Master milliner, author and educator Jenny
Pfanenstiel of Formé Millinery is no stranger to the creative arts. She has
been immersed in learning every technique imaginable throughout her life as an
artist and career as a milliner. She is a Featured Milliner of the
146th running of the Kentucky Derby, and creates exquisite and unique pieces
with soul. Each design feels as if there is a story to go with it. Her
continuously growing fan base makes it evident that her work speaks to many. I
met with Jenny to learn more about her background, her passions, and exactly
how much effort goes into building a one-of-a-kind work of wearable art. Follow along to read more about what she had
to say about her dream job.
Has your background always been in millinery? When
did you get started?
I always grew up around sewing. My Mother, Aunt and Grandmother
made everything. At age 5, my Mother taught me how to cross stitch. Not too
difficult of a technique, but I learned to work with my hands and create beautiful
pieces through hand sewing. Growing up around sewing, I naturally went to
design school. I have a Fashion Design Degree from The Art Institute of
Colorado and originally wanted to pursue costumes for the ballet. I use to be a
dancer many moons ago and loved corsetry and making elaborate tutu’s. From
Colorado, I moved to Chicago to further my costume career. There, I created
costumes for Cirque du Soleil, movies, commercials, I even did a Grammy Dress
for Margaret Cho. After living in Chicago for a number of years, I met a
Milliner who was visiting for a conference to discuss her Millinery business. I
had no idea Millinery still existed in the United States. She spoke about
traditional hat making techniques with hat blocks and I became very interested
in learning more. I dabbled in some basic hat making techniques in the US, but
it wasn’t until I did an apprenticeship in Australia where it all came
together. Since I knew how to hand sew, the art of Millinery came naturally.
From that point on, I completely switched gears and started creating hats. It
has now been 12 years since I started making hats from my basement in Chicago
and am grateful to now live in Louisville and have my own hat shop.
What is your earliest memory that inspired your love
Because I grew up around a family that sewed, I had an
appreciation for handmade things. I started collecting vintage hats to see how
they were made and was fascinated how each one was sewn a little differently
than the next. I also adored (and still do) antiques. Just thinking about if
antiques could talk: Knowing their travels, who owned them, who loved them, it
fascinates me. So when I learned about traditional hat making techniques on old
wooden forms, I felt an immediate connection with the craft.
Your hats are all handmade, demonstrating exquisite
craftsmanship. How much work goes into each design?
Let me start
by saying I have been approached many times by manufactures overseas to create
my hats. Though that sounds like a great idea and would certainly save me a lot
of time, I choose not to for the sole purpose of, I love and am passionate for
the art of creating handmade hats. It is important to me to keep traditional
hat making techniques thriving. I create hats a few different ways. One is over
old wooden hat blocks. When I am blocking a material over a form, it is not
just something I do. I can’t help but think about all of the people that may
have used it before me, therefore allowing their energy to come through with
the making of each hat. I think about this too when I use vintage trims in my
work. Ever since I was in high school, I have been collecting trims from France
that were made in the 20’s-40’s. I don’t always know what I am going to do with
the trim at that moment, but I think about the craftsmanship that went into
making it (many by hand) and tell myself that I probably saved it from being
thrown away, or collecting mold in some warehouse basement. The other technique
that I use to create hats is through hand sculpting. Many people may not know
this about me, but I do not sketch my hats. I can’t draw. The best way I like
to create is working with the material in my hands and letting it become what
it wants. I never force an idea. Once I am immersed in the process, it all comes
together. Another process of sculpting that I do, is something I am probably
mostly known for, which is sculpting braid on my braid machine from the 1800’s.
Braid machines were created to make traditional style hats, but once I started
working with my machine, I started going in a different direction and my
sculpted braid hats were born.
Needless to say, a lot goes into the making of each hat. I
want to create a memorable experience for my clients when they come into my hat
shop. When creating a custom hat, it can be a very personal experience. I want
them to see and touch the raw materials, understanding how their hat will be
made. We talk about colors, styles and shapes that would best suit their
physique and personality. In the end, I have created a hat that is a little
piece of me and my client.
What would you say is your proudest moment
professionally thus far?
Being able to make a living doing what I love. I am grateful for
my clients and new opportunities that support me to have a year round hat shop
in Louisville. It is also an honor to be recognized as someone from Louisville
for my craft of Millinery, as the Featured Milliner of the 146th Kentucky Derby - only the 2nd Milliner to be featured in the history
of the Derby. It is like winning the Miss America pageant for hats!
Which style of hat do you find is flattering on
First, let me start by saying everyone can wear a hat! If I had
to pick one style that looks good on most women, it would be the fascinator.
Whether you have long hair, short hair, are tall, or short, a fascinator is a
flattering style that can bring out ones best features.
Which fashion era would you say most influences your
When people come into my hat shop they often think I am selling
vintage hats. This is because I make most of my hats on vintage blocks. On the
other hand, I am quite fond of the 20’s and 40’s and enjoy watching films that
highlight those looks. It is an era that is classic in style and feel that
there will always be a vintage influence in modern fashion. I believe it is our
responsibility as designers though, to take these classic influences and create
a modern twist to keep fashion fresh.
Do you have a piece that you've created that is most
memorable? Who has been your favorite person to create for?
When I think about the hats I have created and what is the most
memorable, I think about all of my clients and when they put on my hats for the
first time. I honestly see a transformation within the person. They stand a
little taller, they smile a little bigger, some even cry. This is why I do what
I do. It gives me great joy to help bring to the surface, confidence and beauty
from within each person. With regards to my favorite person to create for, I
love all of my clients. However, I enjoy working with those that have never
worn a hat before, or think they do not look good in a hat. Everyone can wear a
hat. It is a matter of working with a Milliner, like myself, and trying on the
right styles and wearing them the correct way. A slight tilt of the brim, can
make all of the difference. Once a person has found the right hat, seeing their
confidence change, makes it all worth it. Like my motto states, “A hat can not
only change your day, it can change your life”.
View additional designs at www.formemillinery.com.