John McLaughlin The Brass Rooster Men's Hats and Accessories
John and Kate McLaughlin are pioneers of sorts. Last year on Derby Day (May 7th) they opened a Hat and Accessories store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Not only were there no hat stores nearby, but it seemed to both John and Kate that a traditional hat store might just be what the neighborhood needed.
And they were right on. "We opened on the day of The Kentucky Derby and over 300 customers came into the store in five hours. We look forward to Derby Day this year to celebrate our first anniversary, this has been so humbling," said John.
The McLaughlin's (who have two children) did not take out a bank loan or borrow money from relatives. Instead they tightened their belts, saved money, darned their socks, ate leftovers and kept re-doing their budget to have money to open a hat shop.
They may not have had a lot of cash but their inspiration and passion was limitless. "The inspiration behind Brass Rooster was simple: There was no place for anyone interested in hats to go. We spent a lot of time in Chicago looking and couldn't find anything."
According to John there were few stores in Milwaukee that sold hats, but no traditional hatters in the city. "There was nowhere for men to find the things that make being a man great. We have cuff links, hand made pens, belt buckles, traditional wet shaving goods, pomade, mustache wax, dresser caddies, tailoring services, suspenders, custom made leather goods and of course Hats and traditional Hat services."
They also repair and refresh older hats. "We take pride in continuing the proud tradition of (a dying art) offering the best in customer service. No hat leaves without being sized to each customer and we have a big demand for re-blocking, sizing, steaming, bashing, new sweat bands, ribbons and performing our custom work on hats. We're looking to produce a line of men's blocked hats designed by Kate, and we hope to open a women's hat shop by the end of this year."
Both John and Kate have a history of fascination with fashion and hats. Kate studied costume design and millinery in school. She also works as a milliner for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. John has been wearing hats since he discovered his grandfather's black fur felt fedora in the closet when he was ten-years-old (he wore it until it fell apart).
The Brass Rooster sells vintage hats as well as new hats, but if you saw their rich comfortable décor and enveloping milieu you might think it was 1950. They have leather tooled furniture, wood cabinets, a piano, guitars and a deep red wall that welcomes you inside.
They carry new hats from popular hat makers such as Dorfman Pacific, Broner, Bailey, Biltmore, Stetson, Borsalino and vintage hats from Dobbs, Knox, Champ, Adams, Stetson, Bianchi, Mallory and others.
McLaughlin says he's not surprised that the Brass Rooster is doing so well despite the bad economy.
"In a downturned economy guys will spend money on clothes, but it has to be something they will use over and over again," he explains. "They know they'll get that with a hat."
We tip our hats to John and Kate McLaughlin for their bravado and belief in the tradition of a renewed hat culture. It is also remarkable that they designed the shop in record time and built it themselves (with a little help from friends).
Their hat store journey was documented in an award winning commercial for Chevrolet that can be seen at: http://vimeo.com/26738696
The Brass Rooster was nominated in a number of categories in the "2011 Best of Milwaukee"
The Brass Rooster 2479 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Milwaukee, Wisconsin