Eye for Detail

Master milliner Pfanenstiel opens
Judith M Millinery in La Grange, Ky.

Pfanenstiel found her calling in making designer hats

LA GRANGE, Ky. (April 2021) – Jenny Pfanenstiel always loved hats but never knew how to make them. After graduating college and thinking her career path would be in costume design, she suddenly switched gears upon realizing hats were her calling.
“I’ve been sewing since I was 5,” said the Colorado native. “I grew up in a sewing family and made clothes.” Pfanenstiel attended the Art Institute of Colorado, and after earning a degree in fashion design, she began to pursue the idea of “creating costumes for ballet and theatre.”
But she had a feeling that her life wasn’t going in quite the right direction. She refocused on hats and researched “where to go to embrace the craft. Not a lot was offered in the U.S.,” so she traveled to Australia.

Judith M Millinery

Photo provided

Bart and Jenny Pfanenstiel pose outside their new store on Main Street in
La Grange, Ky.

Living in Chicago at the time, hat making began as a hobby. Pfanenstiel attended a show to sell her creations, and the woman in the booth next to her asked if she’d ever sold hats in Kentucky. Stating that she hadn’t, she came to Kentucky and sold hats for the Kentucky Derby.
Pfanenstiel’s hats were an instant success. After having lived in Chicago for 16 years, she came to Kentucky and found that Kentucky Derby goers loved her hats. She chose a location in Louisville and created Forme Millinery Hat Shop to sell her custom made couture hats.
Since then, Pfanenstiel has been named the official milliner of the 146th and 147th Kentucky Derby.
“It’s truly an honor to be recognized for my craft. There are a lot of hat people in the world, but to be an actual milliner and make hats from scratch is such an honor. It’s wonderful they chose someone local.”
Pfanenstiel and her husband, Bart, have recently purchased a millinery supply business in La Grange, Ind. The pair has relocated Judith M Millinery Supplies to the former Treasured Child store in La Grange, Ky., located at 115 E. Main St.
“In Louisville, I strictly sell couture hats for all occasions and seasons,” said Pfanenstiel. Judith M will focus on raw materials.”
The Pfanenstiels purchased the existing supply business from Judi Mishler, who had run the business for the last 27 years as an online business. It is one of three remaining millinery supply businesses in the United States, she said.
Mishler sold raw materials to hat makers around the world and worked with theatre companies, opera houses, costume companies and Walt Disney. Mishler “had already established a name in the business and knew what Bart and I had already built.”
“I had been hoping to sell Judith M for several years now,” said Mishler. She had been “running it shorthanded since 2019. By the time of coronavirus, I was already exhausted and putting in long days. The days only got longer.”
She chose the Pfanenstiels to take over her business because, “Jenny and Bart are comparatively young and energetic. They already have several businesses to run and seem to be handling those quite well. I decided that a hat supply company would fit with their other endeavors, and they would already be familiar with how to manage a company.”
Mishler said she does “expect things to change as they mesh their interests and skills with the business needs. Judith M Millinery Supply has built a good reputation over the years for quality products and customer care. They intend to build on that and grow the company more than I ever could.”
The Pfanenstiels will carry on with what Mishler started but add a retail concept to the business. “We feel that by bringing a retail establishment to Kentucky, especially with the Derby, and international airport and hotels in La Grange, we can have something that appeals to everybody,” and a nearby customer base.
She will split her time between the Louisville business and the La Grange business. Judith M will sell not only supplies but also a line of finished hats such as rain hats, sun hats, cowboy hats, and fancier hats for weddings and Derby events, she said.
Mishler thinks La Grange, Ky., “is a perfect spot for the business. The new location will allow more people access to classes and shopping. It also is a bit more centrally located,” than her business was in La Grange, Ind.
On March 27, Pfanenstiel held a show on Main Street featuring her Forme Millinery Hat Shop 2021 Derby collection. She hopes to make her Hats on the Tracks show an annual event and showcase local hat makers as well. She plans to hold a grand opening and will post details on her website.
The business also has space upstairs to hold hat making workshops. “I want to support the community and budding hat makers and milliners. I want to give a platform to people who make hats.”
Pfanenstiel said she is excited to be open by the first week of April. Her husband will remain at Judith M full time, along with one other full-time associate for now. They plan to hire more staff in the future.
This is actually the third business for the couple. Bart runs the hat box division of Forme Millinery Hat Shop. When they had trouble finding quality hat boxes, they created their own line.
When making hats, Pfanenstiel uses a 100-year-old process called blocking. She makes each hat by hand using old wooden hat blocks that are displayed throughout the workspace in her Louisville store.
The Pfanenstiels moved to Kentucky several years ago in mid-winter and first located in Louisville but wanted “acreage and a safe place for our family.” She grew up in a big city and liked the small-town quaintness of La Grange once they discovered the town.
The goal for both the Louisville and La Grange business is “to create an experience,” she said. For Pfanenstiel, making a hat is a personal process.
“It’s easier to mass produce oversees, but that’s not why I make hats. I love the technique of working on these old hat blocks. I like to think who might have made a hat on these blocks 100 years ago. It’s what I was meant to do.”
It’s also a personal experience for the customer. “They try on different styles and pick out materials,” to help create a one-of-a-kind hat. “Typically, people get a hat for an occasion or memory of a journey in life.”
Pfanenstiel is a 2019 Tory Burch Foundation Fellow and author of “The Making of a Milliner.” She has created hats for former First Lady Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. Although she never got to meet either woman, it was still a thrill for her to make them a hat. For Obama, the hat was a gift from her staff. Pfanenstiel made hats for Winfrey and her staff when they aired a show on the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The staff wore the hats she created to “serve tea and crumpets to the audience”

• For more information on the grand opening and upcoming classes, visit www.judithm.com or call (260) 499-4407.

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