Some might argue that Jenny Pfanenstiel was born in the wrong era. Jenny is an internationally recognized milliner, or hat designer for those who don’t know what millinery is. You’d be excused for not knowing because in our hatless society the craft of hat making has ebbed away. Nevertheless, there is a new generation of milliners—such as Jenny—who are breathing new life in this once thriving craft, creating hand-made masterpieces for those special occasions when people do hanker after elegant headwear. In Jenny’s words; ‘I take pride in using age old techniques of steaming and hand blocking felt and straw over antique wooden hat blocks. I enjoy searching for the rarest and most unusual hat blocks that I can find. I believe this gives my hats the shape and character I am looking for.’ Chicago-based Jenny founded her own company Formé Millinery in 2007 and since then her work has been featured in British Vogue, Country Living and even the Oprah Show.
Hello Jenny, can you tell us why you started out on your own?I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs and realized what one could accomplish by working hard for something that you love and believe in. After working in the corporate world for a number of years, I realized my passion was to start my own business and work for myself.
What is a typical day like for you? Wake up and read/answer emails. My intern then arrives and I give her a few tasks to complete for the day. I then go to my hat blocks to check on the hats that are drying and to see if they are ready to finish into a hat. I will then block new hats and set in the drying room. I answer more emails and then go back to finishing hats. Finally, I usually have a meeting or photo shoot to attend. By the evening, I put everything aside and spend time with my husband and kitties enjoying a night of food, relaxation and sleep. Tomorrow I start all over again…..
Do you enjoy your work? I LOVE my work, because I truly enjoy what I do. I enjoy the fact that I am keeping a once dying craft alive and sharing the joy of hats with the world.
Where do you find inspiration for your work? Everywhere! Antiques, old music, barns, cobble stone roads, architecture, 1940’s, nature, shapes
How do you keep focused on doing something unique, creative & true to yourself? I have to say I am quite lucky when it comes to being creative. I feel like sometimes I can’t keep up with all of the ideas I have in my head, because there are so many. Usually all it takes is for me to hold the material I am working with, start playing with it, then I lead it into the shape that it wants to become.
What sort of skills do you need to do your work? Hand sewing skills is a must. I hand sew everything. You obviously need to know how to block wool and straw over hat blocks and the rest…..free forming material with a lot of creativity.
Do you have one tip for other aspirant creative entrepreneurs? Never give up. Set goals for yourself and dream big. You can be successful with your own business. Love what you do and the rest will fall into place.