Mad hatter in Church Alley (Photo:cheap formal dresses)

Time honored traditions are often lost without new generations picking up the torch. Colby Hebert, 25, didn’t pick up his trade as a family business, he’s creating his own mark with a newly opened custom hat business in New Iberia.

With a passion for hats and fashion, Hebert may find he is the first hatter in Louisiana.

Hebert of the “big Hebert family,” was born and raised in New Iberia, the son of Kevin and Tina Landry Hebert. He is one of four children, the baby of the family. As a child he used anything and everything to play pretend. A bath towel might be pinned at the neck to become a cape — not the first or last child to act out as a super hero. He didn’t realize that as he grew older, the desire for costuming wouldn’t go away.

“I’ve always had a knack for costuming as a kid, growing up, dressing up and take pride in what I wear,” Hebert said.

After high school Hebert first worked for his father in investments, then became bartender at Clementine’s managing events like Mardi Gras. Eventually he decided he needed to do something he really wanted to do, something worth his time. He was passionate about was acting.

New Orleans was bustling in 2013 with more movies being filmed on location than in Los Angeles. It made perfect sense. He wouldn’t have to go all the way across the country, he could stay close to home.

“My brother was playing baseball at LSU and he knew this guy that took me under his wing,” Hebert said. “He told me the best place to learn was to get on the sets.”

At a film festival Hebert met a producer that was working on a small project in Slidell. When asked what Hebert could do, he quickly said costumes and set decoration. The fashion designer hired Hebert as an apprentice, but it was only the beginning.

Working in Louisiana and Mississippi as a costumer was a priceless experience, Hebert said.

“Working on a film set taught me about life in general. When you are your authentic, genuine self, people are going to like you and you can build friendships that can help you in other ways,” Hebert said.

Eight films in a couple of years provided great experience but the time was giving him background for what would ultimately ignite his passion.

“Getting into costuming enlightened me and made me realize how much more I was interested in fashion costuming than I thought. I’ve been such an artistic person in the performing arts so long, I never considered fashion or fashion design. I always loved to dress a certain way or follow fashion designers in movies, with accessories and hats. Working in costuming, I realized I was developing a knack for it.”

Hebert challenged himself during each movie project to exhibit through his own attire a full facet of fashion possibilities. By the end of every film people would begin to wonder what he would show up wearing.

“I starting being known for my fashion and my hats. This was before I made them,” Hebert said. “I’ve always worn them and been a big fan of hats, nice ones, vintage hats. First day on a set and people that knew me would say to people who didn’t, ‘This is the hat man’ or ‘the Cajun that wears the hats.’ ”

Hebert thought at the time the hats would be something that would make him memorable as an actor, and he is still open to the possibility. Little did he know, in the very near future, his hats would take on a character of their own.

“For me culture has been incredibly important and a driving force behind who I am and what I do,” Hebert said. “Finding a way to incorporate that into hat making is intriguing and challenging. Trying to use things like cypress or Spanish moss to make accessories on hats or my signature pin which is a Fleur de lis. Of course, what else would I use?”

The Date of Destiny

Sept. 10, 2015, Hebert was sitting upstairs on the third floor of his New Orleans apartment building scrolling through YouTube videos — procrastinating from studying lines for an acting class. All of sudden a video about a young hat maker he was familiar with came up.

“I was following him on the internet because he was doing really cool things with hats,” Hebert said. “I was thinking maybe one day I’d get him to make me one. It never occurred to me I’d be interested in doing it. I was just a hat fan.”

After watching the video, a lightning bolt hit him.

“That’s what I’m going to do,” Hebert said. “What that guy is doing, I’m going to do. It was one of those times where all of these different elements that had been parts of my life, that I was passionate about, but never knew how to add them up, became a product, an industry.”

Being a fan of hats, interested in fashion design and also the idea of an old craft or trade, interested him.

“It fits my whole persona. I’m a mad hatter. I’m just that kind of a person,” Hebert said. “I’m eccentric. It was perfect. I didn’t know how long it would take but I had a peace about it. It’s part of my life journey.”

