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Q&A: Salmagundi Owners Have a Head Up on Hats

Salmagundi owners Jessen Fitzpatrick and Andria Rapagnola talk about staying jazzy, the stories behind hats, and their JP store's special vibe.

America’s love affair with big, floppy hats lasted about as long as the champagne toasts raised in front of TV sets broadcasting the nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton. But at on Centre Street, the fascination for hats of all kinds is evergreen and as palpable as the funky grooves playing from the store’s latest playlist.

With an inventory of about 7,500 hats—ranging from Panama to pork pie to bucket to flat caps, and including their own signature line—you won’t want for a show-stopping or understated head topper. That’s in addition to a boutique-like selection of clothing, handbags, and jewelry.

Owners and husband/wife Jessen Fitzpatrick and Andria Rapagnola—who rock the hat look so well you feel immediately compelled to sport one yourself—have been welcoming hat lovers into their shop since October 2007, after testing the market for about six months at street fairs across the state. They took some time out to talk about their enthusiasm for caps, music, and meeting new people. (Their 16-month-old son Theodore, incidentally, was looking dapper in a Greek fisherman hat.)

How did the idea for Salmagundi come about? Have you always been into hats?

Andria: We kind of did it on the fly. We used to go to trade shows all the time and look at accessories because we used to run an accessories company. We would see hats here and there.

Jessen: We’ve always been into fashion.

A: We thought there was a need for something like this, especially here in Boston.

J: Especially the way we’re doing it. Traditionally, hats are usually done in a really conservative, no music, almost library kind of setting. It’s either super traditional or really costumey or trendy. It’s never everything all at once.

A: If you find hats in a clothing store they’re generally one size. They can be fashionable and trendy but they’re probably not going to fit you.

J: We never found all of these worlds combined. To do that, you have to be fashion-forward, and give old-fashioned customer service, where you’re out to please regardless of the dollar amount of the purchase. You have to know your history but you also have to think fashion-forward. You have to know the whole spectrum.

A: You’re dealing with all sorts of people. Some people have been into hats forever and other people are just starting to get into it or get out of a baseball cap.

 

Had the idea been germinating for a while for hats?

A: We kind of did it on the fly. We used to go to trade shows all the time and look at accessories because we used to run an accessories company. We would see hats here and there . . . There weren’t a ton of hats out there but we found enough to be like, this is cool… And everything has a story, down to all the materials. Like the straw the Panama's are made of is from Ecuador. When they were building the Panama Canal people were wearing them and said, “I want one of those hats.” There are all kinds of stories. 

 

Why JP?

J: The main reason we opened in JP is because it’s so culturally and economically diverse that we can have any walk of life walk through the doors. We have some of the richest people in the country shopping at the store, along with everyday folks.

A: And everyone leaves feeling like a million bucks. We love that. They all share a similar aesthetic. It’s just Salmagundi. I can’t really describe it in any other way. Everybody’s comfortable coming here from everywhere. We serve well beyond JP. People have done a great job of letting people know about us.

 

What is it about hats?

A: There’s something about dealing with your face. People do amazing things with their faces when they’re trying stuff on in the mirror. They feel slick or they’ll start to dance. Different shapes around your face make you feel different ways.

J: It brings out different personalities.

A: It’s like when you put glasses on and you don’t usually wear glasses, you feel like you’re seeing differently.

 

Hats have gotten some added attention lately with the derbies and the royal wedding.

A: That was for a good minute. That didn’t last that long. That was for the awesome champagne parties ladies had in the morning while watching.

J: That was really cool. Women were seriously getting jazzy for parties at four in the morning.

A: One woman came in and bought about seven hats for all her friends.

 

What’s on the horizon now for hats?

J: We see it going more classic. . . We are the type of store that sets trends, not follows trends. Usually because we buy so far in advance and work so closely with designers, and do our line, we’re talking about trends that are going to happen and trying to form those trends based on what we think the trends should be.

A: We listen to our customers. So we design what we think works, the shapes that we know work…  And then we do something different, keep it exciting.

 

Tell me about the music at Salmagundi.

J: Andria and I are both dancers . . . Music has a lot to do with Salmagundi. I do all the playlists. I do it like a movie score every few months. I pick out my selection based on the customers, based on the vibe that I’m trying to make the store have. . . I’m trying to tell a story.

 

What’s the story now?

J: It’s a great summer mix. It’s a lot of Latin, a lot of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra. I dipped into a lot of Caribbean, Haiti, Trinidad, West African stuff, jazz, a lot of house, usually soulful house. When you’re in there, it should take you on a ride.

 

What about the name, Salmagundi?

J: It comes from a French word.

A: We liked the definition. It’s a mixture of people and ideas that form an incoherent whole, kind of like what happens in the store. That goes back to what I was saying about everyone having a similar aesthetic that you can’t really peg, a similar vibe.

 

When someone walks into store, how does it work?

J: We’re very hands-on. It’s old school, like going back in time . . . We have the best staff. Our staff is what makes the store. Some people have 10-plus years working in hat stores and some people are brand new. They have to be passionate about business and they have to be a pleaser. When you come in, it doesn’t matter if get a $20 hat or a $200 hat. You need to get what you want because if someone is happy then they’re more likely to tell someone about it.

Raphael July 05, 2011 at 08:38 PM
My wife just got me a sweet lid from Salmagundi for Father's Day. When I opened the present and told her the hat was awesome, she said, "I think you're going to like this store even more than you like the hat." So I went down there for the first time, and man was she right. Every age, race, creed, and class is in that joint. Made me feel like I was on the set of the HBO show "Treme". The staff is great too. Very helpful. They adjusted the hat just right for me. I loved the whole experience.
Guy Pondside July 06, 2011 at 04:30 PM
I love, Love, LOVE this store. The service and selection are incomparable. I've seen hipsters, geeksters and old fuddie-duddies (like yours truly!) treated with the same courtesy and respect. I can't get enough of this place. Take a tip, JP: EVERYONE looks better in a hat!
Kit July 07, 2011 at 06:39 PM
Salmagundi is my absolute favorite. I wish I could get in there more.

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