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Buying shade at Sombrería Mil

5 December, 2012

Núria Arnau design for Sombrereria Mil

Milliner and owner of Sombrería Mil, Núria Arnau, claims that wearing a hat “is great, because what you are buying is shade for your head”.

By seasons of the year, although in summer people may well buy ‘shade’, in winter Sombrería Mil sells warmth, protection and, for the first time in a long time, fashion nous. spoke to Núria Arnau about the present, the past and above all, the future of hat-making, the label that bears her name, and Sombrería Mil, a reference store in Spain.

The hat trade is currently experiencing a new leash of life, thanks to trends in which hates feature large as bywords for elegance, sophistication and differentiation.

A living history

A chat with the designer and owner of Sombrería Mil offers a fascinating insight into the 150-plus year history of millinery in the city of Barcelona.

With her characteristic enthusiastic spirit, Núria relates that “very little has been written about the history of my family or the company my forebears founded”. Indeed, the firm began in 1815, and its main activity was manufacturing top hats and bowler hats in a workroom on carrer Hospital, Barcelona.

Núria’s father, Joan Arnau, moved the business from Ciutat Vella to the heart of the city, in carrer Fontanella. Most importantly, he poured his pioneering vision, based on the experience he had been bequeathed and his desire to bring the latest European trends to his company, into making Sombrería Mil the unique men’s and women’s establishment it is today.

Even now, tradition, fashion and quality combine to draw in the punters. From Audrey Hepburn and Ava Gardner through to contemporary celebs and artists, the company today run by Sonia Arnau has dressed the heads of many a famous face. And there are plenty of non-famous customers drawn by the revival of the hat who visit Sombrería Mil in search not just of a beautifully made piece but also advice from the people who work there. Indeed, it was Joan Arnau who forged the store’s policy of customised service and which his daughter has been keen to follow.

An eye on the future

When you enter the store on carrer Fontanella you are rewarded not only with a retrospective that reaches back nearly 100 years (the shop has occupied the same building since 1917) but also a chance to discover the latest trends. To build further on this, Núria Arnau opened a showroom around two years ago that features exclusive creations for special occasions such as weddings and parties. This is where Arnau lets her imagination loose on her own brand of fascinators, hats and other headpieces and accessories.

Her dream is to continue to promote her own label, while also expanding the recently opened online store. “It’s tough doing it all at once,” she says. “Creating a virtual store requires the same dedication as a physical one”. However, obstacles and challenges don’t seem to deter her and she appears to thrive on the same pace of innovation that her parents showed. Now she is thinking about entering new markets through the online store. “We began selling in Europe just a few months ago,” she says. “The online store helps us keep abreast of the latest fashions and lets us quickly adapt to consumers.”

As well as new technologies, there are also projects under way to adapt the carrer Fontanella store to a new brand image and to continue to promote hats in general. “It’s important that people learn more about hat-making and what is involved: for example, a handmade felt hat has to go through at least 56 different processes. New fashion trends are encouraging people to rediscover a love for hats,” she says, remembering the tough times her business went through when headwear fell out of fashion.

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