By Brigid Morrissey

Sarah comes up with ideas for new hat designs effortlessly. Photos by Melissa Donald 

When your favorite childhood toys were paper, scissors, and tape, you know you could be destined for a career in crafting. Sarah Havens grew up in an artistic household. How did that influence her future career?

She was raised by a single mother who had a job as an art teacher and now is trying her hand at printmaking. “I am close to my mom,” Sarah says. “I would go to school with her, and I grew up in a house full of friends and creatives. My mom has always been encouraging of my creative side.”

Sarah, 44, carried her love of art through high school where she took classes to learn figure drawing and painting. But it wasn’t until she got to college at Eastern Kentucky University that she realized her passion for theater production. Always a theater spectator but never one for the limelight, Sarah enjoyed costume design and prop work. “There are no parameters,” she says. “[I create] clothing for characters from all different walks of life and time periods. I enjoyed learning about our past through costume.”

Desiring a “hands-on” career path, she earned a BFA in theater arts, a major she created herself, and a minor in clothing construction. But one specific clothing item piqued her interest more than anything else. Millinery, the business of making or selling women’s hats, was a way for Sarah to express herself while testing her problem-solving skills.

Sarah’s talent as a hat designer hasn’t gone unnoticed. 

We were sitting in a cozy little corner of her space in the Hopes Mills Building in Germantown when she summarized some of her work with a simple phrase: “The more spectacular, the better.”

But why hats? “They’re sculptural, and when people try them on, it makes them happy,” Sarah says. “Hats complement a person’s face, and his or her face is the first thing you see.” Another reason? She’s pretty darn good at it. Designing hats comes easily for Sarah because one idea for a hat leads to another. She says her favorite hats tell a story, and she never runs short on inspiration.

Little topper made with straw and leather.
Sarah’s hat designs are a combination of old and new styles.

Sarah thrives off of creativity.
The toque is an old fashion hat style.

Heavily influenced by the women’s suffrage movement in the 1920s, Sarah borrows styles from that time period to instill the confidence those women possessed in those who don her hats today. Not only does Sarah take pride in her ability to transform vintage styles into new and innovative looks, but she’s aware of the necessity to keep a wearer’s ears and neck warm. Practicality stays in the forefront of her mind.

Some of Sarah’s more recent inspiration came from an unsuccessful relationship. “No man can make you happy,” she says. “You have to do what makes you happy. Art feeds my well-being, and my creativity makes me me.”

Sarah gets satisfaction from being able to add some flare to a woman’s wardrobe through designing hats.

Doing what makes her happy has also led to some notable projects. Sarah has designed costumes and props for the Santa Fe Opera and The Costume Company, and she freelanced for Actors Theatre of Louisville and the Louisville Ballet before earning a full-time position for the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Now with her current business, Sarah Havens Millinery, Sarah creates ready-made and customized hats for men, women, and children. Her hats have been on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in Louisville she has had shows at the Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft and at the Convention Center.

Dampening the wool before reshaping the hat
Steaming the hat
Stretching the hat over the crown
Strapping down the wool to the crown block 

Sarah uses hat blocks for forming the hats.

Another incentive to set up shop in Louisville? That horse race in the spring. “With the Derby, people are thinking about hats once a year,” Sarah says. “This town supports the arts. I don’t think I’d be able to do it anywhere else.”