It’s a perfect day to drive with the windows down, and road 213 which leads us from Dunham to Frelighsburg seems even more bucolic than the last time.
The bright building occupied by the workshop-boutique of the Fumile millinery, shared with the Passe-Montagne refreshment bar, is located in the main street of Freli, just opposite the small Beat & Betterave performance hall.
Upon our arrival in the workshop-boutique, our gaze is immediately drawn to the 10 rows of hats rising in height.
Mélodie Lavergne and Alex Surprenant have already set up shop in Montreal, on Atateken Street, practically opposite the Agrikol restaurant. They even lived illegally in their workshop for three years.
Win Butler, singer of Arcade Fire and former co-owner of Agrikol, has also worn Fumile hats. “ What nice guy “, says Mélodie Lavergne.
The same could be said of the latter and her companion, Alex Surprenant.
The couple met seven years ago at a bar through mutual friends. Mélodie had studied fashion and she was leading her business Sass Créations while Alex was going through a dark period. An injury had forced him to give up his career as a professional soccer player, notably for the Impact.
I was looking for myself and I wanted to create.
When Alex – who already loved wearing hats – saw a YouTube video of avant-garde star hatter Nick Fouquet, it was a revelation. “It completely turned me on,” he says.
“We saw that there was room for innovation in this traditional and conservative profession,” adds Mélodie.
However, unlike his sweet, Alex had never touched a sewing machine.
A know-how that is lost
Alex and Mélodie turned to milliner and milliner Lucie Grégoire. “She is very important in our career,” says Alex. She held the stronghold of the millinery in Quebec for 40 years. »
What is difficult in millinery is to invest in all the equipment at the start, including the moulds. Lucie allowed us to experiment.
For the fur hats, Alex and Mélodie also had help from Bernard Zarwanitzer. The latter simply allowed them to watch him work in his studio before his retirement. It was a great chance for the couple to have two mentors with a know-how that cannot be learned in school.
“They have expertise that is being lost,” underlines Mélodie. On the manufacturing level, the art of the hat has disappeared. »
Hat making remains a craftsmanship. “Unlike clothing, there is no machine that makes a beautiful hat from A to Z,” explains Alex. There are many steps by hand. »
According to Mélodie, this is probably why the hat is no longer worn as an everyday accessory. “It’s our challenge to put it back in the morals. »
Since April 2018, Fumile has been selling ready-to-wear and made-to-measure hats. You don’t buy a hat like you buy a piece of clothing. There is a financial and emotional investment. People go through all kinds of emotions when it comes to choosing the model, material, crown style, color, embellishments…
The hat is very identifying. It is an extension of oneself.
“Our strength is to guide people. It’s a collaboration,” explains Mélodie.
Customers have developed a “healthy” addiction to Fumile’s hats, says Alex with a smile.
On Fumile’s hats, we find the acronym WAHS, for “We All Have Scars”.
We all have our hurts and our stories and we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about them.
A hat has lived and you have to be proud to wear it, he argues. Especially when it is unique and signed Fumile.
It must be said that the experience of choosing a creation or having it made to measure is really pleasant since Fumile is installed in Frelighsburg.
Just before the pandemic, Alex and Mélodie had attended the major fashion show MAGIC in Las Vegas to meet international buyers.
Closing the borders has completely changed their strategy. “We decided to go extralocal,” says Alex.
Mélodie and he began to dream of settling in the Eastern Townships and they came across this space in Frelighsburg, previously occupied by the restaurant La cueillette. “It was the old hotel-bar of Freli which opened in 1920 during prohibition”, underlines Mélodie.
The opening took place on May 15, 2021, and today the couple are delighted. Time stops when you go to choose a hat or discuss to have one made to measure at Fumile. Especially since you can have a coffee or a glass of natural wine. And on the mezzanine, if you’re lucky enough to visit the workshop, you’ll grasp the artisanal side of hat making.
Alex shows us how he brushes and cuts felt, while Mélodie models straw using steam from an oven.
“We still have a lot of renovation projects. It’s a long-term project,” says Mélodie.
In the meantime, she and Alex will have to meet the high demand for their hats. Not so crazy, these hatters…