashion but to make the person that’s wearing them feel special, confident, and beautiful.”
Her prior life in the music business has in turn blessed West with a strong customer base for her funky, statement designs. She’s made hats for the likes of American Idol’s Kris Allen, Hilary Williams (daughter of Hank Williams Jr.), the Zac Brown Band, and Ruby Stewart (daughter of Rod Stewart) from country group The Sisterhood. Her hats have also been featured in lookbooks for top Western designer Tasha Polizzi and offered as part of a special collection at The Resort at Paws Up, a luxury ranch retreat in Montana. If you’ll be in Dallas and/or Denver this year for markets, be sure to stop by her booth and check out her unique creations for yourself.
“I really enjoy serving retailers and trying to make sure that they have something unique,” West says. “I’ve gotten to go all over the world having these experiences, and every time I do, I find new people, new inspiration, new materials to put into the hats. I just find these fantastic stories. A lot of the people who come to me have very wonderful backgrounds. For me it’s more than just making a product, it’s the adventure of a lifetime.”
First published in the January SOURCE 2019 issue of our sister publication, Western & English Today.
PHOTOGRAPHY: courtesy Claire West Design