Celebrity-favourite handcrafted hats
If you trust Brad Pitt, Meryll Streep or George Clooney's sense of style (who doesn't?), you will put Mühlbauer's hats on your Christmas wish list. Klaus Mühlbauer gives us even more reasons in this interview.
Mühlbauer is a household name in the Austrian capital but Tokyo, Paris or Seoul are no strangers to their creations. Ever since Klaus Mühlbauer got at the helm of the family business, new horizons have opened up to their high end products – horizons that include frequent visits from Brad Pitt’s stylist and occasional orders from Yoko Ono and Madonna. If that tempted you into finding out more, we grabbed a word with the company’s owner and designer about everything Mühlbauer and a few travel tips for your next visit to Vienna.
When did you fell in love with millinery? Did you ever consider not following the family tradition?
There were two moments.
After graduation, I did not know immediately what to study. Thus I decided to start an apprenticeship as a hatter and milliner without any great expectations. During these two years I fell in love with the craft. At the end of the day you can be proud of what you have produced.
In 2001 I took over the company of my parents and after 3-4 years where hardly no stone remained on the other, there was the moment when I knew this is exactly my thing. And when you realize that you have success you fall in love with your brand and your products also a little more.
How did you refresh a century-old brand and keep it at the top of an ever-changing industry?
I took the best of the company’s past, the brand name, the history and the facilities. Unlike my parents, who besides handmade hats also sold apparel I concentrated completely and exclusively on our crafted hats. The central message for the brand from this moment on was and still is: “Mühlbauer stands for handmade headwear from Vienna”, which was well received by our national and international clients.
Mühlbauer stands for handmade headwear from Vienna!
Following this key message we redefined our product line and established a comprehensive CI and CD leading the way to how we present the products in our stores or how our online presence looks like.
What is your brand signature, how can your product be recognised and traced back to Vienna?
First of all you see the brand´s trademark, the swinging M on all of our products. To describe our products without seeing and touching it is not that easy. I would say Mühlbauer headwear is characterized by its refined simplicity. But what looks simple is often the result of a quite complicated process of production.
Mühlbauer headwear is characterized by its refined simplicity.
For us it is important that the product is very comfortable, light, uncomplicated, so you can wrap it well and therefore easy to pack or use while travelling. The combination of simplicity and refinement with a hint of irony sometimes.
How would you describe a typical Mühlbauer customer and are there differences between customers from Austrian and from abroad?
Our customers rather come from an urban environment, be it in Tokyo, New York or Vienna. They are both women and men from all ages, starting in their mid to end twenties up to an older age. It´s often funny to see in one of our stores a young chic woman next to an 80 year old grandpa trying our hats and chatting and consulting each other.
What is your source of inspiration when you start creating a new collection?
I am constantly surrounded by ideas and inspiration while travelling or if I just stroll through Vienna. When I see something that inspires me I write it quickly in my notebook or my mobile phone. Creation is a constant process although of course we do SS and AW collections and also capsule collections in between.
We also co-create products with and for labels like Lena Hoschek, Wolgang Joop’s Wunderkind or with Japanese designer Yoshio Kubo. Most of the time they give us a detailed briefing about their ideas and we advise them on the possible cuts and shapes of the new creations. The final products are then usually co-branded.
You have gained recognition at an international level, including some celebrity customers, but was it difficult to adapt to a global audience, did you change your products or your style?
It is important to find your own signature and not to deny your own origins and heritage. You can easily see the difference between our headwear and hats from British or Italian manufactories. Our Viennese hats are a mixture of Eastern and Western identity like the capital of the ancient Austro Hungarian empire was a melting pot of nations until a century ago. I am convinced that the more concise and clear your signature is the more successful you´ll be internationally.
Since handcraft is at the core of your work, is it possible for clients to visit your workshop? Do you also do bespoke creations?
We already have done a lot of workshops and I also give lectures. Most frequently we do tours of our atelier, which is easy for us and an excellent way to present our craft to an interested national or international crowd and potential new customers. In this way they see how cool and sexy a Mühlbauer hat can look like.
What are the best souvenirs that a fashion enthusiast visiting Vienna can buy in your store and beyond?
Definitely a Mühlbauer hat.
