Chapeaux De Madeleine
By Sue Nador

A home business blossoms

Madeleine Cormier, owner of Chapeaux de Madeleine, grew up in a big, close-knit family in New Brunswick. “My mother had seven sisters,” she recalls. “They all did something artistic.” It was Madeleine’s aunt Simone, though, who influenced her career. “My aunt was a milliner in the 1940s and ’50s,” Madeleine explains. “She reminded me of Coco Chanel.”

After high school, Madeleine studied haute couture at École Cotnoir-Capponi in Montreal. “I learned pattern-making, draping and sewing,” she adds. After graduation, she took specialized courses with a milliner, and her aunt often gave her advice to face challenges. “She always said, ‘It’s simpler than you think. Don’t dramatize and complicate things,’” Madeleine recalls fondly. “I think that’s a big part of life.”

Madeleine met her future husband in Montreal, and they moved to Ottawa in the early 1980s. She worked at the Ottawa airport but her real passion blossomed after hours. “I started to make hats at home and sold them at markets on the weekend,” she recalls. “I realized that people were interested in what I did. I got TV interviews and people started to call.”

Madeleine’s home business became so successful that in 1995 she opened a store in the ByWard Market, devoting her efforts to hat-making full-time. “Everybody who comes to Ottawa comes to the ByWard Market,” she points out. Madeleine watched the area expand from a quiet artsy enclave of little boutiques to a bustling area with excellent restaurants and nightlife. “There is a greater mix of people now. And a younger generation who want their identity and are into fashion,” she says.

I get excited when a customer wants something fun and different. I always say I am going to make you what you want but I will always add my touch. - Madeleine Cormier, owner
Madeleine Cormier, owner of Chapeaux de Madeleine, was inspired by her aunt Simone, who was a milliner.
It is Madeleine's creative touch that defines her hats. [Photo © Yellow Pages / Pages Jaunes]

Hat making is artistry

Madeleine designs hats for fashion and function, ready-to-wear or custom made. “I make a lot of hats for weddings but also for protection from the cold winter and the sun,” she says. Her creations are inspired by materials – felt, straw, ribbon – that she spreads out in a messy fashion over her work table to mix the right elements and colours. Sometimes a hat will sit unfinished for a month. “And then I see a flower or feather and say, ‘That’s it!’” Madeleine shares. “It’s easy to make a hat but [takes] longer to make it right.”

Decades into her career, Madeleine remains inspired by new discoveries. She travelled to Ecuador in 2016 to learn about panama hats. “Panama hats are not from Panama,” Madeleine explains. “They were named after the men who built the Panama Canal.” Madeleine now designs these straw hats – “tightly woven so light doesn’t go through but the air still circulates” – with her own creative touch, and has them handmade in Ecuador. “People are more into these hats now. They are a good seller,” she adds.

Madeleine is driven by the creativity of her work. “I’m an artist. I’m in another world when I make hats,” she admits. “It’s like making a painting. It’s like a piece of art.”

At Chapeaux de Madeleine, her hats are like pieces of art.
[Photo © Yellow Pages / Pages Jaunes]

Every customer is famous

Ottawa is a good place for a hat business, with its many embassies and their formal occasions. “There is a lot happening here. More than in other cities,” Madeleine suggests.

The majority of Madeleine’s customers are women but she also sells many hats to men, from the very young to the very old. “I don’t have a preference. I get excited when a customer wants something fun and different,” she says. “I always say I am going to make you what you want but I will always add my touch.”

Working with brides-to-be is particularly gratifying. “They see themselves more as a bride when they see the headpiece,” explains Madeleine. “They cry because they are so happy. It’s really touching.” While many well-known people like Sophie Gregoire (wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) covet Madeleine’s designs, she says, “For me everybody is famous.”

At Chapeaux de Madeleine, her hats are like pieces of art.
[Photo © Yellow Pages / Pages Jaunes]

It's about community

Madeleine uses her talents to give back to the community. She often supports fundraisers for causes, including arts organizations and women’s shelters, by donating a share of her profits. She has designed hats for organizers of charity events so they can be recognized. “I did hats with pink bows for a breast cancer fundraiser, and ones with treble clefs for the symphony orchestra,” she says.

Madeleine has a solid reputation that has grown by word-of-mouth. She is sought after by internationally recognized designers like Vera Wang to accessorize their designs on runways or magazines. “People bring me so much joy,” she says. “They come to me because they trust me.”

[Header photo © Yellow Pages / Pages Jaunes]

At Chapeaux de Madeleine, her hats are like pieces of art.
[Photo © Yellow Pages / Pages Jaunes]
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