Herbert Johnson Brand Origin Story
In 1872, Herbert Lewis Johnson was apprenticed, by his parents, for seven years to hat-makers Lincoln Bennett, to learn the trade. He obviously did well and in 1889 on the somewhat unlikely advice of the Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward VII), he went into business with one Edward John Glazier at 45 New Bond Street, London W1.
The story recounts that one day when the Prince of Wales was riding in the park, his top hat was fetched off his head by the wind, toppling to the ground and consequently damaging it. The young Herbert Johnson who happened to be ‘to hand’, picked up the Royal topper and offered his professional services and the hat was duly repaired. The Prince was pleased and subsequently suggested to the young hero that he set himself up in business. All this came to pass and Herbert Johnson soon became well known for all forms of headwear for the well-dressed gentleman including Royal patronage.
Fame and success came quickly and Kaiser Wilhelm, the Czar of Russia, King George of Greece not to mention the Duke of Clarence – of doubtful fame – amongst other great names, all found their way to Bond Street.
Herbert Johnson continued to work in the business personally until his retirement in 1928. He had made the name synonymous with quality “..a man with a Herbert Johnson hat is a man apart”. He has an air of sophistication and assurance such as arises from the knowledge that he is in possession of superb quality craftsmanship”. Whether a bowler (black for the town, brown for the country or grey for driving), a classic tweed cap for shooting or fishing, a classic Homberg, a hat for racing across the Atlantic or a cap for scoring runs on the village green – it had to be from Herbert Johnson.
The military was and still is an equally important patron. Nearly every regiment patronises Herbert Johnson Military for dress caps, khaki caps and berets. Bombay bowlers and Polo caps were specially made for Lord Kitchener’s troops in Sudan. Herbert Johnson Military Hats are best known for their ‘floating bevel’. This concept dates from World War I when Herbert Johnson supplied the ‘soft topped’ cap, then known as the ‘Jack Johnson’ in response to requests by Generals Haig and French and other senior officers for both a practical and comfortable cap for field operations. After the 2nd World War, many British Regiments who had liked the ‘soft topped’ cap for field operations, requested that Herbert Johnson produce their dress caps also in the ‘floating bevel’ style.
Herbert Johnson Recent History & Reboot
Today Herbert Johnson hats can be found in some of the most prestigious retailers worldwide. The company also enjoys a long, successful and continuing relationship with the worlds of both theatre and film. Perhaps our most famous accolade is being the original brand providers for all the hats used in the original Indiana Jones film trilogy. It is no surprise that the iconic Herbert Johnson Poet hat style worn by Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark became the foundation stone from which we built the brand to what it is today.
A brand returning to it's roots
Herbert Johnson has been famous for it's signature Poet style hats since the early 1900's. The Poet has a signature tall straight sided crown with hardly any taper and is usually found coupled with a wide brim. One might say that the Poet crown shape is a classic and thus never goes out of style. This style has become famous on both stage and screen with the likes of Indiana Jones, Tom Baker's Dr Who and through iconic photos of stars such as David Bowie wearing this Herbert Johnson Classic. Whilst Herbert Johnson is famous for it's Poet styles, it was never trademarked. It was a classic shape that has been used by hat makers worldwide and not exclusive by any means. Herbert Johnson are only unique in having named the classic style since we used it so consistently. Over the years Herbert Johnson continued to produce the famous classic Poet style where other hat makers had seemingly stopped. Perhaps that is why Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford walked into Herbert Johnson's shop and not into any other back in 1980 with the sole aim to choose the classic Poet for the character of Indiana Jones.
The following decades brought with it vast changes with rising London rents, financial and market pressures. This spelled turmoil as Herbert Johnson struggled to keep alive. Changes of ownership, shop location and of priorities for outsourcing supplies and manufacturing followed. In 1996 the owner of Swaine Adeney Brigg became the new caretaker for the Herbert Johnson brand.
