Three cold winters ago, a desperately seeking fashionista was walking through the busy streets of Bahnhofstrasse looking for that perfectly warm and stylish winter hat. Grieder? Check! Jelmoli? Check! Globus? Check! Small boutiques at Rennweg? Check! Miserably wondering, why do most luxury brands provide almost identical items (I mean those beanie hats with the pom-poms on top, no thank you) and without realising those words slipped out of my mouth (slightly loudly), for my good fortune a man was observing me breathing heavily and complaining to my patient boyfriend.
–Have you looked at Sonja Rieser‘s? asked the man.
The famous hat-maker has been “hatting” the extravagant personalities of Zurich’s scene for the last three decades, including the city’s based singer “La Lupa”, who owns over 120 custom designed hats by Sonja Rieser. With her signature red lipstick and contagious smile, the brunette natural beauty opened her doors to ELUSIVE Magazine and shared more with us that just a cup of coffee.
Sonja Rieser photographed by Caroline Minjolle
Brought up in an artistic family; her father, a graphic design and artist who exposed Ms. Rieser to a creative path. In the early 80’s she stopped working as a graphic designer and decided to solely focus the art of hat-making. “Nobody wore a hat”, said Sonja smiling, “there was no such a thing as hat culture, surely there were demonstations, authority issues and punks”, the contra world of the one she was imagining for her designs and longing for “the 1930s, Frida (Kahlo) with her colours and individuality, a bit brutal (Kahlo’s art) for this world but at the same time her sensitiveness was magnetic”.
Thirty-six years ago, she started her apprentice at Rennweg, where the hotel Widder is, a shop on the first floor that had a showroom and atelier. After working hard and developing her technical skills, she packed her bags and left for Paris. Her goal was always to be independent and so she returned back to Zurich, opening her first store at Weinbergstrasse and later moved into the old city; Niederdörfli.
“There are two types of people that wear hats, either you are wearing the hat, or the hat is wearing you! And when you are wearing the hat it is really something beautiful to look at. The problem with the Swiss consumers is that they are a bit uncomfortable and choose safety over looks. I don’t want to fit in, I want to cause a reaction, not provocation!”. Sonja, doesn’t follow fashion, but not because she isn’t interested in it, but because she is not hooked up with trends. Throughout the years she has dominated the local fashion market with her hats, but also introduced clothing ideas and accessories for dogs.
Sonja Rieser personal archive, 2001
Sonja Rieser hat
Credit: Stefania Paparelli for annabelle
Sonja Rieser hat and clothing designs
photographed by Josefin Walker
Sonja Rieser hat
photographed by Barbara Graf Horka
“La Lupa” private hat collection from Sonja Rieser
How to pick the right hat, according to Sonja:
First, you have to study your body language, then your face form and undertones, those elements will define the best hat for you.
Advice for young designers:
It all depends on the design. Fashion is a hard world, especially here in Switzerland. Just make, make and make, and then know how to make it well! It is important to know how to take criticism, but also to be honest and stick to your guts!
A Day in the Life of Sonja Rieser:
She wakes up at 6-6:30 am, makes a coffee with a drop of milk accompanied by a cigarette. By 7:30 am she is in her studio, in case she forgets to eat, her animals (mind you: 3 cats, 2 dogs, chickens and a rooster) will make sure she takes a small break to feed them and feed herself. At 12 is lunch break and in the afternoon she will always go for a walk with her dogs. Every evening she cooks dinner for her family. “My life is a bit banal, but most importantly it is full filling and a privilege!”
Even though she was always an active painter, at the age of fifty-two, Sonja Rieser decided to focus publicly on her painting and illustration projects. Her paintings vary in sizes and she enjoys mixing acrylic with oil together (her little guilt, as she says she shouldn’t be doing it!)
40 x 40 cm
Siesta in blauen Korbstuhl, 2016
40 x 40cm
Hut rot, 2016
40 x 60cm
Her strength lays in having many ideas queueing for her to manifest. Her fast reaction is perhaps due to her constant practice of making, her working process comes from the heart, translates to the mind and executes with the fingers. She never based her works on photos, or preparatory sketches, but her imagination.
Sonja Rieser illustration, as Paula for LandLiebe Magazine, 2016
Sonja still provides hat-making courses, works on special commissions, paintings and on magazine illustrations, including Land Liebe.
More about Sonja Rieser
Text: Dimitria Markou