With the Kentucky Derby quickly approaching, we are thrilled to announce our collaboration with Jenny Pfanenstiel of Formé Millinery. Jenny is a renowned Master Milliner and was named the Featured Milliner of the 146th Kentucky Derby®, only one of two milliners ever featured in Derby history!
Dixie’s owner, Jennifer Hunt, and Jenny were both selected as 2019 Tory Burch Fellows and had the privilege of spending a week in NYC together last June. While there, Jennifer was so intrigued by Jenny, her style and the fabulous hats she wore each day. The idea of a Derby collaboration didn’t strike Jennifer until a few months later when she was reviewing equestrian artwork that had been commissioned for a Derby collection. While Jennifer liked the idea of a traditional horse-inspired collection, she remembered that Jenny had been named the Derby’s featured milliner a few weeks prior. Featuring hats instead of horses was something that excited the Dixie team so Jennifer reached out to Jenny, who also loved the idea, and Dixie artist Vaughan Spanjer was commissioned to paint Jenny’s hats and all their intricate details.
Vaughan’s family owns Pursell Farms, one of Alabama’s destination gems, so we were thrilled to photograph this collection and throw our own Derby party at Hamilton Place at Pursell Farms, which is set among manicured gardens and sprawling pastures, perfectly setting the stage for a Derby-themed soirée.
Adorned with hats, florals, mint juleps and fun patterns, our Derby Formé Collection has something for everyone! It features items for throwing your own hat-themed event as well as an array of greeting cards for a variety of occasions and stationery for everyday use.
Through this collaboration we’ve learned so much about the artistry of millinery. We were so intrigued we wanted to share with you our interview with Jenny who reveals how she got started with the craft (she has a fascinating background!) as well techniques she uses with her hats that have been around for centuries but have fallen by the wayside with mass production. Read along and enjoy the beautiful photos by Mary Margaret Smith of our Derby party featuring delicious food by Ashley Mac’s, florals by Huckleberry Collective, tablecloth by India Amory, place settings from Bromberg’s and Table Matters and styling by Casey Snipes.
What does it take to become a Master Milliner?
Artistry, technique, creativity, respect for the craft and continuing the traditional techniques that came before you, passion.
How long have you been making hats and how did you originally get into it?
I always grew up around sewing. My Mother, Aunt and Grandmother made everything. At age 5, my Mother taught me how to cross stitch. Not too difficult of a technique, but I learned to work with my hands and create beautiful pieces through hand sewing. Growing up around sewing, I naturally went to design school. I have a Fashion Design Degree from The Art Institute of Colorado and originally wanted to pursue costumes for the ballet. I was a dancer many moons ago and loved corsetry and making elaborate tutus. From Colorado, I moved to Chicago to further my costume career. There, I created costumes for Cirque du Soleil, movies, commercials, I even did a Grammy Dress for Margaret Cho. After living in Chicago for a number of years, I met a Milliner who was visiting for a conference to discuss her Millinery business. I had no idea Millinery still existed in the United States. She spoke about traditional hat making techniques with hat blocks and I became very interested in learning more. I dabbled in some basic hat making techniques in the U.S., but it wasn’t until I did an apprenticeship in Australia where it all came together. Since I knew how to hand sew, the art of Millinery came naturally. From that point on, I completely switched gears and started creating hats. It has now been 12 years since I started making hats from my basement in Chicago and I’m grateful to now live in Louisville and have my own hat shop.
How did it feel to be named the Featured Milliner of the 2020 Kentucky Derby®?
It is an honor to be recognized as someone from Louisville for my craft of Millinery, as the Featured Milliner of the 146th Kentucky Derby® – only the 2nd Milliner to be featured in the history of the Derby. It is like winning the Miss America pageant for hats!
Where do you find the inspiration for your amazing hats and fascinators?
Because I grew up around a family that sewed, I had an appreciation for handmade things. I started collecting vintage hats to see how they were made and was fascinated by how each one was sewn a little differently than the next. I also adored (and still do) antiques. If antiques could talk – knowing their travels, who owned them, who loved them – it fascinates me. So when I learned about traditional hat making techniques on old wooden forms, I felt an immediate connection with the craft. In addition to finding inspiration in old artifacts, I also enjoy admiring the small details within an object. Whether that be looking at the tiny details in a leaf, the fuzz on moss, or the cracks in a cobble stone road.
Who would be your dream client to create a custom hat for?
I don’t know why, but this is always a hard question for me to answer. I am so grateful for all of my clients and the opportunity to make a living doing something that I am truly passionate about. Of course I would love to have every celebrity wear my hats, but the best way that I can answer this question would be, my dream client would consist of never falling short of new and repeat clients. I hope to always have a strong mind and creative spirit to continue having fresh hat ideas. It gives me great joy to help bring to the surface, confidence and beauty from within each person when they wear my hats. I honestly see a transformation within the person. They stand a little taller, they smile a little bigger, some even cry. This is why I do what I do. I enjoy working with those who have never worn a hat before, or think they do not look good in a hat. Everyone can wear a hat. It is a matter of working with a Milliner, like myself and trying on the right styles and wearing them the correct way. A slight tilt of the brim can make all of the difference. Once a person has found the right hat, seeing their confidence change, makes it all worth it. Like my motto states, “A hat can not only change your day, it can change your life”.
Photographer: Mary Margaret Smith
Stylist: Casey Snipes
Venue: Pursell Farms
Hats: Formé Millinery Co.
Paper: Dogwood Hill Collective
Food: Ashley Mac’s
Flowers: Huckleberry Collective
Table Cloth: India Amory