Other souvenirs that I recommend are for example handmade chocolates from Altmann und Kühne, their charming store is located at the Wiener Graben. A pair of shoes from rosamosa, they are handmade, technically perfect and with a strong identity. A piece from High Fashion and Avantgarde-Jewelry by Florian, both shoes and jewelry you can find in the boutique Die Nachbarin in Gumpendorfer Straße. Bags by Bradaric Ohmae, especially the leather bag with the famous “Wiener Geflecht”. A nice souvenir can also be found in the St. Charles pharmacy, where I always find nice little things. But pay attention not to spend a fortune there (smiles). Finally a glass from Lobmeyr is a Viennese classic and with this souvenir you never be wrong.
What do you think is Vienna’s unique mark on the world of fashion and artisans? Are traditional crafts still alive on the streets of the city?
There is a certain Viennese elegance, a bit more relaxed like the French one but of course not so accurate like the Italian style.
On an international level Vienna still has a reputation for craftsmanship. There are quite many local artisans especially in the first district of Vienna and within the nearby neighbourhoods where they are confronted with horrendous rents. That’s the reason why some of them had to close their shops or move to secondary roads while the high streets are now filled with international labels like in any bigger city.
From a fashion insider’s perspective, what hotspots in Vienna would you recommend to us? Maybe an elegant restaurant or bar, a stylish spa, a jewellery store, an artisan shop, an independent boutique that we shouldn’t miss…
I would start with a visit in the Mühlbauer atelier. Then I would go over the Danube Canal to Praterstraße and visit Wubet, the small shop where Arnold Haas sells his wonderfull scarfs. Just next door you find Song, one of the best independent boutiques in Vienna. After taking a coffee at Café Ansari visit the Karmelitermarkt; one shop I love there is Höttinger, that also does the catering for our parties. In their shop you can find a assortment of excellent cheese, ham, olive oil and wine.
For lunch I recommend a few places. Anyone who wants to quickly and easily eat a Wiener Schnitzel goes to Schöne Perle. If you like Pizza then visit Pizza Mari, both restaurants are located in the Leopoldsgasse. For fans of Asian food visit Mochi or try a Sushi from Mochi Takeaway.
In this neighbourhood in the 2nd Viennese district you can also have excellent dinner either at Skopik and Lohn where you can enjoy the great works of art by Otto Zitko or at Das Engel, a Viennese classic.
On your way back to the city center, take the stairs up to Ruprechtskirche into the Judengasse and on your way eat a fantastic Matjeshering at Salzamt. Then visit the beautiful shops at Tuchlauben, my personal favourite is the Vivienne Westwood boutique and then enjoy a Viennese coffee at the legendary Café Korb. Other great stores in the first district are for handmade chocolate Altmann & Kühne (Graben), for nice jewelry at Köchert, for beautiful eyeglasses at Mykita (both at Hoher Markt), for handmade glasses Lobmeyr (Kärnternstraße) and for hats of course our Mühlbauer flagship store in Seilergasse. At the end of the day take a drink at the famous Loos Bar.
Finally I recommend a short walk from the city to the 7th district where on your way you pass by at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, a must see there is the famous Gemäldegallerie. Within the 7th district visit our new store in the Neubaugasse and our neighbour shu, who offers a great assortment of fashionable shoes like the ones from rosamosa. Right around the corner in Mondscheingasse you find Park, where you always get very nice advice on avant-garde fashion. Also on Neubaugasse you can visit the bags store from Swiss brand Freitag. Finally don’t miss Kohlmaier store for an exquisite collection of home textiles. It is a nice store but you need to ring at the door to get in.
What are your plans for the upcoming years?
We have plenty of plans. On the one hand in the online sector, we want to further develop our website and especially our webshop. Also we want to put a stronger focus on social media.
On the other hand we want to open three to four additional stores within the next years. They can be located in the Alpine region like in Kitzbühel, Lech or St. Moritz and/or abroad in cities like Munich, Hamburg but maybe also Paris, London, Tokyo or Seoul, depending on finding the right partners locally.
Anyway, I think that the combination of our retail stores and our online activities works very well. Today many customers who first bought their hats in our stores now also order online and on the other way round also many customers first examine the models in our online store, order them and then pick it up at our retail stores. Thus strengthening and expanding our own retail stores and our online activites is a primary goal for the future.
Thank you for the interview and the insights on your and Vienna´s master craftsmanship. To learn more about the company´s history and the outstanding products we recommend to take a look at their book 111 Darlings A Hat book.
For your next trip to Vienna don´t miss Klaus Mühlbauer´s Insider Guide featuring great artisan stores and excellent tips for a coffee break, lunch or dinner. You won´t regret it.