After a soggy start on a winter’s day at the Grand Canyon, Bisbee’s S. Grant Sergot began crafting some of the West’s finest hats
By Tom Weede | Photography by Jill Richards
At the age of 22, S. Grant Sergot decided to head west, leaving behind Ann Arbor, Michigan, and eventually landing at the Grand Canyon during one of the worst winters in years. As he was driving his truck from the South Rim to Havasupai, he happened to spot something that would help him weather the storm, and change his life forever. “I found this old ranch hat on the side of the road, all blown out,” he recalls.
Later, as he settled by a campfire, Sergot put on the worn-out hat. “Big wet snow was coming down; the brim started getting wet, getting malleable,” he says. “So I started shaping the brim to gutter the water off.”
The next morning, as the hat was drying in the sun, Sergot continued molding, and like clay the hat held its form. “I realized, wow, I can reshape this for my look, my style, whatever I want,” he says. “I was hooked.”
After some years of self-teaching in the early 1980s, Sergot turned his passion into a business in Bisbee, Arizona, launching Óptimo Custom Hatworks. Today, at age 66, he says he is one of only a handful of milliners left who provides a truly customized experience. Sergot’s bespoke process considers a client’s body type, skin tone, eye color, the line of the jaw and proportions of the face, as well as the hat’s intended use, in finding the ideal fit and style.
His old-world talents and tools hark back to a time when goods were carefully handcrafted by highly skilled tradesmen. His instruments include a conformer from 1860, a device that sits atop the client’s head and provides precise measurements. Production starts with a simple hat body, which then undergoes a handmade process of steaming, drying, shrinking, stretching and trimming into a one-of-a-kind design. “Every hat has its own parameters,” Sergot says. “It’s always a little bit of an adventure.”
Also skilled at restoration, Sergot tells how people are thrilled to see a hat brought back to life: “When the client picks up granddad’s hat, and it looks like it’s brand new and it now fits the client, it’s very satisfying,” he says.