the optimo milan straw
Bringing Back A Legend
Early in my apprenticeship, my mentor, master-hatter Johnny Tyus, taught me how to work with Milan Hats.
I remember him telling me how all the Milans being made today were phony—that they didn’t make real Milans anymore. Over the years, we’ve worked on hundreds of Milans, and it is always obvious which ones are real. The real Milans age gracefully, have a beautiful feel, texture and color.
It wasn’t until several years in business that I realized the true Milan wasn’t entirely extinct. I had made a Montecristi Panama for a famous milliner in Tokyo, and in return he made me a beautiful Milan. He told me that this braid was very rare and expensive, and a handful of craftsmen were still weaving it in a small town in rural China.
Thus began the treasure hunt and Optimo’s quest to revive the Milan.
The Milan (pronounced Mylan) hat, with its unmistakable soft golden hue, is one of the all time classic straw hats.
Made from hand-braided wheat straw, hatters have mostly abandoned making the Milan in the last 50 years, due to the high cost of producing the braid. The Milan found on the market now is invariably made with hemp, synthetic fibers, or a very coarse version of the straw braid.
Optimo is proud to bring the authentic Milan hat back from extinction, returning to the time-consuming, high quality construction methods of the Milan’s glory days half a century ago. We located the region in China which first began making this weave in the 1800s and encouraged them to produce a straw braid that was once again worthy of the Milan name: finely woven and richly colored.
We have achieved this by reinstating the following methods:
- Proper harvesting of straw (appropriate time of year, no fertilizer, protection of the crops)
- Quality control in selecting straw, sorting straw, bundling straw braid, sewing braid, machines (we use 100-year-old machines built specially to make this braid), finest silk thread, washing and conditioning straw braid, proper blocking
- Return to traditional weaving methods, which results in less yield, but a more luxurious hat
Optimo offers a limited number of genuine Milan hats which are custom woven and dyed exclusively for our factory.