In his teens, Canham-Bennett began collecting and wearing hats as he developed a personal style that evokes a time when people dressed each day with a greater purpose and care. When a close neighbour died, Canham- Bennett was given the old man’s mid-century, misshaped Akubra. He soaked it in water and reshaped the fabric, his first taste of a fading art form that would capture his imagination.
The hats Canham-Bennett crafts in his studio are no ordinary hats. Each is constructed with the finest materials – beaver or rabbit felt from Europe, coloured dyes, soft leather sweatbands made in New York, and feathers, vintage ribbons, fabrics and trims collected from online forums and shops around the world. From this collection of materials, Canham-Bennett creates hats of detail and elegance, knowing, seemingly intuitively, what trims to pair with a certain style and colour, when to pare back and when to add something more.
Soon after completing a course in millinery
at TAFE, which concentrated on women’s headwear, Canham-Bennett shifted his
focus to men’s hats. He read old books on traditional hat-making techniques, connected with the small global and even smaller Australian community of hatmakers on online forums, and eventually visited the United States for seven weeks, travelling far and wide to connect with hatters.
“I roamed around without a plan, meeting with someone in Los Angeles who’d connect me with a guy in San Diego and so on,” he says.
“I visited this one hat maker in Kansas City who was like a character from an old film.
He dressed in the old west style, chewed tobacco and approached hat making in a very traditional way. Spending time with him was eye-opening.”