Cool Job: The Girls Behind the Hats

91 months ago

Molly Yestadt (L) and Jane Pincus (R)

Molly Yestadt and Jane Pincus, childhood friends and self-described style junkies, have joined forces and talents to form Yestadt Millinery, an up-and-coming brand that’s destined to give Stephen Jones a run for his money. Although much has changed since they met at Actionville, an alternative arts school in Westchester, (Molly was doing a report dressed as an Indian, Jane as a Dutch girl making pretzels), the duo still relies on one another to keep the business thriving. Whether it’s a feathered fedora, an elaborate cocktail fascinator, an explosive, printed turban, or a Blair Waldorf-worthy headband (incidentally worn by her on Gossip Girl), their playful, detail-driven line is difficult to resist, but always easy to wear.

Now that you can find them at stores such as Anthropologie, Henri Bendel, and Barneys CO-OP, Yestadt Millinery is poised to be on the heads of more than a lucky few. Between collaborating with the likes of Marc by Marc Jacobs, Vena Cava, and Thom Browne, a capsule collection for Trendland’s pop-up shop TOUCH, and full bridal and ready-to-wear lines, the women are far busier than their laid-back attitudes belie. They took a break from their hectic schedule to dish to ELLEgirl about the language of fashion, owning their business, and some seriously gorgeous chapeaux:

ELLEgirl: Both of your families are involved in fashion and art [Jane’s mother managed The Chocolate Soup and Molly’s grandparents were furriers and tailors].  Did having fashion running through your veins affect your aesthetic growing-up?

Molly Yestadt: My family’s like all artists. So art and design were something I really grew up around. My dad’s an architect and my mom’s an artist. My uncle’s a photographer.  My grandparents are musicians. But you know, it’s like a language. I really think it’s like a different type of understanding. I know it sounds sort of fruity.

Jane Pincus: No, it doesn’t.

MY: But I think that’s part of why I’m so close with my folks and sister and stuff.

JP: There’s an understanding, for sure. We’re both lucky to have similar relationships with our families. They’re super supportive of what we do and definitely influence how we go about our business.

EG: Did you both go to FIT?

JP:I went to the University of Massachusetts and Amherst. I studied communications and Chinese. But I was working in retail since I was allowed to, at 15 years old or so, working at a boutique in my town. I worked at Anthropologie. Being around clothes and the industry was always something that I was drawn to for sure. I loved it.

EG:  Molly, what made you decide to go to FIT?

MY: I initially went to the University of Hartford and did their fine arts program. I kind of came to FIT after I figured out what I didn’t want to do, which was be in fine arts.

JP: This is your fine art.

EG: I think it qualifies. What made you switch from shoes to hats? You were at Steve Madden previously, right?

MY: Working at a large corporation is awesome in its own right, but you’re designing for someone else. You’re working to enhance someone else’s vision. And that comes with a whole slew of other things, But I was making hats for my friends and family on the side. It became apparent that I was much more interested in doing hats than staying at this design job. It was through a series of events: one of my friends was a fit model at Marc by Marc [Jacobs]. I made him some hats, he wore the hats to a bunch of appointments, and they picked them up for the ’09 season for men. That was the type of thing where I called in sick to work, and I was like, “I must do this.”

EG: At what point did you join Molly?

JP: In the beginning. I was in textiles after college, working in New York in high-end European textiles, sales, and development. French laces and Italian embroideries are my specialty. It was an amazing opportunity, and I was working with all these different designers in New York. It’s a really fun job, traveling back and forth. Molly was really the only one I could talk shop to.

MY: We would have serious fashion hashes.

JP: We would go for long walks and just talk it out. You know, you’re in the industry. If you love it, you have so much to say about it, because it’s really emotional for you. We would just go to town. And this was just the cherry on top to our social friendship, that we had this similar understanding of this business. It was on one of those walks, where we were like, “Why don’t we start something together?”

