What is a lady without a hat or at least “What would a real skipper be without a matching hat?” This is – so true – the first statement on his website.
In the traditional shop of “Cap-maker Eisenberg” you can still buy handmade caps from his successor Lars Küntzel. The Hamburg company, which has existed since 1892, still produces tailor-made caps for everyone from fine fabrics on old sewing machines from the 1920s according to old original patterns. Hats or caps like the “Elbe Sailor” or “Elbpilot” have become an integral part of Hamburgs and other Hanseatic cities as classics. Celebrities such as Henning Voscherau, ex-boxing champion Max Schmeling and, above all, ex-Chancellor Helmut Schmidt had their headgears manufactured by him. Even in his role as the governing mayor of Hamburg, Schmidt came by from the nearby town hall often enough to choose his “Elbe pilot” or an alternative model.
A total of 18 different types of caps and lots of special models are available, which can be individually adapted to the wearer’s head if necessary and made by hand in the small attached studio locted in the Steinstrasse. Most consist of more than 20 individual parts and can be customized with many extras such as lining material, name label, color, lid height or cord decoration, etc.
If you enter the small shop, which looks simple from the outside, you will notice old posters, lots of black and white photos and many small showcases, drawers and shelves. Caps of all kinds are stacked up to the ceiling and stored in each corner. Should there be a sorting system according to shape, color, size, material, season, etc., this remains Master Küntzel’s secret. But you can choose in peace.
When Lars Küntzel stitches on the ancient Pfaff sewing machines in his studio, a pair of French bulldogs watch over the balls of woolen fabrics and marine cloth, as well as hundreds of rolls of thread, anchor buttons and borders. The dogs spend their hours calmly in the shop and reinforce the feeling that time stands still. The male dog “Hannes” always remains vigilant and sometimes makes noise so that nobody comes too close to his master and the “treasures”.
Since I’m always looking for something special, I quickly get into a conversation with him. Actually, he only sells men’s hats. Oh, well – my husband also loves caps like these and unisex style is always trendy.
First I try various classics, but then I dare to give a description of my favourite cap. Now his imagination and expertise are awakened and we talk shop about a kind of stewardess or French uniform barrett. All of a sudden, our mutual gaze falls on a light gray bellboy cap, because some of the luxury hotels in Hamburg still dress part of it’s staff with uniforms – including the classic bellhops. And these hats for drivers or liftboys are also often manufactured/ ordered here.
The model basically corresponds to the classic “pillbox hat” that Jacky Kennedy in particular often wore. Depending on its size and placement on the head, it can act like a fascinator and offers a wide range of design options. The elongated shape resembles the aforementioned “barrett” or a stewardess cap.
We quickly discuss the details and some ideas for the redesign. A little cord here, a button there, possibly some tulle lace as fashion chic in front and so on … the result remains to be seen, because manufacturing takes him at least 4-6 weeks.
Talking to Lars Küntzel about his craft is simply informative and fun. With Hanseatic composure, he always gets to the point in a helpful manner and also has many anecdotes to tell. For example, it is said that there used to be sailors who kept their caps wet in a rubber boot for one night before they fitted properly and developed an individual patina.
Lucky enough it is lunchtime and we are alone in the store. I would have loved to look over his shoulder a little longer while he is working on his caps. Incidentally, some models are real quick-change talents and can be changed from a dark blue winter to a white summer model with a click by replacing the top-cover. He has already sewn the “Elbe Sailor Model” in leather for a motorcyclist. Incidentally, he did not necessarily want to become a cap maker, but he always had the “strong fingers” required to practice this male profession.
If you want to know more about the cap-store, just plan a visit on occasion. In his product range he also carries ties, suspenders, gloves, scarves and marine jackets.
Lars Küntzel does everything to ensure that the 18 different Hanseatic caps will still look the same in 100 years’ time. The prerequisite for this, however, would be that a successor will be found in due time to pass on the secrets of the craft. The survival of his profession is, among other things, also depends on whether the Hanseatic people and other hat enthusiasts will continue to stick to this traditional fashion.
Almost the entire range of models is on display in the small shop window: “Prince Henry”, the models “Altona”, “Kiel”, “Elbe sailor” and “Pilot”, etc. The differences are marginal and mostly result from the size of the cap and the cap shield design. Furtheron if it is decorated with oak leave embroidery, a braided cord is added, or a twisted cord goes with a smaller shade shield. This seems to be marginal for strangers, but is essential for insiders.
Remark: Unpaid advertising