I do love a good export story. In the second part of ‘Know Your Designer‘ I bring to you Albertus Swanepoel. Born and raised in Pretoria, he began his career as a fine arts graduate turned fashion designer in South Africa before moving to the United States in 1989 with his then wife, Shaneen Huxham. For a time he constructed hats for Broadway shows like Mama Mia! and Shrek, and designed accessories, which lead him to supply Bergdorf Goodman with hand-embellished gloves as a matter of survival after a sportswear company let him go. That’s when he started work on a more summer-friendly means of income, hats, and he hasn’t looked back since.

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From his 2009 interview in W magazine, Swanepoel had this to say of his upbringing:

“I was very shielded,”” he says, fidgeting with a clasp on his watch. He didn’t set eyes on a fashion magazine until he was 17, and while he prefers to keep the details of his upbringing off the record, it suffices to say his youth was bound by many rules. “I think that’s why, really, I ended up in fashion,” he says. After majoring in fine arts (to the chagrin of his parents) at the local university, Swanepoel launched a successful ready-to-wear line, Quartus Manna, in Johannesburg. “I think that repression…gives you this added drive to create beautiful things,” he explains. “Everything else might be so miserable that it’s some kind of escape.”

Today Swanepoel is gaining mainstream success with men, appearing in men’s fashion magazines like GQ and Essential Homme and appearing on the heads of young style-influencers like Jaden Smith and Justin Bieber, particularly the Tahoma hat. Shop the Albert Swanepoel range at Barney’s here.

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Photograph by Tony Floyd, via W. Jaden’s photograph from GQ, Justin’s photograph unknown.