While America has Stetson–the greatest name in hats–Italy has Borsalino. Founded in 1857, Borsalino is eight years older than its American rival.
One of the iconic Borsalino styles is the Alessandria, named after the Italian home of the Borsalino factory. The Alessandria is the Borsalino equivalent of the old Stetson Stratoliner. Other hat makers had their own versions such as JC Penny’s Marathon. Johnny Depp, known for his fedoras, often wears Borsalino, including the Alessandria model.
While the other models have faded away, the Alessandria has endured. One of the very first quality hats I purchased a number of years ago was a gray Alessandria that likely dates from the 1950s. I wanted a Stratoliner to go with it, but vintage prices skyrocketed in my larger size.
I bought a couple of used/vintage Borsalinos a few years ago. The lot included an Alessandria. Structurally it was fine, but the hat was soiled and the felt misshapen. It needed to be cleaned and blocked. Blocking is the process of reforming a hat over a wooded block to give it the appropriate shape.
Art Fawcett, proprietor of Vintage Silhouettes, is one of the premier custom hat makers in the world. Art has made both felt and straw hats for me over the years. And while he no longer takes on refurbishment work regularly, he will work in some jobs as he can for his customers. One of the bonuses of having Art refurbish my hat is that he has my measured my head size and shape for the custom hats he has made. It’s like having a custom Borsalino.
I sent along my “new” Alessandria to Art with the understanding that he would get to it when he got to it. I wasn’t in a hurry as, well, I have many more hats than heads to put them on.
So Art’s message was the end of a long wait. I figure he finally got tired of having it in the way.
Knowing that modern Borsalinos are often knocked for being of lower quality than their revered forefathers, I asked Art about the quality of the felt. He said, “in a word, ‘horrid.'” Art typically works with beaver felt hat bodies of the highest quality. Borsalino uses rabbit, which can also be quite good. But this felt started to shrink on him during the reblocking process, a sign of inferior felt. Art said he did the best he could. Considering the prices of modern Borsalinos using felt like that is really inexcusable.
I wasn’t worried, though, because I knew that Art’s standards are such that if he was willing to send the hat to me at all I would be happy. I was right. The hat is fantastic.
Art rebuilt the hat from the ground up. He stripped it down to the felt, cleaned it, and reblocked the hat body, sizing it to the measurements he has on file for me. He sewed in a new leather sweatband, then he added a new ribbon and bow made from his stock of vintage milliner quality ribbon. Remaining from the original hat was the felt body, the Borsalino logo liner, and the style. Quite frankly, it’s a far better hat now than it was when it was new.
And, I must confess, I do like the lower, more modern profile. Some vintage hats can seem a bit overwhelming, although one should not resort to the tiny hats with super stingy brims that often pass for fedoras these days.
Art again proved he is an absolute magician with felt and ribbon. If you’re interested in getting the best, give Art a call.