Chapeau Savant Sarah Sokol Revolutionizes A Forgotten Mastery

Sokol sits down with V to unwind on industry icons, design staples, and her latest “Grace” Collection

“I got a call from Tina Knowles,” designer Sarah Sokol reminisces. Rubbing elbows with industry heavyweights, millinery genius Sokol embarks on her era of all things crafty and eclectic with her widely acclaimed heady headpieces. Decamping fashion’s contemporary interests and painting herself an intrinsic niche in the academy of hat-making, Sokol’s designs reveal themselves as liberating masterpieces. “I love doing millinery and being a part of this field that is almost like a lost art,” shared the chapeau savant.

“I wish for people to follow their dreams. Like, figure out a way to do it, even if that means you have to start by getting coffee, start by getting coffee.”

From her visual hallmarks created for Beyonce, Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, Janelle Monae, Billy Porter, and more, Sokol’s broadly-brimmed staple pieces enlighten us on the charm of a long-lost mastery. Set ablaze during her days as a Burning Man ingenue, Sokol’s piercing pieces are weaved with enthusiasm and fused in massive emotion. As her collections continue to claim the limelight, Sokol’s bonafide presence is quickly becoming an industry fascination. 

Sarah Sokol, image courtesy of The Residency Experience

VMagazine: Let’s start from the beginning. What sparked your interest in getting into the millinery business? 

Sarah Sokol: Burning Man. In 2013, I went to one for the first time, and my passion grew from there. I started going to burner parties every month and fully designing my costumes, from the headpiece down. Eventually, I was like, ‘Okay, what can I do with this new passion?’ I later read this book called Couture Hats, quit my job in commercial kitchen designing, started my millinery training, and have been doing this ever since. 

V: Those types of environments breed so much creativity. Every time I have been to those events, I come back so inspired. Who would you say are some of your favorite design maestros, in hatmaking or otherwise?

SS: In millinery, definitely Steven Jones and Philip Tracy, but in a fashion sense, Iris van Herpen, Schiaparelli, and of course, Dior. Until recently, hats were the biggest part of every fashion house, especially during the fifties and sixties. Like the majority of fashion designers, they started as a milliner. 

V: Absolutely, I mean Maria Grazia Chiuri has always made hats such a vocal point for her Dior Cruise collections. What would you consider to have been your big break?

SS: In December 2018, I did Cardi B’s “Money” music video. By 2019, things had really taken off, and I started achieving practically everything I could–Red Carpets, Fashion Weeks, working with Christian Cowan and Christian Siriano, and then Janelle Monae’s Met Gala design. 

(Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic via Getty Images)

V: I remember Janelle’s hat was like the talk of the 2019 red carpet. That must have felt surreal. How was the experience working with Janelle? 

SS: The Gala was so exciting. It was my first time working with Christian on designs, and Janelle was the first celebrity I had ever met, so I had a lot of nerves. She was so kind to work with, and she immediately loved the hat. I work with her now on a lot of projects.

V: Which project took the longest to complete and why?

SS: The longest was Billy Porter’s Grammy hat. It was a crystal curtain hat that opened and closed. I actually have some exciting news on that topic. I just heard that Billy will wear the Grammy outfit for his new wax figure at Madame Toussades. 

(Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for The Recording Academy via Getty Images)

V: This is big news. I can’t imagine how that will feel seeing your name on that plaque alongside the figure. Congratulations. Did you find that some of your clients were more open to experimentation than others? If so, who?

SS: It usually works in a couple of different ways. It’s either someone comes to me with a firm idea of their design, or they will throw me a few keywords, do some designs, or give me absolute creative freedom. Janelle is definitely the most hands-on in terms of ‘I know what I’m like.’ Regardless though, they have to trust me. *mm-hmm* 

V: What has been your overall favorite design?

SS: Probably Janelle’s Met Gala design, Billy’s Grammy hat, or Beyonce’s design for Black Is King. It’s hard to separate the hat from experience. For Janelle, it was like my first red carpet experience – my first Met Gala, my first time working with a celebrity one-on-one. I’ll never forget when Tina Knowles called me, I ended up working with her, and then through the Residency, I worked with Marni on some of Beyonce’s Renaissance looks.

V: You pour your heart into your designs, and it definitely reflects in your work. I understand you just dropped your latest “Grace” collection. Please tell us a little bit about that.

SS: I named the collection after my best friend, Ariana Grace Santoriello. My previous collection was called the Esther collection, which was inspired by and named after my grandmother. I really have come to like this theme of naming collections after important women in my life. For the “Grace” drop,  I used heavy-duty millinery felt. The only other felt I’ve ever found was craft felt, where I used millinery felt scraps from previous hats I blocked. I started making these shapes and fell in love with all the colors; some even have an almost stained glass pattern. 

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