Hats off: How this local milliner creates space for artisans in Harlem
Karema Deodato, a Harlem-based milliner and co-founder of the Harlem Makers Collective, was born and raised on the Upper East Side in a family full of creative women. Her grandmother was a dressmaker who also did embroidery and made lace. Her mother — who she credits for introducing her to fashion greats such as John Paul Gaultier, Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons, and Thierry Mugler — painted scarves and made clothing and jewelry. It’s not hard to see how Deodato developed her love for quality design and custom craft.
Deodato remembers making her first hat at the age of 13: “One day I was just bored. I found some little pieces of velvet and just kind of put them together and it turned out to be a hat.” This was an exciting moment for her as a teen— she had not only discovered a way to cover her hair when she didn’t like it, but she’d also created something that she actually liked.
Her passion for hat design took off from there. “I started making hats out of fabric. I made them for my friends and then when I started dating, I made hats for my boyfriends. I just knew I wanted to be sewing all the time.”
Deodato later attended FIT where she studied Fashion Design and landed an internship with the Metropolitan Opera. She started out working with the dressmakers, and then — as fate may have it — was transferred to the millinery department. Eventually she took a full-time job there, embracing the opportunity to polish up her techniques, stitches, blocking, and wiring. “They still use all of those old techniques when they make everything,” she recalls. “You don’t see the detail from the audience, but behind the scenes you can see how beautiful everything is.”
With her skills honed, Deodato started selling her own designs online, and the rest is history.
The Harlem Makers Collective
The 100 or so (depending on who you ask) square blocks that make up Harlem have been home to some of the greatest makers and thinkers in history. The energy that made the Harlem Renaissance so culturally and historically significant is still alive and well; it’s what brings thousands of tourists to the community each year, attempting to get a taste of what makes Harlem special.
Today, Deodato — a Harlem resident for over 20 years — is part of the most recent wave of creatives living and working in the neighborhood. In an effort to create a platform for fellow craftspeople to showcase their work and art — Deodato teamed up with two other Harlem-based makers, Heike Jarick and Maiko Suzuki, to create the Harlem Makers Collective, a venue where creatives can show their work in an incredible space. Held once every few months at a local Strivers’ Row art gallery, Gallery Eight, the market was designed to be an experience. “It was the perfect marriage of the space, the neighborhood, the items, and the people. It’s just been great energy,” says Deodato of the concept.
Apart from being a site for commerce, the HMC also aims to provide a range of opportunities for attendees to learn. “For our first event, Harlem historian John Reddick gave a speech about Harlem and the history of Strivers’ Row, which was fascinating. And I did a demonstration on hat blocking,” she explains. “At the last event, we had Heike’s husband, who is a tai chi master, lead us in a tai chi session.”
The spring market is right around the corner, taking place from April 12-14. With the weather (slowly) getting warmer in NYC, the HMC is the perfect opportunity to get out and explore some of the culture and craft in Harlem. If you happen to stop by on a Friday or Saturday evening, don’t forget to grab a cocktail!