EG: What was your big break moment—when things finally started to click for your business?  Or are you still waiting for it?

MY:We got our first order at Intermix, which was really special, when I was still working full-time, in spring of ‘09.

JP:Those two things [Intermix and the Marc by Marc Jacob show] together really solidified the idea for us. Being able to participate in a runway show, and get an order at a store like Intermix. We said OK, let’s go for it. And it was a great order, because Rihanna was photographed wearing that piece.

MY: It was the type of thing where if it’s in the right store, it gets to the right people.

EG: What is the biggest challenge of owning your own line?

MY: The biggest challenge is separating work and life, and also within that being able to see things with clarity. … Because if you have great pieces, I think the rest will fall into place, if the product sings. The hard part is getting everything else in line. The operational stuff I guess.

JP: Time—having enough time. If I could stay up 24 hours a day, seven days a week, I still wouldn’t have enough time to do everything that I wanted to do. Which is kind of crazy.

EG: And the greatest reward?

MY: Making my own schedule is honestly a pleasure.

JP: Seeing someone I don’t know wearing one of our pieces.

EG: Your fans really swear by your hats’ handmade quality. What does millinery mean to you as a craft?

MY: It’s attention to detail, I guess. There’s a certain energy that passes through when you’re working with your hands, and there’s care taken on each piece.

EG: Does your process change when you’re working on your own collection versus a collaboration, such as with Marc Jacobs or Vena Cava?

MY: Working collaboratively with people, most people come with a specific vision that’s related back to the apparel, and it mostly revolves around their collection. Building the line for us is much more creative.

JP: It’s a different pace.

MY: We have time to develop it and tell the story.

EG: If you could collaborate with any fashion designer, past or present, who would it be?

MY: Schiaparelli, but that might be a little cliché. But I don’t know, she did her own really well.

JP: I’ve always loved Lacroix. It’s outrageous and textured and layered.

MY: The most beautiful thing you can’t believe you never imagined.

JP: Exactly. That would be a fantasy. But in terms of someone who is actually showing today, it could be fun to go minimalist and work with a Ralph Rucci, something like that.  Just like super luxe, only cashmere. I’m obviously biased working with a hat company, but I think that’s so special, if you’re making clothing and you’re at a level that you’re not just creating clothing, but you’re creating a lifestyle or a brand. It’s a real clear vision to have those types of relationships with shoes and hats and gloves and leather goods companies. I think it makes fashion shows what they should be, a proper show.

Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen, Imaxtree

EG: Does one sartorial moment stand out to you in the history of millinery?

MY: The McQueen piece with all the butterflies. It’s such a miracle, that hat, that dress.  I would say every single one of Galliano’s shows at Dior, if that counts. It’s such a bummer man. God, that whole thing.

EG:I’m getting more depressed as this conversation is going on, actually. Lacroix, McQueen, Galliano…

JP: I know! What does that say? Defunct European houses.

EG: Hats can be challenging accessories. What advice do you have for women who shy away from them?

MY: Get it on your head and give it a whirl.

JP: Put it on!

MY: Wear it when it’s sunny out, wear it when it’s cloudy out. Wear it inside, wear it outside. I feel strongly about that. You’ve got to feel it out, and figure out how to style it and work it into your wardrobe.

JP: Confidence is the key word for sure. It’s like anything. If you’re not a hat wearer, you just have to try it. It’s about feeling comfortable in it and experimenting. There are certain hats for certain wearers, and I guarantee you it exists.

EG: Starting a career in fashion is one of the more intimidating courses you can take. What advice do you have for readers who are just starting out?

MY: Keep going, get lots of internships.

JP: Don’t give up. Read and learn. Know everything, seriously. There’s so much content available. Fashion is so… everything is so forward, but it draws on such old references. And vast references.

MY: Do your research and keep going.

Photo: Courtesy of Yestadt Millinery

Photo: Courtesy of Yestadt Millinery