Luxury craftsmanship: Mühlbauer headwear

Interview with the acclaimed hat maker Klaus Mühlbauer

Portrait of Klaus Mühlbauer. Photographer: Magdalena Lepka.

Mühlbauer, the high-end hat maker from Vienna, is an internationally renowned brand selling throughout Europe, the USA, and Asian countries.

Klaus Mühlbauer represents the fourth generation of distinguished hat manufacturers. He took over a century-old family business established by his grandmother Julianna Mühlbauer, who in 1903 opened a small millinery with a shop attached in Vienna’s suburb, Floridsdorf.

Klaus acquired the handicraft of a hat maker and milliner during a classical apprenticeship in the family’s own millinery and presented his first hat collection in Paris in 1988. Klaus Mühlbauer has revived the company by concentrating on the company’s roots – the headwear and has given a new image to the brand and the collections.

In collaboration with designers Nora Berger and Madeleine Bujatti, Klaus Mühlbauer designs hat collections supported by a distinguished hat maker and millinery team in the Viennese factory. The most delicate handicraft and the best materials sourced worldwide come together to produce the exceptional quality. The hat is defined anew and freed from unpleasant associations and clichés. The focus is on the implicitness of headwear as a fashion accessory, and understanding the hat as a style tool, enabling individuality and fun in an environment of “globalised” fashion.

We are delighted to have an opportunity to ask Klaus Mühlbauer about his passion for traditional craftsmanship and the secrets of the brand’s success.

Could you, please, tell more about the Mühlbauer Hutmanufaktur? What is its philosophy and the signature style?

Every hat is handmade in the Mühlbauer workshop in Vienna using traditional artisan methods. We know the very best quality in material and production can only be created by hand.

We see hats as an element of everyday’s fashion which is combined with clothes we are wearing. This may vary from very elegant to more easy going or casual, from cold weather to warm weather. We want to dress people with our hats, not disguise them. We are doing fashion, not costume. Our interest is to move hat fashion forward, to permanently try and experiment new shapes, new materials and ways to wear hats.

Mühlbauer flagship store in Vienna. Photo Credit: Mühlbauer.

What was your route to millinery? What is your background?

My milliner’s career is the result of disorientation when I came out of school. I thought, before doing nothing, let’s do the apprenticeship in millinery – not far away in my parents’ company. And (not?) surprisingly this experience turned me enthusiastic about the milliner’s craft and work.

What was the most challenging thing when you took over the Mühlbauer millinery in 2001?

Get all the work done I had in mind.

«We know the very best quality in material and production can only be created by hand»

What marketing strategies were most successful ones to revive a century-old brand?

The concentration on the company’s core competence – the hats. Free Mühlbauer and the hats consequently from any touch of nostalgia. The combination of a brand name with just one product (Mühlbauer & hats) turns communication much easier. Refresh the product and its presentation. Keep the production in Vienna. Point out the family who owns the business.

Inside the Mühlbauer shop at Neubaugasse 34, 1070, Vienna. Photographer: Hertha Hurnaus.

Could you tell about the book “111 Darlings”?

We missed to celebrate our 100th anniversary (in 2003) because we were so occupied with repositioning our brand and product. Therefore we decided to celebrate our 111th anniversary (in 2014) because we liked the number and decided to edit a hat book for that occasion. „111 Darlings – A Hat Book“ is a book about hats, but above all a book about Mühlbauer. It reviews 111 years of hat history and this from a totally subjective viewpoint. The book tells the story of over 100 years of handcrafting headwear in a family business now in its fourth generation – from the small milliner’s workshop in Vienna’s suburbs to an internationally renowned label for contemporary headwear. „111 Darlings“ presents 111 darling anecdotes, darling people, darling hat making tools and of course a plethora of darling hats which were important for Mühlbauer and the company’s journey through time.

«Our interest is to move hat fashion forward, to permanently try and experiment new shapes, new materials and ways to wear hats»

Could you name other milliners/designers whose work you respect most?

Borsalino, Reinhard Plank, Rei Kawakubo, Yoji Yamamoto, Nick Fouquet, Valeur.

Mühlbauer Atelier. Photographer: Magdalena Lepka.

Where do you find inspiration? What inspires you to create new models of hats?

Basically I can find inspiration every time everywhere. But probably most inspiring is concentration on a subject or object when working. So inspiration often is the result of concentrated work.

«Inspiration often is the result of concentrated work»

Could you, please, describe the process of creating Mühlbauer hats?

We sit together, the design team, Nora Berger, Madeleine Bujatti and I, and we discuss, then we draw, then we try, then we fail and try again. We repeat that for around 100 times per collection.

Inside the Mühlbauer Atelier. Photographer: Magdalena Lepka.

What do you love most about millinery? What is the most enjoyable thing in your work?

There are some great moments involved:

Creation is definitely one of the best. I also like the handicraft itself, blocking or shaping a hat (unfortunately I rarely have time to do that). Last not least it feels really great if a new collection sells well.

«Maybe because of its slower life rhythm Vienna is a good ground for the slow: for arts, for music, for “slow” and sustainable fashion as well as for “slow” artisanry»

Vienna is a very special city in the center of Europe. What is Vienna’s signature mark in the world of fashion and artisanry?

Maybe because of its slower life rhythm Vienna is a good ground for the slow: for arts, for music, for “slow” and sustainable fashion as well as for “slow” artisanry. “International” people may smile at “slow” Vienna but slow often means quality of life.

Mühlbauer Atelier. Photographer: Magdalena Lepka.

Why do you think hats are such essential fashion accessory?

Because they are endowing style and identity.

What countries are your hats available in?

Online everywhere.

Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, UK, Russia, USA, Japan, South-Korea, China and others.

What is success, in your opinion?

Doing what you want to do.

We thank Klaus Mühlbauer for this really interesting interview and for sharing his vision with us!

Those of our readers who have not yet acquired a treasured Mühlbauer hat should either check the international fashion temples such as Le Bon Marché (Paris), KaDeWe (Berlin), 10 Corso Como (Seoul), Isetan and HP France (Tokyo), or visit Mühlbauer stores in Vienna at:

Seilergasse 10, 1010 Vienna (flagship store)

Neubaugasse 34, 1070, Vienna

Another perfect option is to make a purchase online at:

Photo Credits: Mühlbauer Wien, Magdalena Lepka, Hertha Hurnaus.