smoke | Not so mad hatters

They’re in love, but they’re also the two milliners behind the Fumile brand. Portrait of Mélodie Lavergne and Alex Surprenant who design and make the hats you’ve seen on the heads of Tire le Coyote, Win Butler, Mariana Mazza or Canadian players.

Posted yesterday at 11am

Emily Cote

Emily Cote
The press

It’s a perfect day for driving with the windows down and the 213 road that takes us from Dunham to Frelighsburg looks even more idyllic than last time.

The bright building that houses the workshop-boutique of the Fumile millinery, which shares with the refreshment bar Passe-Montagne, is on Freli’s main street, just opposite the small Beat & Betterave performance hall.

When we arrive at the workshop boutique, our eyes are immediately drawn to the 10 rows of hats towering up.

  • Fumile's hats

    PHOTO HUGO-SEBASTIEN AUBERT, THE PRESS

    Fumile’s hats

  • Fumile's hats

    PHOTO HUGO-SEBASTIEN AUBERT, THE PRESS

    Fumile’s hats

  • Fumile's hats

    PHOTO HUGO-SEBASTIEN AUBERT, THE PRESS

    Fumile’s hats

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Mélodie Lavergne and Alex Surprenant have already settled in Montreal on Atateken Street, practically opposite the Agrikol restaurant. They even lived illegally in their workshop for three years.

Win Butler, lead singer of Arcade Fire and former co-owner of Agrikol, has also worn fumile hats. “ What nice guy ‘ says Melodie Lavergne.

Ditto for the latter and her companion Alex Surprenant.

The couple met through mutual friends at a bar seven years ago. Mélodie had studied fashion and was running her company, 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, particularly for Impact.

I was searching for myself and I wanted to create something.

Alex Surprising

When Alex, who has always loved wearing hats, saw a YouTube video of avant-garde milliner star Nick Fouquet, it was a revelation: “It turned me on,” he says.

“We have seen that there is room for innovation in this traditional and conservative profession,” adds Mélodie.

But unlike his cutie, Alex had never touched a sewing machine.

A know-how that is lost

Alex and Mélodie turned to milliner and milliner Lucie Grégoire. “She’s very important to our careers,” says Alex. She held the stronghold of millinery in Quebec for 40 years. »

What is difficult in millinery is investing in all the equipment right from the start, including the moulds. Lucie allowed us to experiment.

Melody Lavergne

For the fur hats, Alex and Mélodie also had help from Bernard Zarwanitzer. The latter simply allowed them to watch him at work in his studio before his retirement. It was a great opportunity for the couple to have two mentors with a know-how that cannot be learned in school.


PHOTO HUGO-SEBASTIEN AUBERT, THE PRESS

The production of a hat takes place in several steps.

“They have expertise that is being lost,” Mélodie emphasizes. At the manufacturing level, the art of hats has disappeared. »

Hat making remains a craft. “Unlike clothing, there is no machine that makes a beautiful hat from A to Z,” explains Alex. There are many manual steps. »

According to Mélodie, this is probably why the hat is no longer worn as an everyday accessory. “It is our challenge to bring it back to morale. »

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 an emotional investment. People go through all sorts of emotions when it comes to choosing the model, material, crown style, color, embellishments…

The hat is very identifying. It’s an extension of itself.

Melody Lavergne

“Our strength is leading people. It’s a collaboration,” explains Mélodie.

WAHS

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.

Alex Surprising

A hat has lived and you have to be proud to wear it, he argues. Especially if it is unique and signed by Fumile.

It has to be said that since Fumile is installed in Frelighsburg, the experience of choosing a creation or having it custom made is really enjoyable.

Shortly before the pandemic, Alex and Mélodie had attended the big fashion show MAGIC in Las Vegas to meet international buyers.


PHOTO HUGO-SEBASTIEN AUBERT, THE PRESS

The furnishings are from another time.

The closure of the borders has completely changed their strategy. “We decided to go abroad,” says Alex.

Mélodie and he began dreaming of settling in the Eastern Townships and came across this place in Frelighsburg, previously occupied by the La cueillette restaurant. “It was Freli’s old hotel bar, which opened in 1920 during Prohibition,” Mélodie points out.

The opening took place on May 15, 2021 and today the couple is delighted. Time stands still when you are selecting a hat or discussing having one made to measure at Fumile. Especially since you can drink a coffee or a glass of natural wine here. And on the mezzanine, if you are lucky enough to visit the workshop, you will learn about the artisan side of hat making.

Alex shows us how he brushes and cuts felt while Mélodie models straw with 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 must keep up with the high demand for their hats. Not so crazy, those hatters…

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