There’s a Wonka Factory feeling at Leigh Magar’s Magar Hat Works studio on Cannon Street. Amidst the vintage wooden hat blocks, pheasant feathers, and hyper-color ribbons, all that’s missing is a chocolate river and singing Oompa Loompas.
You’ve entered a world of pure imagination.
But unlike our boy Charlie, Magar didn’t find a golden ticket. She paid her way through the Fashion Institute of Technology as a live-in maid, worked hard under the tutelage of Harlem milliner Rod Keenan, and managed to become a wildly successful Charleston artisan. How wildly successful you ask? Does the name Food & Wine magazine mean anything to you? How about The New York Times? No, nothing? One word then: Vogue.
“I was up in New York a few weeks ago to meet with my buyers at Barneys,” Magar says of the department store where she sells her hats. “And I also met with Vogue. I showed them both my men’s and women’s hats, and they’re using them for an upcoming shoot.”
For those who’ve been following the career of Magar, her inclusion in Vogue hardly comes as a surprise. Her designs have been featured in all of the aforementioned publications and more, including Budget Travel, The Sartorialist blog, Town & Country, and the current issue of Garden & Gun, in which she’s listed as a runner-up for the Made in the South style award.
All this from a gal that does her own PR.
While Magar is thrilled to get the publicity, more than anything she appreciates the attention it brings to Charleston. When a New York Times travel article featuring Magar came out in September, she says, “A few people who visited the studio said they were inspired to visit based on the article. It’s great that people want to visit Charleston and contribute to the local economy.”
Magar continually challenges the limits of her originality.
“This year I had a bride ask me to make her a feathered hair clip. She said she’d supply me with the feathers. She came in a few days before the wedding with a turkey she’d shot herself! I mean the whole turkey.” Both startled and amused, Magar swirled into action and managed to school herself in a sort of whirlwind taxidermy. She dried and cured the feathers and had the hair clip ready to go on the day of the wedding.
It’s not always dead birds and brides that inspire the milliner’s retro fedoras and straw hats.
“I usually focus on one thing, an artist or an art show. Last spring it was the South of France and then the Bauhaus movement,” she says. Magar’s most recent spring line was highly influenced by Nick Cave’s vivid Sound Suits installation, which was exhibited at the Halsey in May. But while she may start with a theme, she says, “It always turns out a little different than imagined.”
What never changes is her constant need to create, be it hats or tiny tiaras. “Right now I’m working on a project making tiaras from bobby pins,” she says. Magar points out to a few delicate little head pieces resting on her entrance display case. “This project will take years because I don’t have a lot of time to do it,” she adds — and you get the feeling that she has so much creative energy, a mere lifetime won’t be enough to pursue all the projects she would like.