It has been a long term aim for the current owner of Herbert Johnson to return the well loved brand back to it's roots in traditional hat making and in 2016 those wheels were set in motion. The following year saw the brand begin a complete reboot and restructure moving away from outsourced mass manufacturing. A return to in-house, non-mechanised hand craftsmanship of the highest quality in British hat making was our goal. Producing top quality, long lasting bespoke pieces made in the UK was tantamount to honouring the heritage of Herbert Johnson Hatters. The future was bright but there was much work still to be done to achieve our goals for the brand.
The Return of the Poet
For Herbert Johnson to return to it's roots and honour it's heritage, it was obvious that the Poet would be the most important point from which to begin. We had searched through and discovered countless vintage crown blocks in the company warehouse storage crates, but all had seen better days. More research was needed and that's exactly what we did.
Our Master Hatter and Milliner Michelle Poyer-Sleeman has been at the forefront of Herbert Johnson's reboot since 2016. As the Civilian Hatting Department Manager she has made it her mission to return Herbert Johnson to it's former glory and reproduce the most authentic and accurate Poets in it's history. As part of this research and development, she went to see a fellow Indiana Jones fan and collector to view and study his seven vintage Herbert Johnson Indy Poets from the 1980's and 90's era. Back in 1980 it was the sales manager at Herbert Johnson, Richard Swales who adapted the classic off the shelf Herbert Johnson Poet to create the unmistakable Indy Poet style for the original film. Richard Swales sadly passed some years back but his legacy lives on. These superbly preserved seven Indy Poets were all adapted by Richard Swales himself and six of them were left open crown having never been shaped. Michelle was then able to say with all certainty that she had THE shape for the Poet block as these vintage hats matched perfectly with the shape of the blocks we found in storage.
Read more about this story and full interview here..
Getting It Right - the devil is in the details...
After confirming that certain blocks found in storage were in fact Poets and a match for the vintage Herbert Johnson Indy hats, our Hatter Michelle had a full set of brand new remastered Poet blocks created making sure that the full set was graduated across the size range to keep the features of the hat in the correct proportions. This means that no matter which size is ordered, it will be in proportion and appear balanced. If you choose a size 54cm for example it is not 5.5 inch open crown and neither is the size 64cm! Each size in the set goes up or down in proportion to our average size at 59cm.
The Most Famous Hat of All - The Adventure Continues...
Herbert Johnson Hatters are most renowned for our classic sense of style and most prominently our Poet styles. Arguably the most iconic hat in the world today is our Indiana Jones Raiders Poet.
It was the Poet style that Spielberg and Ford chose when they came into our London shop to speak with our sales manager Richard Swales in 1980. They wanted a classic and impressive style of hat for their character of Indiana Jones that reflected the 1930's era in which the film was to be set. Richard Swales then removed the original deep ribbon in favour of a narrower one to accentuate the crown's already impressive stature. He also hand trimmed the brim sides by a rough 1/4 inch to make it ovoid in shape to assist with filming angles and add to the dynamic appearance of the hat. Thus the Indy Poet was born. Richard Swales trimmed and altered more than thirty Poets for Raiders of the Lost Ark. Five hats were made for Harrison himself all with an I.J. embossed into the sweatband to identify them amongst those for the stunt team.
Over the years Herbert Johnson have outsourced to various factories to make their signature Poet models. It is also unsurprising that while the brand was going through changes as a company that the hat also changed over the three films we provided hats for.
Throughout this time there has been a constant love of that original Raiders Poet look that endures with the Indy fan community. Herbert Johnson are proud today to have put the onus on a return to producing the very best and most accurate Indy Poets once again. Placing the utmost importance on quality and craftsmanship, working with and listening to the fan base to constantly improve what we do. Today every hat is handcrafted, bespoke to order, to each customers specifications and requests. We can adapt any of our standard models to any requirement, a service that we like to call #yourhatyourway. No matter which style of hat you desire, our bespoke service means we can tailor to your needs. We love to work closely with our customers to ensure their hat is made just the way they want it.
Be sure to follow us on our social media platforms and follow our hashtags #herbertjohnsonhatters, #yourhatyourway and #MakingPics. The Herbert Johnson Team invite you to become part of our story. Adventure with us!
Find out more about our brand and the Swaine Adeney Brigg group of brands here.