Imagine walking into a hat shop and walking out with not only a new hat, but a new passion. This is exactly what happened when Tyler Grimmett visited a high-end hat shop in Aspen, Colorado, in 2019.
“I stopped in to buy a hat and had such a great experience,” he remembered. “That shop is a big operation — they have 100 hats on the wall, which are all premade. You have drinks as you try on the hats and you’re able to customize it to a certain extent, whether that is trimming the brim or adding embellishments. I thought to myself that there really isn’t anything like this in Oklahoma.”
Grimmett, who admits he’s always been interested in fashion, went home to Norman and started his deep dive. While other people learned to play an instrument or make sourdough bread during the 2020 quarantine, Grimmett learned to make hats. He began by reading everything he could, including a book written in 1919 on the science and art of building fur felt hats. He visited online forums and discussed hatmaking with other collectors, restorers and occasionally, fellow hatmakers. He quickly learned that seasoned hatmakers tend not to extend a helping hand.
“It’s a trade, using the same techniques and tools since the early 1900s. Their tricks are learned from trial and error, and they don’t want to share their secrets or their suppliers,” he said.
But Grimmett carried on, purchasing the tools and materials he needed, eventually making his first hat. By the end of 2020, he was in contact with an established hatmaker in Pennsylvania, and was off for a two-week immersive study. Two years later, what started as a passion project has turned into a successful part time business, operating with a six-month waiting list.
The business, Memphis + Louie, was named after Grimmett’s two sons. It offers completely hand-crafted hats, from the traditional western style to the trendier flat-brim, individually constructed out of beaver felt imported from Portugal.
The hatmaking process begins with a fitting. A tool called a conformer is used to measure the size and shape of the wearer’s head. From there, a wood block is created to tailor the hat to these exact specifications. Totaling about 12 hours a piece over multiple days, Grimmett personally creates each hat. This includes hand-steaming, blocking, pouncing (sanding), fitting with a sheepskin leather sweatband, shaping and then finishing the hat to the customer’s requests. Turquoise, silver and grosgrain or Petersham ribbon — all vintage — can be added as embellishments once the hat is constructed.
“What sets me apart from other local hat shops is that mine are truly custom, using the highest quality materials on the market,” said Grimmett. “I never make the same hat twice. My hats are heirloom pieces that will last a lifetime. They should be considered wearable art.”
Though an oil and gas man by day, he has big plans for Memphis + Louie. He is renovating an Airstream to serve as his shop where he will do all of his fittings, opening Spring 2024. Eventually, he plans to offer ready-to-wear hats in his shop and on his website, where he then can make minor adjustments and add custom embellishments.
And while Grimmett spends much of his free time working on his custom order hats, his first priority is the boys responsible for the Memphis + Louie name. “My family is my happy place.”