Then, Now, Forever: Claire West
Claire West is a force to behold. After over three decades in the music business, battles with cancer, raising a son, and living a life surrounded by artists with unmatched talent, she walked away from that life to craft bespoke hats for anyone and everyone. Our "Fairy Rock Mother" resides right here in Nashville, creating hats that are not only fashion statements, but also a proclamation of her clients' deepest selves. Read on to learn Claire's story, and why she left a world of rock stars to pursue head wear.
I’ve spent 30 years experiencing a lot of success in the music industry and a lot of exciting and interesting jobs, from working with Enigma records in the 80s, to acting as VP of Geffen and Curb Records to starting my own music consulting company and co-creating a series of music festivals in Napa, California. During that time period, a lot of what I did was related to helping artists find their own voice and their own creative stamp for their careers. I got to dress them for fashion shoots and work with stylists, designers, makeup artists, and photographers, and I was always in love with that process.
I always liked to wear hats, ever since I was a kid, so I collected a lot of vintage hats and bought hats from designers and people who made them and I became fascinated with that, which led me to modifying and experimenting with designing my own hats. So, lo and behold, a lot of the musicians I worked with started to ask if I would make hats for them, and after awhile I thought well, that sounds kind of fun! That was the germ of me believing that there might be the opportunity for me to start making some hats on the sly. So that’s where I began.
So I detonated my life. That’s a strong word, but I detonated my life. I sold my half of our music festivals, and moved back to Nashville where my son had been born and I had an incredible group of friends and artists. I wanted to slow my life down and find a different type of creativity. So I apprenticed with a few hatmakers across the country, and I proceeded on the quest to purchase and find the tools to make bespoke hats. It was a little bit like going on an undercover expedition to become a journalist and trace the history of hats, the history of wearing hats. Hats were hugely worn by every person in society until the mid 1960s, when a president named John F Kennedy had a beautiful head of hair and was a very fashionable young man and decided he didn’t want to wear hats anymore. That was really the demise of the hatting industry in the US. At one point there were I think 2000 hatters in Chicago; you’d be lucky to find 200 custom hat makers in the country now.
But hats were hugely across the history of mankind before that moment. Hats were thought to bind and protect people from evil spirits, they were thought to bring healing. And they were functional, they were necessary. They kept people dry, they kept people warm, they protected people from weather and from wind. There are just so many, many things that made them functionally beautiful, and then at a point they became fashion statements. People can really individualize hats and make them their own; they’re a big expression of personality, and I like that. But when hats were marginalized in the 1960s, in fashion and in function, they were seen as being superfluous. So they were sold as superfluous items, and when things are sold as superfluous people don’t put energy, effort, care, or pride into the way those things are presented. So many people walk into my shop saying, “I can’t wear a hat,” or, “Hats look terrible on me,” because no one ever sat with them and taught them the power of the ability of a hat to make you look amazing.
So becoming a custom hat maker meant that I needed to become a little bit of a therapist, a little bit of a stylist, and a little bit of an artisan. I really love people, I really love to hear people’s stories, and when I hear people’s stories I like to find the most amazing characteristics about them. So when I sit down and make a hat for someone, it’s a collaborative process with a client, with their lives and their sense of style, their personalities and their dreams, and then I find a way to celebrate that in the design of their hat. That could mean incorporating things from their life into the hat, whether its fabric or jewelry or totems. I want the hat to bring out the best in them, to make someone feel good about what makes them unique.
I see the process beyond just making a hat. If I do my job well, I’m empowering them to be better, stronger people in their own personality. I want my hats to find people a gear they don’t even know they have. Because it’s not really about the hat, it’s more than that. If a hat is a tool that makes you feel good about yourself, then it's a good tool.