‘Never wear a hat that has more character than you do’; A sculpture on your head

NRC – Gerda Telgenhof – translation
Reading time: 2 minutes

There are only two basic forms in the world of hats: a hat and a cap. And there are only two styles: a hat with a brim and a hat without a brim. And then there are variations on those.” It sounds simple, but Robert Guillaume Kuijpers’ women’s hats are not that simple. His designs stand out for their elegance and chic, often resembling true sculptures. They range from sporty berets to transparent summer hats and coquettish cocktail fascinators adorned with refined ornamentation.

Robert Guillaume – he omits the Kuijpers from his brand name to spare foreigners their tongues – was born in New Zealand and is 43 years old. As a child, he made cakes that increasingly took on the form of imaginative works of art. A photo album showcases towering wedding cakes adorned with baroque decorations, Moscovian pastries covered in a sweet floral sea, and English Christmas cakes in delicate color combinations.

In 1972, he moved to the Netherlands, where no one would think of starting a Christmas cake in September. Kuijpers became a manager at a bank branch in Buitenveldert, but he never completely gave up cake-making. “I had a creative urge that wouldn’t let me go,” he says. Just when he had decided to pursue a specialized cake-making education in the United States, he met Katja Robinski, a Russian-born hat maker living in Amsterdam, who passed away this year at the age of 91. “Katja was the grand dame of hat fashion in the fifties through the seventies. Through her, I became fascinated by hats, but I had never held a needle and thread in my life before.”

After Robinski taught him the basic techniques, he definitively switched to the hat trade in 1989. “True designs must come from within you, otherwise, you’re making copies of someone else. And I definitely don’t want to do that. I never make the same model. Both my hats and my cakes are always unique pieces. In a hat, I try to express the wearer’s character and take into account her clothing and environment. A hat is the garment par excellence through which you can convey pride, humor, and ingenuity. I do have a collection, but that’s more to give the customer an idea of what’s possible.”

Kuijpers’ hats have a sense of flair, with flowing, sometimes soaring lines that suggest movement and playful details in the decoration. On some, graceful plucked rooster feathers dance, with only a small spicy feather left at the end. “I like to use feathers. They always flatter,” he says, displaying an enviable black straw hat, surrounded by glossy green-black feathers.

When designing, Kuijpers draws inspiration from visual art and architecture. “I try to view as much as possible, whether it’s old or modern art. What I see unconsciously reflects in my models. Additionally, I work with the material at hand. I use felt, tweed, fur, and faux fur with various patterns, and for summer, many types of straw. For example, Sinamay is very light, easy-to-work-with straw from the Philippines with a beautifully transparent appearance, available in a range of colors.” In his collection, he has an elegant, wide-brimmed hat made of soft pink straw, finished with various shades of pink silk, but also bold black-and-white polka-dotted, striped, or checkered berets.

In his opinion, many hat makers are going in the wrong direction. “They are solely focused on ‘head turning’, with insane designs that attract attention due to their size or excessive and thoughtless decorations. There’s a tendency to mistake extravagance for glamour and extraordinary proportions for style. In hat making, it’s about control and what I call ‘understated elegance’. In English, we have a nice piece of advice: ‘Never wear a hat that has more character than you do’.”

Hat enthusiasts should expect to pay at least ƒ 950 for a hat from Robert Guillaume. But then you also have a unique, custom-made model that will surely turn heads on the street. He’s discreet about his clientele. They are affluent, ‘profiled, fashionable ladies’ who pay attention to their appearance, often from England and America.

He still occasionally tackles a complicated cake (a cake he made for the Wilhelmina Exhibition in Amsterdam is now on display at Paleis Het Loo in Apeldoorn). “But I prefer making hats. Cakes are very time-consuming, and with hats, I can express more imagination and playfulness because each face is so different.”

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