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The Madhatter

Read the interview below to see where Downey's head is at.


So you just moved from Brooklyn back to Florida, and you’ve lived just about everywhere in the country it seems. Why did you decide to move back?


Yeah I’ve lived all over: east coast, west coast, midwest, up north and down south. I got lucky as a teen with the opportunity through skateboarding and the support and guidance of countless people to travel and live in many different places and to do what I love at a young age. I’ll forever be truly grateful for those that helped me throughout my life. I originally grew up in Florida and life has taken me full circle something like 17 years later. I met my girlfriend in New Orleans about six years ago who also grew up in south Florida, but we never had met there. We ended up both moving to NYC and living together for the past like four or five years. We moved back together so she could start working in her family’s jewelry business. It’s been a really great thing for us so far. Leaving New York put some life things back in perspective. We’re able to get ahead a little bit, slow down and enjoy life a little more. We’re actually buying our first house, something we probably could never have done living in NYC. I’m still going up to New York for work each month, so it’s actually been a great ratio of fast-paced craziness mixed with an escape.


Why hats? And did you imagine you would garner this much traction for your art?


I’ve been making hats out of fabric and recycled clothing and other objects for about eight or nine years. As for the more conceptual art hats, I follow the idea that I only make one or two classic styles of hat. With these constraints, I can hit a few specific design elements like the crown, the bill and the back closure that make that hat distinct and recognizable. Then, the material possibilities become almost endless. So by taking this classic, iconic thing and making it out of other unrelated, classic iconic things, you end up with something that you've known our whole life, but also never seen before. I think that’s why people are able to connect with the hats in the way they have. It’s nostalgic, personal and instantly recognizable—but new and weird and a surprise.


What’s your process like for creating the hats on your Instagram? Do you conceptualize it or sketch it first?


I don’t sketch at all. I usually just have the idea and go for it. A lot of time I get really lucky with the end results, like things line up perfectly or something smart works out in the design without forethought. Maybe it works out better when I improvise than when I really dissect my approach. So, I trust my instincts and the process and try to create in a free way. Mistakes are welcome.


I kind of envision you having a room for all the hats you create. What do you usually do with them after you make them? Do you sell your work on Instagram?


I’m in-between studio spaces from recently moving, but in my old space, I had all the hats up on hooks on a wall in a big grid. Now a lot of them are in storage. Some are being displayed in a gallery on Palm Beach, Florida called JL Modern. They have the hats for sale through their artsy account. It’s a crazy thing to see my hats in a proper gallery setting. I’m like shit, I guess they really are art. Making them has been a lot of fun, and I’m really happy everyone is enjoying them. My best sellers are the Pantone hats and the Ziploc hats, and I’ve been selling those through the gallery and through DMs on Instagram. I would love to do a book with all the photos of the hats with all the behind-the-scenes photos. One day.


How do you choose what materials you’re going to use for the hats?


I think it works best if it’s a nostalgic or iconic item, something people can personally connect with. When it comes to sewing these materials that aren’t necessarily sewable, I have a lot of weird little things I do to make them workable. For the collard greens hat, the leaves were too rubbery and sticky. I had to spray them with WD-40 to stitch them into the hat. Each hat has a little trick. My girlfriend and I have fun thinking of new materials. Most of the time an idea will hit you instantly. You’ll be walking through a store and suddenly think, “Banana split hat!” I’ll probably do that one soon.


You used physical issues of office for some of your hats. (We’re very honored.) And now we’re interviewing you, so full circle. How did you first find out about office?


The honor is all mine! I have been a fan of office for a while. It’s a really impressive book. I have a friend Caitlin who works there with y’all as a fashion editor. Whenever I was around the Canal Street Market, I would grab a coffee from the office coffee shop too.


To date, what’s your favorite hat that you’ve made?

I have a couple favorites, but a funny one just happened. For a while, I’ve turned peoples old favorite t-shirts into hats. Six years ago, I had a Kickstarter project based on it. Recently, this guy DMs me and says he has a shirt for me to turn into a hat. I say great let’s do it, then don’t hear back. A couple weeks later he contacts me and is like, “Man I don’t know how, but I lost the shirt I was going to send you. Bummer, nevermind.” So I said sorry, let me know if it shows up or you have another one you want to do.


Then a couple weeks later, a woman DMs me and says she stole a shirt from her husband that she wants to get made into a hat and give to him as a surprise. A couple months later, this guy probably got his T-shirt hat and was so hyped. I was so happy to be a part of that.


Do you make the hats on your own? Is your girlfriend Emma a part of your creative process?


For the art hats, aside from actually sewing them, she’s pretty involved. We brainstorm new materials, or she’ll help me piece together a design. She’s in the jewelry world, so she has a really good eye for small details. She’s into fashion and art and has great taste. Some of the arts-and-crafty ones we’ll do together.


On the Falcon Bowse site as of today, there’s only hats in stock. What are your plans with Falcon Bowse in 2020?


Yeah, only hats. I’ve had full collections of clothes before, but my hats always do the best. I’m honestly just much better at making hats than other garments. I have a really cool short film coming out soon. It’s our second one we’ve made with Collin Read. He’s a genius. It’s going to be hilarious. I also just came out with an iPhone sticker pack app, where you can put my hats on photos or memojis in text messages. It’s available now on the App Store, called Falconbowse hats. Next I want to try to make AR filters with all my hats. I’ll probably get that going soon. I’m having fun figuring out different ways for people to interact and enjoy my hats and art.


Between skating and designing, you’re a man who “wears many hats.” What other projects are you currently working on?


I’m currently back in NYC working on some reupholstering some furniture for the Tibi store in SoHo. You can see some of my upholstery stuff on my other insta @bowsehaus. I want to do some version of a live workshop or art show where people bring in their old favorite shirt, and I make them into a hat on the spot. I’m talking with some people to get that going. I think it would be a really fun event. I’m also working on another fun project, doing the illustrations for a children’s book my mom wrote. I’m about halfway done. It’s definitely my goal to finish it this year, no matter what.


Hats have become so political in today’s day and age. Any stance or feelings towards that?


Um, I’m staying out of it.


What’s the most you would pay for a hat?


Well, I just make whatever hat I want. I would probably pay $20 or less like if it were a cool or funny vintage one at a thrift shop.


How many hats do you own?


I have like 60 of the art hats just in my storage. For personal hats, I only have like three or four that I actually wear day to day. They are ones from special, small batches I make of vintage fabrics that I’ll never find again. And I have two thick wool beanies I’ve had for years, one my girlfriend knit for me.

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