heirloom hats
Photography by Phil Bernard.

Heirloom’s New Collection is The Visual Cheer We Need

The Montreal-based hat brand has a selection of butterfly-inspired headbands, hair clips and more.

Celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, Samantha-Tara Mainville’s millinery label has grown a reputation for delighting a crowd of contemporary-minded hat enthusiasts. But that’s not all she offers—a video call-worthy assortment of head pieces are available on Heirloom’s website and are instant mood-boosters. After studying jewellery design, Mainville set her sights on hat-making, and each piece crafted in the brand’s Montreal studio is handmade with fine materials like natural straw and linen; and for this season, Mainville collaborated with Canadian 3D-printed accessory brand Gament Designs on an array of playful hair clips. We caught up with Mainville to chat more about her new collection and hat-wearing icons.

How did you get into hat-making?

It was a long process, and not a straight-and-narrow path. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to use my hands for a living—more specifically in the fashion industry. I’m a little bit of a textile fan/nerd and have always known that textile would be my medium. Millinery is and was a dying trade, so I hadn’t even considered it an option since there was nothing to expose me to it; they have pretty much closed all of the millinery programs in fashion schools throughout Canada. I also have been collecting hats for a while. They seemed like this magical unknown mystery to me, and then one day I actually stopped to think, how are hats made? I did a little bit of research and found one person that was giving millinery lessons in Montreal. I signed up for a class with Lucie Grégoire—it was a short, three-day class, so I was very far from being considered a milliner. I practiced on my own for a few years afterwards while simultaneously completing a two-year pattern design class. I did lots of reading, lots of research and countless hours of experimenting. There were a few bumps on the road, but my millinery career started on the cusp of my 30th birthday.

Why did you decide to share the process of making your pieces on your website?

It’s a beautiful process! Just as much as hat-making was a mystery to me, I think that it still is for a lot of people. I want to share this beautiful dying art; it also educates as to the difference in production between a handmade hat and a manufactured hat.

What kind of feedback do you get from your customers when they wear your pieces?

Very positive, I have to say. I like hearing back from my clients about the compliments that they get. It’s sort of like a double validation—one for me, and one for my client. I also like the in-person feedback from people who don’t particularly wear hats but appreciate the craftsmanship, the choice of colours or the shape.

Why were you inspired by butterflies for the current collection’s designs?

My grandmother passed away around Christmas of 2018, and 2019 was a tough year for me. I was very close to my grandparents and grew up with them. My grandmother was like the last vestige. I inherited her collection of porcelain butterflies encased in a glass display, and that was the starting point for my collection. I also decided to take a break in the fall of 2019 to restructure, and it seemed to fit even more with my headspace [working on] relaunching a new website [and] a new collection, and feeling better about my work and being better organized. I felt like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly with my grandmother by my side.

What’s your favourite piece in the new collection?

I love all of them, especially the colourful straws! But I have a weak spot for the butterfly accessories.

Who are some of your hat-wearing style icons?

One hundred percent it’s André 3000! And Erykah Badu and Isabella Blow.

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My only friends at the moment ?

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How are you staying optimistic right now?

I thrive in difficult situations. It is a defense mechanism that I’ve developed as a child and I just go into solution mode. Laughter is also a good way to push that optimism!

What are you hopeful for coming out of the current crisis we’re facing?

So many things, really. I hope this brings people together more and forces people to be less individualistic. I also hope everyone will slow down and enjoy the smaller things in life. And I hope people will understand the true value of shopping local and sustainable as well.

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