During the Depression in Vienna, it was not uncommon for the Viennese to keep rabbits and chickens on their apartment balconies—not only for food but also for their skins and feathers. Klaus Mühlbauer, the fourth-generation owner of Mühlbauer, remembers his grandparents speaking about the ladies who would come into the family millinery to exchange five rabbit skins for one new hat.
For four generations, the Mühlbauer family has been cloaking the heads of fashionable Austrians and, in the process, the family-owned business has become one of Vienna’s most recognizable luxury brands. As a “hat maker to the stars,” Mühlbauer has “hatted” numerous celebrities such as Madonna, Brad Pitt, Lady Gaga, Victoria Beckham, and Kate Moss.
“The fascination for making hats lies in designing for the most visible part of the human body, the head,” contends Mühlbauer who has been managing the company since 2001. The great-grandson of the founder was in no hurry to assume the family millinery mantle—at least not until his own youthful rebellion was followed by an epiphany regarding the beauty of artisanal craftsmanship. As Mühlbauer states, “The combination of sure instinct and knowhow can result in true wonders of creation: endowing style and identity.”
Groundbreaking in design and flawless in their craftsmanship, Mühlbauer hats are produced at the Mühlbauer atelier on Hafnersteig in central Vienna where an amiable atmosphere is underscored by the seriousness of focus. The gifted millinery team executes the visions of designers Nora Berger and Madeleine Bujatti who collaborate with Mühlbauer. Materials are sourced worldwide—but every hat is handmade in the Vienna workshop using traditional artisanal methods.
The creation of a felt or straw hat commences with a hat cone that adorns a wooden hat block, whereupon the raw material is shaped and steamed. Still damp, the hat heads to the oven to be dried before heading to the trimming department to be decorated and stitched. With hats of such exceptional quality, it’s small wonder that Mühlbauer’s loyal customers include Meryl Streep and Yoko Ono. More than 60% of the hats produced in the Viennese workshop depart for international destinations and renowned stores around the globe.
Originally founded in 1903 by Julianna Mühlbauer who opened a small millinery and shop in the Viennese suburb of Floridsdorf, the business became synonymous with high quality when her eldest son, Robert, took the reins of the company. With the evolution of post-World War II haberdashery and the diminished demand for hats, Mühlbauer broadened its range to include apparel. But it was a hat collection inspired by traditional Austrian costumes that initially generated international interest and sales.
Sensing the zeitgeist and the desire for brand heritage, Klaus Mühlbauer has shepherded the traditional hatmaker back to its headgear roots. The expansion of the brand’s global reach has coincided with a heightened awareness amongst fashion’s elite.
For its Autumn/Winter 2016/17 collection, Mühlbauer focused on the theme “Nations United.” As Mühlbauer suggests, the Unity collection is the house’s “modest contribution to world peace” in which various icons of headwear such as the fez, turban, bowler hat, top hat, and beret have been translated into a contemporary, urban language that cuts across time and national borders.
As has become a Mühlbauer tradition, every hat from the Mühlbauer workshops is decorated with its iconic hat pin, a sweeping M that epitomizes the company’s values and commitment to quality.