The Hat House
posted: June 6, 2011
There was this guy who had a custom hat shop. Customers (he called them clients) would come in the shop when they needed a hat. He would listen to their stories, carefully measure their heads and make beautiful hats for them. His customers loved him because he made the men look handsome and the women look beautiful. Not everyone in the little town wore hats, but the people who wore his hats walked around the little town nodding to one another because they knew that they looked good in their hats, and because their hats made them feel good, and because people often complimented them on how good they looked in their hats. The hats the man made for them always fit their heads and their individual personalities perfectly. The hats were not cheap, but his customers felt that the price was a fair exchange for the beautiful hats.
This little town actually had quite a few custom hat shops. In each of these shops, there was someone who also made beautiful custom hats, and people who wore hats would go to different shops for different kinds of hats. The hat-makers (they called themselves milliners) admired each other’s hats, and enjoyed seeing people in beautiful hats around their little town.

One day a new shop opened in the little town. It was called The Hat House and it took up an entire building. The Hat House was filled with racks and racks of cheap hats. There was no one in the store to listen to customer’s stories, no one to carefully measure their heads, and no one to design custom hats to fit their individual personalities, there were just rows and rows of cheap hats and a cash register by the door.
Erte, Vintage Borsalino poster, AM Cassandre....

When The Hat House opened, the manager paid a visit to each of the custom hat shops in the little town. He needed hats, and he had an offer for the hat-makers. He asked the hat-makers to give him hats, and if he sold their hats to his customers he would give the hat-makers a small percentage of the sale price. The hat-makers wouldn’t have to do anything except make hats, and take their checks from The Hat House to the bank. Also, the manager said that the hats that were on the racks in The Hat House would have the hat-maker’s name on them, and more customers would see their hats than ever before. He called this “exposure.”
Amazingly, some of the milliners accepted the offer. They gave The Hat House some of their hats. These hats were not the most beautiful hats, they were usually hats that had been sitting around in drawers in their shops, and the milliners would say to their friends, “those hats were just sitting around in drawers anyway.”
Francis Marshall...

The manager of The Hat House also paid a visit to some hat-makers who didn’t have custom hat shops. These hat-makers were young and just getting started in the hat-making business. They made hats in their bedrooms or garages. Some of these young hat-makers made beautiful hats, but it was difficult to attract customers, because they did not have a shop, and getting started in the hat-making business is not easy. Some of these young hat-makers made horrible-looking hats, and it was difficult to attract customers, because they made horrible-looking hats, and making beautiful hats is not easy.
The manager of The Hat House didn’t know the difference between a beautiful hat and a horrible-looking hat. He offered the young hat-makers the same deal that he offered the older hat-makers, and he emphasized the idea of “exposure.”
Garretto, Steinweiss...

People in the little town who had never wore hats before started shopping at The Hat House. These people liked to look at all the racks of hats, and they loved the prices. The Hat House was selling hats for much, much less than hats were being sold for in the little custom hat shops in town. Some people in the little town who used to buy their hats in the custom hat shops began buying hats from The Hat House. They also loved the prices. But no one who bought a hat from The Hat House ever looked quite right in their new hat, no one ever nodded to them on the street because they looked good in their hat, and no one ever, ever complimented them on their beautiful hat.
Leyendecker,Max Huber...

Some of the milliners who supplied The Hat House with hats had to close their shops. They found that it was impossible to charge the same prices for a beautiful custom hat when their hats were being sold at The Hat House for much, much less. The checks from The Hat House were not enough to keep their custom shops open, and some of them had to start making hats in their bedrooms or garages. Some of these milliners stopped making hats completely because maintaining a career in the hat-making business in not easy.
The young hat-makers who supplied The Hat House with hats, found that having hats in The Hat House wasn’t helping them attract new customers, and the checks they received from The Hat House weren’t enough to even buy materials for new hats. Some of the young hat-makers stopped making hats completely because establishing a career in the hat-making business is not easy. 
So now, more people walk around the little town wearing hats than ever before. But it’s not the same. Some of the hats don’t fit properly, some of the hats make the hat-wearer look ridiculous. The smartest people in the little town still buy their hats from the custom hat shops. They love their custom made hats because these hats make the men look handsome and the women look beautiful, and people often compliment them on their hats. The milliners still admire each other’s hats, and enjoy seeing people in beautiful hats around their little town.

robert hunt June 6, 2011
I like hats!
THIBEAULT June 7, 2011
CAP-ital Tale!!!
Bill Main June 7, 2011
This should be required reading for people coming out of art school. It made me want to go kick butt. Thanks as always Paul.
Rob Dunlavey June 7, 2011
This is an excellent little fable Paul. You're obviously talking about the illustration business and how diffused and confused the market has become and how it too has fallen victim to business realities of this era. I wonder, if it is truly possible to thrive anymore and go back to that rare one-to-one relationship between the hat maker and the hat buyer? Some will continue as they have obviously. Others will too but perhaps what will flourish in the out-of-the-way places is a re-invigorated focus on this type of relationship (rather than "illustration" per se). Many of us will be at the mercy of those with more vision and energy and time to exploit internet-enabled schemes. AT THE VERY LEAST, every one offering their wares in the big marketplace in whatever form, needs to be fully aware that what they do is incredibly valuable to those who seek to exploit them and siphon off a few dollars for their vacation homes.
DaveB June 7, 2011
It sounds like some of the great hat makers could get work as fable writers. Artists wear many hats. And that has always been a problem for me. Which hat to wear.
chuck pyle June 7, 2011
Hmmm, could this be an a fable to remind us about the perils of Stock? Well done, my hat is off to you, sir!
Alan Witschonke June 7, 2011
The history of stock art -- beautifully told.
Sally Heflin June 7, 2011
This is a very provocative fable with many complicated morals. One miscalculation can be squarely put on the Milliner, thinking it was a win-win situation to place his dusty product in The Hat Store with its traffic and sales force. But a hat without the Milliner is just a hat. Losing the integral interaction between the Milliner and image-conscious person is the unintended consequence. The Hat Store is just that. Can the Milliner retool his shop to attract the unsatisfied image-conscious person? Can the Milliner market his/her back story, craft and creative intelligence to attract not only the person looking to solve the passing problem of “need a hat” but the person curious to know how all this works and wants to commission a piece of art by interacting with the Milliner? The Hat Store has commoditized hats and the sooner the Milliner takes an inventory of all he/she has to offer, not just dusty hats, and separates from the win-lose trend The Hat Store offers, the better. On the other hand if people would start wearing hats again, I know an illustrator who can create an ad to make them fly off the shelves!
Richard Downs June 7, 2011
Hi Paul, I have always admired your artwork but now I admire your storytelling, you are fab at both!
Douglas Fraser June 8, 2011
For the love of craft, and the unique. Reaching for a lance, and charging windmills? hhmmm... thank you Paul.
Christoph Hitz June 9, 2011
I've got two custom made hats due today...
Tim OBrien June 10, 2011
Hats are such a secure thing to wear. As a crazy haired gent, I can finally feel normal with a lid. To continue the hat/stock analogy. I am NOT much of a dandy these days. I'm no Steve Guarnaccia. I buy them off the rack. I have paid well for such stock hats though. Still, I have the budget of a tiny business. I'm not Conde Nast and if I were, I would want an original hat often, and have them custom made to suit my specific needs.
Dan McGowan June 10, 2011
I have a big head, but I know at least one milliner who could make me a hat anytime it was appropriate! 626 564 8728