A pair of friends finds the fun and finery in creating custom hats

Karla Coreil and Jenn Loftin aim to combine the festive flair of European millinery with south Louisiana’s celebratory spirit. Photos by Collin Richie

The year is 2019. Karla Coreil and Jenn Loftin waltz into the Palace of Versailles wearing embroidered 18th-century corseted gowns, while baroque costume jewelry adorns their gloved arms. Intricate carved Mardi Gras masks cover their eyes, freeing the rest of their faces to blush with radiance. To complete the look, delicate feathered hats created by their own hands nestle atop their mile-high wigs. They are attending a masquerade ball. 

Who travels all the way to France schlepping such finery to attend an over-the-top party held in the most lavish palace in the world? These two fun ladies do. To know them is to celebrate life with them.

The longtime friends and co-owners of the newly minted business known as Chapeaux pop with energy and contagious excitement as they talk about their travels, adventures and love of celebration that led them to start their hat-making business, Baton Rouge’s only festive millinery. 

“We’ve been making hats together for 10 years,” says Jenn. “Any festive event or any reason we could think of to wear a hat, we would make one.” 

Spending time making hats is what they call their “fun time.” The creative outlet helps these professional women blow off steam. Loftin holds a Ph.D. in education and works in educational publishing, while Coreil is a lawyer. With such serious careers, the pair is always looking for a reason to “celebrate life.”

“One day while we were making hats for a parade,” Karla says, “I half-told Jenn we should start an Esty shop selling our own hats.” Jenn came back with, “Let’s celebrate life, let’s do this.” A few conversations and a learning curve in e-commerce later, the pair created a business structure that rolled out to the community in January of this year. “The timing for it was right,” Jenn exclaims. “With the health emergency ban being lifted, people are more than ready to get back out of the house. People are looking for an excuse to have a good time.” 

A sampling of the pair’s recent creations highlights the variation available in their bespoke designs.

So far, the pair have been gobsmacked by the reaction from the community. “Our biggest challenge we faced was, ‘How are people going to know about us? We can’t help people if they don’t know we are here,’” says Jenn, “so the speed at which the community is hearing about us and coming to us is amazing.” 

Coreil and Loftin have taken advantage of local events to show off their business. They held trunk shows and pop-up shops. Most recently, they were named partners with Baton Rouge Symphony League’s Mad Hatters Luncheon, where their custom hats were featured on the runway.  

There seems to be no limit to what sort of event for which they can make a hat. Coreil laughs, “Currently, I’m trying to figure out a way to make a hat for a horse.” That request may seem unusual, but with the Kentucky Derby right around the corner, people are coming from all over town wanting hats for the event. Another unlikely event for which they’ve received requests is the Wearin’ of the Green parade. “We had a lady who hosts a St. Paddy’s Day event at her house each year, and this year she wanted to give her attendees hats as party favors,” Coreil adds. “We were happy to supply her with party favor fascinators.” 

In addition to making customized hats, Chapeaux also offers private events. Instead of game night or ladies’ bunko, think hat parties. They bring fabrics and materials on site to a group of individuals, and guide them through the creative process of making their own bespoke hats. “Style is personal. We can help you make all those choices: big or small, right or left, high-contrasting colors or monochromatic,” Coreil says.

When asked about their style, the team contrasts greatly. “I like tall with feathers,” says Coreil. “And I tend to be more restrained,” Loftin chimes in. If their tastes are likened to that of royalty, then the pair would say Jenn is more Princess Kate and Karla is more Princess Eugenie.

As with royalty, millineries like Chapeaux start with high-quality materials that hail from across the pond. More varied colors, textures and weave types come from as far as England and Australia. The streamlined, light blue Chapeaux label sewn into each bespoke creation is imported from the Netherlands. The duo also loves to shop for supplies in New York’s Garment District. Their black and white veiling is from Mood, the 40,000-square-foot fabric store made famous by the show Project Runway. Hunting for materials is a priority, but one can bet that shopping in the Big Apple is not the only fun they have on these trips. 

While you may be tempted to think that Chapeaux is only for women, men also benefit from their adventurous spirit and expertise. Loftin and Coreil note that they make boutonnieres, and they offer an embellishment service to men as well. “Give us your hat and we can add to it to make it perfect for your event or to match your partner,” says Coreil.  

“Everybody can wear a hat,” they attest. “They are accessible to every person, and every celebration can be celebrated with a hat.”