Hat tip to art

On the Lower East Side, new store offers handmade toppers Yoko Ono can’t resist

Hats for sale at Yokkoyama Hat Market
Hats for sale at Yokkoyama Hat Market

Years ago, when Hirohisa Yokoyama’s parents in Tokyo told him they would no longer support him living la vie bohème in Brooklyn, he came up with a somewhat unusual solution to his financial problem: making hats.

“I saw a hat in the department store, I thought, ‘Not many people make hats, so maybe I can do that,’ ” Yokoyama said.

It turned out making hats was more difficult than he anticipated, but nonetheless Yokoyama turned out to be pretty good at it. In 2003, he held a gallery show in Brooklyn, which earned him some attention, and in 2008, The Hat Magazine (a British industry publication) named him Hat Designer of the Year.

Now he has opened up his first shop, Yokkoyama Hat Market, on Eldridge Street in the Lower East Side, where immigrants have long flocked to try their hand at starting their own ventures. Almost entirely self-taught (he had a one-day lesson from a hat school in Tokyo), Yokoyama puts his degree in industrial engineering to use, making his hats by hand in his workshop in the back. A Natural Overlay Panama hat is $240; a hat he made from industrial felt is $260; vintage baseball hats are $28.

The most expensive hat in the store is made from a hard plaster base, painted blue and white like china and goes for $1,000. Yokoyama will custom make any hat you want, but it will cost you upwards of $500.

The store also sells items from Yokoyama’s friends, like T-shirts from designer Tomoo Gokita, for $70, and expertly crafted men’s shoes by Quilp by Tricker’s, for $670.

Yokoyama has lived on the Lower East Side for 10 years, but before opening his store in June, he sold the majority of his hats to department stores in Japan. Now, he said, his profits are split 50-50 between his retail shop and his Japanese business.

He has even attracted the notice of perhaps New York (and Japan’s) most famous hat enthusiast: Yoko Ono. Yokoyama says that when she came in, she “tried on every hat in the store,” piling a bunch of them on a table near the cash register. “We thought: she’s going to choose [a couple]. But then she said, ‘I’m going to get everything.’ ” He is optimistic she will return.

Yokoyama couldn’t spell out what inspires his work, but insists that he does not consciously follow trends. He does like to attend gallery shows and noted that he has been inspired by everything from a painting to a chair.

“I make hats the same way I would make a painting, like I’m making art,” he said.

And like a true artist, Yokoyama keeps somewhat unusual retail hours: the store is only open from 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. This is because Yokoyama noticed, “at night, so many hipsters are walking around.” He hesitated before adding, “and one more reason is I don’t want to wake up early.”