I was so honoured that Bench asked me to host the launch of their collaboration with South Africa-born, New York-based master milliner Albertus Swanepoel. Instead of the usual fashion show extravaganza, Bench set up a beautiful exhibit of Albertus’ creations that included pieces from his archives and the presentation of the current Bench hats. He gave a very generous talk about his design principles, his inspirations, and his methodology to an enthusiastic audience of students.
Albertus Swanepoel is known in fashion circles as the master milliner. He started his career as a fashion designer after receiving a Fine Arts degree and studying fashion design in Johannesburg. In the late 80’s he moved to New York City and found it difficult to find work as a fashion designer, so he started a glove company. He eventually went back to school at the Fashion Institute of Technology and studied millinery. In 2004 he became the hat-maker of Marc Jacobs, and eventually other designers became his customers — Proenza Schouler, Erin Fetherston, Carolina Herrera, Peter Som, Tuleh, Nathan Jenden, Costello Tagliapietra and Thakoon. In 2006 he started his own collection for women which now sells at Barneys New York, Tomorrowland in Tokyo and 10 Corso Como in Seoul to name a few.
In 2008 Albertus was a runner up at the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund. Part of the prize was a special line produced and sold by Gap. This was the turning point of his brand. He eventually did more collaborations with retail giants like Target, J. Crew, Stetson, Club Monaco, and now Bench.
Albertus and me. I was so inspired by his humility when he told his story of his career path. I learned about his perseverance and dedication to his craft. He has a small studio and workshop in New York where everything is still made by hand. Photo by Miguel Pastor
This collaboration took over a year to plan and manufacture. At the exhibit, Bench showed the “mood board” submitted by Albertus Swanepoel to Ben Chan. It came in a lovely blue box with his logo. Photo by Miguel Pastor
The hats I bought. It was hard to choose because they were all really good. And I do wear hats when I need it for practical reasons – to ward of the sun and extreme cold. The baseball cloche with the big embroidered “B” was signed by Albertus. That one is a bit of a statement hat. I’d need a lot of attitude to pull it off. It was too beautiful not to buy so I got one.