A Conversation With Hatmaker Anna Zeitlin Of Fanny And June, A Milliner In Nashville
Cover photo by Kelli Dirks.
Imagine you walk into the room, and everyone instantly looks your way. Suddenly, the whole mood has changed. You haven’t just entered—you’ve made an entrance.
What are you wearing?
For Nashville-based couture hatmaker Anna Zeitlin, the answer is obvious. She’s making a career as a modern-day milliner, an occupation that evokes Jane Austen novels and the nostalgic fashions of Steeplechase more than the everyday American. But the designs Zeitlin sells under label Fanny and June look to the future just as much as they embrace the deep traditions of a craft—and from caps to fascinators to sculptural fantasies fit for a royal wedding, she believes everyone has a hat out there meant just for them.
Anna and I talked about her creative journey, the fashions of Wonder Woman and a garment so special, she spent 15 hours stitching it.
How did you become a hatmaker?
I grew up wearing hats and loving hats, but it didn’t occur to me that someone made them until I went to a hat designer’s shop. I saw the handwork that went into each one, as well as the love, the creativity and the detail in every piece. I thought, “Wow, that’s something I’d love to learn how to do.” In college, they offered exactly one millinery class that always filled up really fast. I was actually a filmmaking major at the time, but I finally took it my senior year and fell in love. Even back then, I think I’d already started thinking of my label.
After school, I moved out to L.A. I was working in post-production on a movie where I had a lot of down time, just sitting in front of a computer while files digitized and rendered, so I would bring my hats to work on while I was sitting in front of a computer. I’d be stitching hats and think, “You know, I think I like this more!” [Laughs.] So I went to a hat shop in L.A. and just asked for a job. Luckily someone had left earlier that week, and I ended up working for a hat designer for a little while. I learned a lot there. I moved back to Nashville to be closer to my family in 2011, and I’ve been making my own hats since then.
What makes a hat unique from the rest of the items in someone’s wardrobe?
A hat is a bold statement. By wearing one, you’re saying something. You can wear clothes and blend in, but even a very minimal hat can be so loud. There’s a lot you can say with it. But at the same time, anyone can pull them off. You can be any size, any age, and you instantly change the mood of your outfit if you add a hat.
What made you decide to name your company Fanny and June?
My grandmother’s name was June, and she was an avid seamstress. I inherited all of her sewing supplies, and she really birthed my love of the craft. And Fanny was her grandmother. So, it’s kind of a family name, but I also just like the old-fashioned ring to it, because millinery work itself feels a little old-fashioned. Just the word makes me think of Jane Austen.
What historical eras are most inspiring to you?
So many. The process of hat-making itself is inherently historical. I’m working with tools from the early 20th century, and the process of crafting a hat is still the same as it was in the 1920s. I use the same wooden hat blocks to mold the hats. I use steam—back then they would have used a kettle, and I use an electric steamer.
Millinery was such a huge industry and fashion staple in earlier eras—you didn’t leave the house without a hat on! And, now, it’s so niche. There are only so many suppliers. There used to be a whole millinery district in New York, and now there’s just two or three suppliers in the whole garment district. Many of us hat makers are working with the same materials, so the challenge becomes finding ways to make each piece unique and experiment with different techniques. I make silk flowers and hand-paint each one, which means I’m not using the same flower suppliers where everyone else gets theirs. I experiment with dyes, tassel-making, embroidery.
Your dad’s an architect. Do you find yourself drawn to architectural forms and shapes?
Yeah, definitely. My favorite piece right now is actually very minimal; there’s not a lot of trim or color, it’s just all about the shape. I’ve combined a pork-pie crown, which traditionally has a shorter brim, with a wider brim to make my favorite sun hat. It just came out of playing with shapes and forms.
What’s in your design notebook right now?
One of the innovations I’m really excited about right now is digital printing. We’re seeing a lot of people doing fascinating stuff with surface design. I’m doing baseball caps with fun textiles, and those textiles wouldn’t exist in another era. They used to be all woven textiles or block-printed textiles, and now you can have so much more fun with the image. There’s this balance between old forms of craftsmanship and new innovations in hat-making right now, and they’re each influencing one another.
What films and theater productions inspire you?
I have to say, I just saw “Wonder Woman” last night. It takes place during World War I, so there’s a scene where they go to London, and the fashion in that scene was worth the whole movie. No spoilers, of course, [laughs], but Chris Pine wears a fantastic fedora, too. There are some very cute turbans, and a great fez. I was delighted.
Is it hard to manage both sides of being a maker and entrepreneur?
You know, it’s a balance, but what I’ve found is that when I focus on the making, and create things that I’m really happy with, those are the designs that sell. If I’m not putting my heart into the making, I can put as much energy as I want into selling, and it won’t matter.
I do love selling directly to customers, though. I love working directly with women, inviting them to my home studio to do fittings and making something custom that’s made just for them.
How long does it take to make a hat?
The simplest hats I do, I can make in a couple of hours. But on average, it takes three or four hours. The longest I’ve worked on one took 15 hours; that was for a runway show.
Do you want to work on more 15-hour projects?
Definitely. I love making very wearable hats, but I’d really love to find a client who’s into the kooky stuff. My absolute favorite designer is Elsa Schiaparelli. She was a big designer in the 1920s, and she was a collaborator of Salvador Dali; she was famous for a hat shaped like a high-heeled shoe. A surreal project like that would really delight me.
What’s the next chapter for Fanny and June?
You know, it’s hard to talk about just one next chapter, because each season really is about staying relevant. I can’t just do what worked in the past. I have to have a new ambition every six months. But aside from that, I’d really love to teach. I’m teaching a class this summer, and it’ll be wonderful to share the joy of hat-making.