A peek under the brim of Baron Hats—an iconic headwear manufacturer here in the Valley.
If you’ve been to the movies lately or to a rock concert—or heck, if you’ve turned on your TV—chances are you’re familiar with the work of Baron Hats. Long billed as “Hollywood’s Hat Maker,” the Burbank shop has been crafting high-profile headpieces for the film and music industries for nearly 50 years.
Yet according to master hatter and milliner Mark Mejia, owner of Baron Hats, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “We are a true, full-fledged, working hat shop like there were 100 years ago.”
To stroll through the store’s snug maze of craft rooms is to step back in time. Every corner is crammed with antique machinery, and shelves are piled high with wood and metal tools. With an artisan’s eye for quality, Mark hews to old-world methods to stay cutting-edge.
Each hat starts with raw materials—straw, felt, leather—made pliable by strong hands and plenty of steam. Mark sources materials from all over the world: woven straw from the Philippines, beaded hatbands from Mexico, hand-loomed cashmere from Scotland. Employees shape hats over wooden forms called blocks, and Mark even creates custom blocks for A-list customers using a vintage conformature, which takes precise impressions of a client’s head.
Baron Hats has crafted bespoke brims for Bob Dylan, Johnny Depp, Diane Keaton and dozens of other top entertainers. “If these blocks could talk, they would tell you unbelievable stories,” Mark says with a chuckle.
The shop also creates high-end hats from flat swaths of material—something few venues are equipped to do. Sturdy curves and fine creases are pressed into each piece using a mechanical blocking machine, powered by steam from an open flame.
Baron Hats’ history starts with founder Eddie Baron, a costumer and master craftsman who made cowboy hats for John Wayne and Harrison Ford’s iconic fedora in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Mark, who fell in love with hat-making on a trip to Ecuador while watching artisans weave traditional straw Montecristis, approached Eddie in 1990 to buy a hat block. Eddie said no. Yet Mark kept coming back and “bugging him,” he recalls. Eventually, the aging Eddie hired Mark as an apprentice, later selling him the business in 1995.
These days, every space in the shop is steeped in lore. Museum cases pay homage to some of Baron Hats’ big screen credits: The Mask, Rocky, True Grit (the original as well as the Coen brothers’ remake). Mark also creates painstaking reproductions of celebrity chapeaus for collectors and fans.
“I don’t know of another hat shop that does as many things as we do,” he says. “The heart and soul that we have here is unique. People tell me they feel something when they come in.”
As the fashion pendulum swings back toward sleek lids, new generations of customers are coming in for bowlers, boaters and all manner of caps. The possibilities are endless. “If you can dream it,” Mark says, “we can make it.” λ
1619 W Burbank Blvd.