Hats Off To Scandalous New Yorker Wendy Barrett Flemming And Her East Village Shop!
I get so many compliments everyday about the hats that I wear. People literally tell me how much they like them as they walk past me on th...
I get so many compliments everyday about the hats that I wear. People literally tell me how much they like them as they walk past me on the street. The person who I have to thank for these amazing hats is the lovely Wendy Barrett Flemming. Wendy is the owner of the fab East Village hat shop, The Village Scandal as well as a true New Yorker. The Village Scandal has been around since the 90's and is still creating buzz having recently been in Page 6 Magazine, Time Out New York, Village Voice, New York Times, AM New York!
I recently had a chance to interview Wendy about The Village Scandal as we sat down for a drink at the famous Mc Sorley’s right next door to the Village Scandal in the East Village. I learned a lot about hats as well as the history of the East Village and found out that a celeb and I wear the same hat! I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I do!
Tell us about the Village Scandal.
Wendy Barrett Flemming: It opened in 94 or 95. I originally sold vintage clothing. But I always sold hats and other accessories like jewelry, umbrellas and scarves. In that time the neighborhood had about 24 vintage shops. One by one they all closed. The reason was because with vintage clothing you have one item with just one size for one person. By the time you find the perfect person for a beautiful beaded 1920’s dress it could be torn. I noticed that women looking in the mirror always say that they look fat, even models, but when they would put on a hat they would smile. I wanted to be around a happy milliner and I found that all of the accessories I sell make people smile when they look in the mirror. I learned to make hats myself. I hired some people and sent them to millinery school and we began making hats and selling hats and doing our own signature designs.
So the hats are made in NYC?
WBF: We have our Haute Couture line. The actual designer will sew the hat by hand from beginning to end. I don’t have any sewers in some little sweat shop somewhere. All firm hats like men’s fedoras are made on wooden blocks. You have to have a block for each size, each crown and each brim. The fur felt, wool felt or straw must sit on the block for 48 hours at least to form the shape so it takes two and a half days minimum to get a hat custom made. We can do fedoras, we have our signature cloche and bucket which is completely handmade and our signature newsboys that are patterned hats so they take a little longer to make but you can have a hat within two days.
Above: A rack full of amazing fedoras waiting to be worn at The Village Scandal.
Tell us about some notable people that have stopped by throughout the years.
WBF: Well Madonna use be in this neighborhood all the time in those years and she use to shop all these little shops like Religious Sex and all these leather shops that are now unfortunately gone. We had Cindy Lauper, Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep and her son. She tends to come here when she is working at the Pulic Theatre which is less than a block away. Eva Mendes is a recent customer and Collin Farrell has the hat that you have on tonight which is the grey light felston G Fedora. Justin Timberlake and a lot of people from some rock bands and local celebrities.
So if you buy cheap hats from a chain stores they don’t last very long. The Village Scandal will repair them for life, correct?
WBF: Yes, we guarantee them for life. We will reweave them, re block them and basically maintain all our hats we make for life. We also give our signature lipstick umbrella as a gift with one of our full priced hats or a gentleman’s black umbrella. We always giveaway blowing bubbles that are currently in the shape of wedding cakes and feathers for fedoras.
There seems to be a resurgence in vintage looking hats, especially with men.
WBF: Oh , yes! We worked the 1920’s Jazz Festival at Governor’s Island. Everyone was dressed in 1920’s. They were wearing boaters and skimmers and some derby’s and top hats. The Duke of Windsor popularized the derby. All of the gentleman in financial sector of London started wearing them and then they started wearing them on Wall Street. That was in the 20’ 30’s even early 40’s. If you were in finance you had on a derby. But of course you didn’t go out without a fedora on even up until the early to mid 60’s if you were a gentleman. If you wore a cap that denoted that maybe you had a job that wasn’t white collar. It is so interesting that hats reflect our history.
Above: I love this stingy brim fedora that I wore during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2011. I also wore a nice navy polka dot butterfly bow tie from the Village Scandal as well!
What is that one hat style that you just love?
WBF: I just love the cloche. We can customize it where we cut it. We can cut it above the eyebrow or the eyes or down on the side. I think it makes all women look very beautiful. They are based on the 1920’s cloche. Cloche is the French word for close to the head. They became popular during prohibition because people were dancing wildly and drinking and they stayed on your head. They also look good on women of all ages. We sell them to a lot of undergraduates and you can dress them down or up.
What else makes the Village Scandal unique?
MBF: We are all accessory styling experts in the store and many of us are designers. We give everybody a free styling session. Even if you don’t buy something, we don’t care. We are going to give you the best color, crown size, brim size, style. We will give you a couple of choices so you can buy one somewhere else if you like or come back to us. Maybe you will never buy one but you will know the right style. After we show you in the mirror with and without the hat you will come back because hats do enhance everyone’s looks.
You were saying that people spend so much money on shoes and clothes but that they don’t think about hats. They tend to feel better about themselves when they see themselves in hats, right?
WBF: Right. It is so interesting to me to see for ladies with their make up done so expertly, very expensive spectacle frames on, earrings, shoes and other jewelry and the one thing they are missing is a hat. When I show them in the mirror with and without they can’t believe it. Same thing for men, if you are balding a little bit of course it can take many years off of your life.
Above: The Village Scandal has a huge selection of great hats with a staff that can find the perfect one just for you.
The neighborhood has such an amazing history. What are some fun facts to know?
WBF: Mc Sorley’s is our next door neighbor, one door west, it opened in 1864. They have a big blow out every year on February 17th. They close the block off and shoot cannons and muskets and have a marching band. Interestingly enough, Abraham Lincoln drank here when he was running for president. This neighborhood was the hat manufacturing district of the country and certainly of the city. The building where Walgreens is on Astor Place was New York Hat Company. They not only had offices there, but they made hats there as well. Abraham Lincoln bought his stove pipe hat in this neighborhood, which became his signature hat. He also stopped in Mc Sorley’s for a brew and was one of their first customers.
Above: Sabrina Chapman, Lauren Rich and me in my favorite Village Scandal hat at the SWAGG Mobile tent at the Mercedes-Benz Polo Challenge in The Hamptons.
What is the popular hat for men and the popular hat for women right now?
WBF: Right now for men it’s the diamond top, which means that the top of the hat is in the shape of a diamond, in a light felt which you can fold or twist and it will go back in shape. And the number one selling hat for men is the stingy brim which means the hat has a little itty bitty brim. For ladies, it’s a toss up between our Village Scandal Newsboy, which is sewn by the designer, or our haute couture Scandal cloche.
Is there anything else that you would like to say about The Village Scandal?
WBF: We offer intense customer service. It doesn’t mean high pressure by any means. When people pass in front of the store we think about what they would look best in. We really have it down to a science where we can immediately put something on your head that has the wow factor. We really love our customers. Our repeat customers are what’s keeping us in business with so many small businesses lost in the neighborhood, particularly that made their own goods.
HALLOWEEN TIP!! The Village Scandal has a much lower priced Halloween selection with interesting masks and wigs. Although you can get a quality hat and keep it for other occasions such as weddings. If you do a costume like Charley Chaplin don’t get a plastic bowler!
For more information about The Village Scandal visit TheVillageScandal.com