By Brian D’Ambrosio
Second-generation Santa Fe hatmaker Scott O’Farrell makes hats that are molded to match your personality and to be enjoyed in your world.
“The hat needs to fit you and fit where you are from,” O’Farrell said. “Sometimes people want a Santa Fe hat. I’m not here to make a Santa Fe hat. I’m here to make hats that work for you and your environment.”
Making hats “work” for people is part of what has set the O’Farrell Hat Company apart since O’Farrell’s dad, Kevin, founded the business in Durango, Colo., in 1979. He relocated it to Santa Fe in the 1990s, and his son took over in 2006 when the elder O’Farrell died.
Customers can still choose from a selection of more than 100 hat styles – such as straw, Panama, derby, cowboy, and fedora – and an endless availability of accoutrements. Hat bands may be beaded, adorned by tooled leather, or even festooned with flecks of turquoise, for example. Yet, O’Farrell doesn’t like to get bogged down in the details.
“Simply put: We make hats,” he said. “We all have different ideas of what a hat is. I’ll find what works for you – crown, color, brim, measurements.”
Respectful of the general history of hat manufacturing, O’Farrell said that he still feels the added pressure of his own legacy. The O’Farrell family name looms large in his production and emblazoned over the business entrance. There is also the residual presence of his father.
“Dad put too much into it for me to screw it up,” O’Farrell said. “That’s my family’s name, and it needs to be done right and be worthy of it. The end product defines your skill and name.”
Like any other business professional, he is also mindful of the cost of his product. He understands that $700 to $1,000 is no trifling sum, especially to spend on an item that, though functional, generally would not be considered a necessity.
“I need to do good work to ask you to give me a $1,000,” O’Farrell said. “It has to be worth it to you. It’s not tires for the car, or an oil change, or food.”
As a child growing up on both coasts, O’Farrell never liked the fact that his father was an itinerant hatmaker and a bit of an eccentric, even a renegade. While he would have preferred then that his dad would have been more conformist, with a traditional office job, he concedes today that the old man’s idiosyncratic talent and character was admirable.
Before taking over the hat company, O’Farrell was comfortably living in the South, content as a superintendent in commercial construction, and providing for his wife and children. In fact, he promised his wife that he would never be involved with the hat world.
Today, he said, “I’m happy to be here. It was a no-brainer.”
Throughout the decades and after apprenticing with a hatmaker in Texas, O’Farrell came to love the industry. He built a wide clientele and eventually made hats for both regular and remarkable people, including singer Charlie Daniels. Daniels once performed at the White House and took with him his O’Farrell-commissioned hats, which he presented as gifts for President Ronald Reagan, Vice-president George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State Alexander Haig. O’Farrell has since decorated one of the walls of his work station with a hodgepodge of photos, notes, and letters from his array of customers.
In addition to the company, O’Farrell inherited this adage from his dad: Pay close attention to the anatomy of the three Fs of hatmaking – the felt, the feel, and the finish. Heeding his father’s meticulousness, if a hat is not up to snuff, O’Farrell will scrap it and start over. He even still uses the same crown irons and brim molds that his dad once did – strange, virtually indestructible relics from the halcyon days of U.S. industrial manufacturing. He also employs a100-year-old industrial Singer sewing machine to stitch headbands into the hats.
With an order backlog of approximately 16 months, O’Farrell compares one of his custom hats to an oil painting in that there can always be a detail that could be fussed with, changed, or appended. When making custom pieces, he said, everything starts and finishes with the fit of the head, using the crown (the top portion of the hat) to compliment the face. The individualistic aspect of hat making, he said, must always be respected, and the style of the hat must be commensurate with that of the person.
“Getting someone used to the crown and comfortable with it (is critical),” he said. “To me, that’s character.”
With each twist of the brim or contortion of the crown, O’Farrell works in conjunction with the commanding influence of the past and deliberation of the future. A hat, he said, should have a lengthy existence, something approaching permanence.
“Now, if a rancher comes in to me and he wears that out,” he said, “I still take that personal. If it’s worn out, I can re-block or renovate it, and if I feel like it’s not what I sold, I’ll replace that hat. I want to sleep at night and have my conscience clear.”