A wonderful story by Doreen Carvajal in today’s New York Times: “A Spanish Hat Factory Thrives on Orders From a Finicky Brooklyn.” The Fernández y Roche hat factory in Seville has survived the changing fortunes of hat-wearing by catering to a very specialized community, the Satmar Hasids of Jerusalem and Brooklyn:
The hats for the Orthodox Jewish market are not listed in any catalog or Web site. The three popular models make distinctive fashion statements summed up by their names: Bent Up, Snap Brim and the Clergy, which lacks a crease in the crown and is bound around the brim.
“It may seem like they are all very similar black hats, but actually this group has its own fashions,” Mr. García said. “Styles are constantly evolving with a crown that is higher or lower or a brim that is wider or narrower.”
Those barely perceptible differences in plain black hats are important markers, according to Ester Muchawsky-Schnapper, the curator of a popular exhibit that is drawing 800 people a day at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on the lives and customs of Hasidic Jews, including the Satmar sect and their hats.
Some groups wear hats with satin ribbons around the crown that fold into a bow on the right side while others wear it on the left, said Ms. Muchawsky-Schnapper, adding that these differences reflect the choices of the groups’ leaders and members. Brims are a decisive feature.
“You can differentiate the different groups by their hats,” she said, noting that another Hasidic sect, the Lubavitchers, draws meaning from a triangle-shaped crease at the crown, which signifies “wisdom, knowledge and understanding.” The Satmars in Jerusalem wear a very flat hat of rabbit hair, which is more velvety than the Satmar hats in New York, she said.
I absolutely love this stuff (in which I was tutored by my late friend Allan Herman; see my earlier post on shtreimels).
Of interest on the “language” side of LH: the hat names biretta, saturno, and cordobés and the fact that the shortened form by which the hat maker is known, Roche, is similar to rosh, the Hebrew word for ‘head.’