Gigi Burris Will Make You a Hat Person

Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and every fashion tastemaker you follow are fans of her headwear. You're about to join the list.

Hat-maker Gigi Burris attaching a veil to a felt cap
(Image credit: Gigi Burris)

Sitting perched on a bay window bench in her New York City store, milliner Gigi Burris is wearing one of her own creations, a black felted flat-brim hat called the Kyleigh. It's noon on a bright April afternoon, and her Chinatown boutique hasn't opened yet for shoppers. "Should we do a tour?" she asks me, half out of her seat and eager to show off the store she opened earlier this fall.

I'm there with the milliner of the moment to get a behind-the-curtain look at her couture style of hatmaking. We start in the studio tucked in the back, where Burris and her team make all headwear by hand. She walks past straw summer hats and 1920s-inspired cloches to pick up a Swarovski crystal-studded veil fascinator lying on a workbench. “This is a custom piece for a client going to the Kentucky Derby, and this [a woven fedora embellished with silk ivory flowers] is for a client going to the Central Park Conservancy luncheon this fall," she says.

A portrait of hatmaker Gigi Burris putting a veil on one of her hats

Milliner Gigi Burris attaching a veil to a felted taupe hat.

(Image credit: By Sophie Sahara)

Since the very start of her career, Burris has been a hat maker in high demand: Two weeks after graduating from her hat-making program at Parsons School of Design in 2009, Rihanna borrowed pieces from Burris's senior collection for a cover shoot with W Magazine.

But she anticipates an unprecedented boom for her brand in the coming months. The sudden resurgence of hats on the Fall 2024 runways—from feathered newsboy caps at Prada to ladylike pillbox styles at Altuzarra—has ushered fashion into the era of the personality hat.

The shift excites Burris. “It obviously bodes well for business,” she says. Future upticks in sales aside, Burris hopes the fall 2024 hat trend heralds a widespread movement of more expressive dressing. She references her network of industry tastemakers who use her statement pieces to punctuate their personal style. Street style swan Jalil Johnson, for one, waxed poetic about Burris in a March edition of his fashion newsletter, Consider Yourself Cultured: Johnson noted that the Laura pillbox hat's assertive powers took a baggy, suited outfit "from a lady who lunches to a lady who owns 51 percent of the company." The latter is exactly the kind of self-assured person Burris designs hats for.

Four images of fashion Substack writer Jalil Johnson in Gigi Burris hats

Jalil Johnson wearing an ivory Laura cap (in his aforementioned power suit), a leather sailor, a straw wide-brim hat by Gigi Burris, and the Laura once again.

(Image credit: Courtesy of @jalil_johnson_)

But all are welcome within the Gigi Burris universe. She points to a mood board tacked up in her workspace and describes her aesthetic as an eclectic amalgamation—from religious undertones to rock-and-roll. There are photos of angels, Spanish moss, and swans next to printouts of Willie Nelson and Mick Jagger. Another corkboard for her Fall 2024 collection features photos of '40s-era furniture, textural close-ups of velvet fabrics, and cowboy hats. "We were feeling Western when putting this together, which was well before the Beyoncé situation," she notes.

A photo of Gigi Burris's main collection mood board featuring images of Mick Jagger, vintage fashion editorials, and nature photogaphy.

A peek at Gigi Burris Millinery's founding inspirations.

(Image credit: Emma Childs)

Keen on hats and headwear as a kid, Burris was always slightly ahead of her time. "Growing up in central Florida, I dressed a little kookier [than other people] and wore a lot of vintage hats," the designer recalls. In a Paris study abroad program with the Parsons School of Design, Burris became enamored with the city's appreciation for craftsmanship, prompting her to immediately enroll in a millinery course when returning to the States. From that point forward, she was hooked on hatmaking.

Mentoring under the acclaimed headwear artist Leah Chalfen, Burris honed her skill of couture hatmaking and later graduated in '09 with the prestigious Parson's Designer of the Year award (past recipients include Marc Jacobs and Proenza Schouler). She soon made a name for herself as the hatmaker to the stars, with not just Rihanna, but Lady Gaga finding an affinity for Burris's hats and Madonna wearing her flat-brim designs when performing "Living for Love" on stage. Burris realized it was time to level up as more commissions came in. She officially launched her hat business in 2012—the eponymous Gigi Burris Millinery.

Today, the brand is a best-seller amongst only a handful of other hat designers at retailers like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. Her roster of celebrity clients even more robust, ranging from Hailey Bieber to Dr. Jill Biden. Recently, Sarah Jessica Parker wore Burris's straw Eftagine Beret on the second season of And Just Like That... A "very, very special Carrie Bradshaw moment" for Burris.

