Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Hat Lady

In a small town to the South called Vauvert, situated on the National between St. Gilles and Aigues Mortes, lives a lady who makes the most glorious hats. She simply has a gift. Married at barely twenty to a vintner, mother of three energetic boys, she somehow found time for her art. In the beginning she painted on canvas. She later painted on materials of all sorts, made fantastical dresses (which she modeled with aplomb with her fabulous figure), and set out to discover other possibilities. After all, how do you set yourself apart as a woman with something of her own to offer the world when you live in a small town, you were raised knowing the hardships of the war, and you spend a good part of your time nourishing four males?

Hats. She started making hats. And they came. Her hats have been worn to the horse races in England, to the fashion shows in Paris, and to more weddings than I could begin to list. She has worked her way through agricultural materials -- what you might use to ward off the rabbits from a young sapling, or mosquito netting, or twine--; to vegetal materials, dried leaves and papers, feathers and flowers; and of course all those classic and less so materials such as silk, linen, wool, fleece, straw and string.

She's in books, she's done Paris, she's collaborated with colleagues to design store windows. She's a wonder, and a creative genius, and amazingly generous to boot.

Pinch yourself, you're not in the cave of Ali Baba, but the den of Yvonne Cabanis, a treasure trove of textures and possibilities. She's a local legend in her own time!.

Upon two ancient wooden head forms, creations are made. She sits there, almost daily, letting her imagination run wild. Boxes surround her of her creations, and of possible future bits and pieces. Many young women, their friends and their mothers, come to try on all that is possible, and perhaps have a personally designed hat made to wear with that once in a lifetime dress.

Yvonne particularly enjoys getting to know the person who will wear the hat, and designing especially for her and her outfit. Hours of chatting and mini-psychology sessions pass as the women share tidbits and sentiments, and Yvonne tweaks this, and irons that, and sews or pins this.. and voila, yet another chef d'oeuvre is produced in this seemingly chaotic, but ever so rich space behind the glass windows, just a hop away from her son's wine cellar.

Who would think such diverse activities could co-exist in this small town courtyard?

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