You can call him the mad hatter, or you can call him one of New York's hidden gems. Orlando Palacios is the brilliant and eccentric mind behind Worth & Worth, a luxury hat shop in New York City found on the sixth floor of 50 East 57th Street. Palacios has been making hats for over twenty years.
Before he entered the world of hatting, Palacios was a set designer. He always falls in love with the process of constructing things, but what killed him about set making was watching his creations be destroyed when it was all over. He was working with a costume designer, and wanted to hat her at first sight. Although he never got the chance, she became his muse and the reason he went into hat making. While most designers set to conquer the luxury tier spend time first at Parsons or Central Saint Martins, Palacios took a hat class and went straight to work, traveling the world—he visited South America, Italy and other European countries—to be mentored by craftsmen who could teach him the secrets of hat making.
Worth & Worth was started in 1922. Palacios was carving wooden hat forms in the industry when its owners sought him out in 1997. They were tired and wanted to do something else, and wanted to make sure their business would continue in good hands. Palacios, thrilled to be part of a formidable brand, happily accepted.
The thing he loves the most about hat making? "I get customers that knew me from 20 years ago that come in wearing hats I made them back then," he says.
His first job when he took over Worth & Worth was freshening up the brand. The customer was older, and he wanted to create something that would appeal to younger generations as well.
The secret to a great hat is "soft water," he says "Ninety percent of what is done to a hat is done with water, key two is the finish—pouncing and sanding of the hat," Palacios says. "In Colombia, they sand with horse paper, in Italy, they use fine horse hair brushes. I've been to countries where they finish sanding with shark skin. The result of using these different methods meant that the fibers were becoming denser, tighter and softer."
Whatever his secret, it works. Palacios collaborates with designers like John Varvatos, Thom Brown and Diane von Furstenberg, and his work has topped off some of the top of the pops: Beyoncé, Keith Richards and Elvis Costello.
For the moment, find the secret entrance to Worth & Worth by entering Turnbull & Asser. Eventually it will have its own door. Or visit them on the web at hatshop.com.