Jennifer Casseday-Blair 2017-12-26 03:53:19
The Hatter Trent Johnson likes talking about hats — the shape, the color, the fit — almost as much as he likes making them. Photos by Ron Jenkins Trent Johnson is more than a craftsman; he’s an artisan. His mediums are the highest-quality European hare and beaver felts, and his muses are his clients. With his pearl snaps, the 40-something hat maker to the stars easily fits in with the cowboy crowd, and yet he also rocks a hipster look with his chunky black glasses and dark-wash cuffed jeans. You’ll find gray-haired grandmothers and ranchers lined up for a custom fit at his personal appearances. Despite his celebrity, Johnson remains humble. His business card doesn’t boast “president” or “owner” of Colorado-based Greeley Hat Works but simply reads, “Trent Johnson, Hatter.” Johnson is in Fort Worth for a multiday trunk show at Maverick Fine Western Wear in the Stockyards. Repeat customers already are queuing up inside the busy store, but Johnson is cool and calm as we sit down in an upstairs office to talk about his love of hats and hat making. “Meeting a buyer is an important part of the process, not only to measure for fit but also to get to know them,” he says. (Having a degree in sociology and a minor in psychology comes in handy, as he considers personality to be a critical dynamic in making a custom hat.) “I find out what the hat will be used for and how it needs to fit for that function.” As an artist, Johnson also reserves the right to tell clients what will and won’t look good on them. He’s insistent that a client must be comfortable not only with how the hat fits, but also how it looks and feels . Extensive travel over the last decade has given Johnson exposure to various hat styles from around the world. “I’ve taken the influences I’ve seen and incorporated those into the traditional cowboy hat. For instance, on my second trip to the U.K., I went to Locke and Company, which is the world’s oldest hat shop and the hatter for royalty. They build a lot of ladies’ hats with feathers and flair, and that inspiration kicked me into my fashion vein.” Johnson says. Fort Worth is one of his favorite stops. He says, “I come to this city three or four times a year. People have asked me, ‘Of all the places you’ve seen, if you had to live somewhere other than Greeley, Colorado, where would it be?’ I always tell them, Fort Worth, Texas. I love the people, the history and the passion for the Western way of life.” This love affair with hats and the Western lifestyle began early. As a boy growing up in Pueblo, Colorado, while other kids his age were collecting baseball cards or comic books, Johnson assembled his own unique collection. “I remember once on a family vacation to Epcot, I used all the money I had saved to buy hats from all the different world booths. As souvenirs, I took home a beret from France, a fez from Morocco and a bobby hat from London,” Johnson says. His entry into hatmaking began indirectly when he met Susie Orr in 1993 while visiting her small shop to get his hat cleaned and blocked. Orr was the owner of Greeley Hat Works, which was at the time less than 800 square feet and located on her ranch outside Greeley. (Greeley is located about an hour north of Denver). She strictly catered to farmers, ranchers and cattlemen but later expanded the company services from cleaning and shaping to ordering and designing custom-made hats. When not tending to cattle on Orr’s ranch, Johnson was spending all of his down time in the hat shop learning the trade. Johnson apprenticed under Orr for three years, starting out by renovating dirty old hats. During that time, he wrote a business plan and began approaching banks to get a loan. With his wife, Melissa, he bought the business on Jan. 1, 1996, and moved it back to its origina l downtown location at 826 9th Street Plaza. Two years after that, Johnson was awarded his first major contract to build a private-label cowboy hat for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) centennial. Johnson’s connection with the NCBA gave him the opportunity to build two hats for President George W. Bush. Celebrities from the music and film industry and heads of government have all been spotted donning Johnson’s creations. “I’ve built hats for [former New York City] Mayor [Rudy] Giuliani, the president of Guatemala, Toby Keith, Red Steagall, members of the band Aerosmith, Kevin Costner and, most recently, Jeremy Renner for his role in Yellowstone,” he says. However, Johnson says that the most meaningful hats he has created have been for those in the military. Regardless of who the hat is for, Johnson is more concerned with quality than quantity. With a staff of 10, Greeley Hat Works produces 15-20 custom hats per day. It takes between six and eight hours to build each one, but because of all the heating and cooling processes, those hours are spread out over the course of a week. Much of the equipment found at the shop, including the most important tool used in the process, dates back to the turn of the 20th century. A conformateur, patented by French hatmakers, uses small pins to perforate a piece a paper and precisely outline the head’s circumference. Customers also can purchase off-the-rack styles ranging from a water-resistant felt hat to something a little pricier made of top-of-the-line beaver or ranch mink. Or they can mix options such as crowns and brims for a semicustom design. We know someone who has a pink top hat made by Johnson. His work with fashion lines such as Texasbased Double D Ranch opens up new markets with women looking for something edgier. To this day, Johnson remains hands on in the entire hatmaking process and says that is what it takes to maintain consistency of quality. “I’m involved in everything with the operation of the company, whether that’s working in the front of our retail shop or sewing in sweatbands. I ship boxes, I clean bathrooms, I move snow, and I create a lot of awesome hats. … I’m successful because I’ve surrounded myself with a ton of smart people,” he says. “I don’t run my business or live my life on ‘What if?’ I’ve had epic failures, but I’ve learned a lot more than I’ve lost,” he says. Jennifer Casseday-Blair has been a writer and editor in Fort Worth for more than 15 years. THE DETAILS Greeley Hat Works If you’re ever in Greeley, Colorado, stop by the shop at 2613 8th Ave. and check them out. Shop at greeleyhatworks.com or see selected styles at Maverick Fine Western Wear, 100 E. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth, 817-626-1129, maverickwesternwear.com. Greeley hats also are available at Miron Crosby, 25 Highland Park Village, Dallas, mironcrosby.com. Personal Appearances Want to meet Trent Johnson? He’ll be back Feb. 22-23 at the Maverick.
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