Beginning the Journey

Researching online was only part of the journey to begin the career that fit Hebert. He said it was incredibly hard to find information and especially people in the hat making industry who would be willing to talk with him about the skills, tools and secrets of the trade. The research took more than nine months.

Out of the blue a friend approached Hebert asking for a custom-made hat. Amid concerns that he was not ready, knowing he didn’t have the equipment to begin, Hebert thought he could use shortcuts and get at least one made. Before long he had the steamer and the tools and realized he needed to get the proper techniques.

He called hat makers from the U.S., Canada and even Italy, but everybody was reluctant to share their knowledge. A bit here, a little more there and Hebert was piecing his own process together. Eventually, he found a mentor.

In the spring of 2016, Hebert found a hatmaker who had tools and equipment for sale. When he called, the man suggested coming to his shop and within 30 minutes, Hebert had bought a plane ticket to Salt Lake City.

“That basically served as a platform for me to put the puzzle pieces together,” Hebert said. “When I got to Utah and saw what he had and his methods, I had more detail than I even needed to take to Utah. I had found a great mentor I could ask questions without him shutting me down.”

Before the first year anniversary of defining his passion, Hebert was in business. In July 2016 he made his first hat in New Iberia. In the first three months of business he’s made approximately 50 hats. Men and women have purchased his designs — all ages and races.

Defining the Brand

Hebert will produce all styles, but believes the generation that will define his brand will like hats that reflect rebellious and eccentric ways to wear hats. He further described them as taking a fine, well made hat and basically destroying it with aging and distressing giving it a whole new character. It makes the hats look worn even when they are new. The technique was learned by Hebert while he was doing costuming.

“You have this kind of character that sets it apart and people want to incorporate it into their fashion,” Hebert said. “It’s like wearing jeans with holes in them or boots that look like they’ve been through Iraq.”

The final stage before finishing the hats, Hebert attaches a silk lining with his logo. The brand name is of the maker — Colby Hébert Chapeaux — the French word for hats. The first edition silk linings include a slogan that will stay with the brand — Handmade on the Bayou.

“In some ways, the aging and the character will be somewhat Cajun, dusty like it’s just come out of the swamp,” Hebert said. “They literally tell me what they want the hat to ‘seem’ to be — like being chased by the Rougarou through the cane fields. The point is they want a hat that has a story. That’s what I’m trying to do, tell the story of the Cajuns and myself.”

Hebert said both men and women are ordering hats. Some can appear very feminine but a dressed, fur felt hat is traditionally a man’s hat. Overall that’s what the women want to wear, he said. A third or half of his customers are ordering another hat when picking one up. Some customers have come from as far away as New Orleans.

“Now that I’ve actually made hats, I am being followed by the hatter community,” Hebert said. “Mostly they are 100 percent fur felt bought right here in the U.S. The crazy thing, in a small town like this, I’ve been very busy. If people catch on, we can start bringing hats back.”

The raw hat body is basically a piece of fur that is felted together in a process of curing the fur. Wool felt is very common and easily found but the wool could lose its shape when it rains. With true quality hats, it is best to use rabbit or beaver fur. Hebert said rabbit felt hats are probably going to outlive the wearer, but a beaver hat may outlive their children.

Making History

Speaking with an elderly family member of a well established hat shop in New Orleans, Hebert suspects he might be New Iberia’s first true hatmaker and perhaps the first in the state.

From what he has been able to research, the hat shop family business dates back to the 1800s. According to the elder, even in the heydays of wearing hats, there were no hat makers in the city. The shops purchased hats from designers throughout the world and simply sold them to customers.

“I’m about 90 percent sure that New Orleans has never had a hat maker,” Hebert said. “If they haven’t had one since the 1800s, it’s likely they never had one before. In the 1920s to 1940s is when they were really shipping hats out.”

Whether Hebert maintains a shop in New Iberia’s Church Alley or eventually opens in New Orleans, the probability that Hebert is the first hatmaker in Louisiana is very high. Already, he is making a mark with his “Handmade on the Bayou” hats by Colby Hébert Chapeaux. The brand that carries his name fits, and so do his hats.Read more at:formal dresses online