Fiona Bennett, hat designer – a Berlin story

Fiona Bennett is not only the most successful but also the most extraordinary milliner in Germany. Her hats adorned the cover of Vogue, all the major fashion magazines refine their photo shoots with her creations. Celebrities around the globe wear Fiona Bennett’s hats. Her visions know no boundaries: she creates costumes for theatre and film as well as sculptures, designs rooms and is a successful entrepreneur and a member of the “International Women’s Forum“. The history of her city is reflected in Fiona Bennett’s unwavering journey.

When Fiona Bennett started her apprenticeship to become a milliner, Berlin was divided by a wall. She spent most of her life there, a child of this strange island West Berlin, a place like no other at that time. The Berlin Wall fell and opened unknown and unexpected rooms, it was a new city and the creatives were among the first to conquer it. Fiona Bennett moved into an old soap factory in the formerly eastern district “Mitte“ and there she created her own cosmos. Hats, which were always more than decor, wearable art pieces which are like the beginning of a story, make the moods and the world a little more beautiful. Her studio was in a dusty backyard, it should not be a hiding place, it was a melting pot of artists and many wild ideas. Vivienne Westwood was there, she took the designer with her to the University of the Arts as a lecturer.

The backyards of the city were gradually plastered fresh, the Berlin centre showed a new face. There Fiona Bennett opened her first shop in 1999, the showcase of a delicate secret behind the floating hats, like dream images in a showcase wall. Galleries moved to the area, small extraordinary boutiques, trendy restaurants, the obstinacy of Berlin had acquired a touch of glamor. Everyone passed by at Fiona Bennett’s shop to carry home unique creations in black and white striped hatboxes: Christina Aguilera, Katie Holmes, Brad Pitt, Veruschka … The German nobility had long discovered her creations to be well advised at weddings and other social occasions.

As the small, fine district degenerated into a mass of hype, the time of good secrets was over. The store in Mitte closed and the mass-producers took over. However, since 2011 Berlin once again has a stage for the designer’s entire universe. Along with her partner Hans-Joachim Böhme she gave a new perspective to an old arterial road that knows quite a range of stories: Potsdamer Straße, an east-west axis with real local flavour: old-established Turkish supermarkets, sex shops, snack bars, a variety theatre. But also: newly awakened Art Boulevard with genuine suspense.

In the middle of it: the Fiona Bennett paradise hat store. Large windows, an invitation. A showcase workshop, so that everyone can know what is behind the wonderful creations. And how important for the designer, she gives craft a future. In front of the public the milliners create flowers, bows, magic that graces the hats. Each hat and decor for a hat by Fiona Bennett is handmade. And the entire work lives from her endless creativity. Dissimilar techniques, unusual materials, she creates her own patterns and fabrics. Every collection is a journey into unknown territory for Fiona Bennett. She has been folded origami figures made of silk for a collection or shaped cowboy hats from Sinamay. She refined classical forms with her own charm, takes the strict appearance of men hats and takes pompous severity off at hats for the big show. With lightness and playful joy, she has dusted off the headgear. Nevertheless, their creations preserve the dignity and the natural pride that accompanies true beauty. You are not disguised, but dressed. If you are smart enough to wear a hat by Fiona Bennett.

Many other ideas are growing in Bennett’s mind and inspired by a free spirit that needs no categories. Her creations have always had a certain sculptural power within them. Surreal, profound and light at the same time. She let them grow into pieces of art, her hat-sculpture “Nosedive“ was part of the 2016 exhibition “Surrealism & Beyond“ at the museum Bojmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam. For a group showing at “Kornversuchsspeicher“ – a contemporary art space in Berlin – she created “Nosedive II“, a visually overwhelming installation. A Bird of Paradise measuring several meters sank into a broken mirror, its fragments showed reflections of its spectators and surroundings.

The sense of beauty and the will for expression in Fiona Bennett’s work keeps finding new fields and demanding new room. 2017 marked the opening of the interior-dream conceived by Fiona Bennett and her partner Hans-Joachim Böhme at Berlin variety theatre “Wintergarten“. In the redesigned washrooms measuring 270 square meters the two have let tons of mosaic stones gleam, floating glass balls shimmer and feathers in the wind decorate the mirror images of visitors.

In 2019 “SEIN am Schloss“ was opened in a former commercial building of Schloss Mühlheim. Fiona Bennett served as the creative director for the redesign project led by Annette von Enzberg- Pieper, the lady of the castle. It is meant to serve as a meeting point, an oasis of natural health for yoga, pilates and massages as well as a centre for unconventional thinkers of medicine and philosophy. It carries the creative handwriting of an unmistakably unique innovator that doesn’t know stagnation. Because for her there is nothing more fascinating than reshaping materials over and over again. Whether it is a hat or a whole world.

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