Sarah Jessica Parker is seen on the set of the 'And Just Like That' on March 08, 2023 in New York City.

Sarah Jessica Parker in the straw beret while filming And Just Like That...

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Admittedly, Burris's trajectory is atypical. “I didn't set out to have my own brand—it sort of happened organically,” she admits. But throughout the whirlwind of early-on industry acclaim and celebrity co-signs, she's been able to stay the course. “The magic for me is the materiality [of hatmaking]. I love working with my hands and with artisans who use traditional but innovative artisanal techniques to produce quality designs made to last.”

Every Gigi Burris piece is crafted using the hand-blocking technique, a centuries-old process of sculpting and shaping the hat’s material over a wooden form or bock. Midway through the tour, Burris walks over to a shelf lined with them. She's worked with the same local NYC hat block manufacturer since her Parsons days.

A photo of inside the Gigi Burris store of her many hats.

A selection of Burris's hand-crafted and made-in-NYC options, ranging from crowned caps and cloches to wide-brim Western hats.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Gigi Burris)

Burris now pulls out a straw hat made using a proprietary technique of weaving ribbon and raffia together to make it packable. “A super advanced sewer named Chandra makes [these] for us. If we didn't have her, we wouldn't be making this piece because it's so complicated,” she notes. Then, she points to a bouquet of intricate satin rosettes on a headband made by a fourth-generation silk flower atelier, one of the last in the U.S., and references sparsely available vintage ostrich feathers from another local mom-and-pop shop.

She recognizes that, while not quite extinct, the art of millinery is certainly at risk. “These artisans retire, or their factories close, and all that know-how and knowledge disappears," she explains. In June 2022, the hatmaker launched the non-profit foundation Closely Crafted to help preserve those skills and foster future generations of milliners and skilled craftspeople. “There is a need for young artists and talent to be inspired, excited, and willing to work in this industry, so we can keep it thriving and sustaining for decades to come.”

And just as you need people to make the hats, you need people to wear them, too. Burris is optimistic, though, that the incoming fall headwear phenomenon will inspire a far-reaching renaissance. “Part of the barrier to entry is that people don't have the confidence to wear hats. But when you see someone wearing a hat whose style you admire or one on the runway, it's much easier to visualize it in your wardrobe,” she says.

Jess Graves, author of the fashion newsletter The Love List and founder of the creative agency Graves Studio, tells me that the catwalk recently converted her into a hat-wearer. When visiting Burris's shop earlier this winter, she "immediately zoned in on the Sharina hat," a pinched-crown cap that looks similar to hats on The Row's runways, influencing the fashion writer to invest.

Gigi Burris in her hat-making studio choosing ribbons

Inside Burris's atelier is a wonderland of ribbons, fabric swatches, and straws.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Gigi Burris)

For the hat-curious—those intrigued but perhaps too intimated to earnestly wear a classic Cowboy or floppy bucket off the beach—Burris has a straightforward bit of advice: "Just wear it." Even just once, she says, is enough to start building up the confidence to commit to the accessory. "It's just getting over that first hump."

The designer also encourages wearing hats for the everyday, menial moments. "People always ask, 'Where do you wear those veiled fascinators?' I think it's really more of, well, where do you not wear them? With the right mindset, [a veil] is just as appropriate for a 7:00 p.m. date at Temple Bar as for a gala," she says. The hatmaker recently wore a black mesh headpiece for an early, casual dinner in Paris. "We were just eating fries and having a glass of white wine."

As we wrap up the conversation—at the same bench by the front window—in a perfect moment of synchronicity, a woman walks by Burris's storefront wearing an ivory Panama hat. She looks fabulous.

Emma Childs
Fashion Features Editor

Emma is the fashion features editor at Marie Claire, where she writes deep-dive trend reports, zeitgeisty fashion featurettes on what style tastemakers are wearing, long-form profiles on emerging designers and the names to know, and human interest vignette-style round-ups. Previously, she was Marie Claire's style editor, where she wrote shopping e-commerce guides and seasonal trend reports, assisted with the market for fashion photo shoots, and assigned and edited fashion celebrity news.

Emma also wrote for The Zoe Report, Editorialist, Elite Daily, Bustle, and Mission Magazine. She studied Fashion Studies and New Media at Fordham University Lincoln Center and launched her own magazine, Childs Play Magazine, in 2015 as a creative pastime. When she's not waxing poetic about niche fashion topics, you'll find her stalking eBay for designer vintage, reading literary fiction on her Kindle, and baking banana bread in her tiny NYC kitchen.