Bisbee News 1996
A Day in the Life of S. Grant Sergot, man of many hats
February 8, 1996
by Mary Ellen Corbett
He has three years toward a master's degree in social work. He was a timber faller in the lumber industry. He has worked as a waiter and a maitre d'. He has been the subject of numerous newspaper and magazine articles. He has sculpted in marble and alabaster.
S. Grant Sergot is a man of many hats.
The Bisbee entrepreneur, owner of a custom hatworks at 41 Main St., now plys his artistry at Optimo, in the historic district, where he fits raw body hats imported from Panama, molding and shaping them along classic lines until he gives them what he describes as "form appropriate to the wearer."
A visit to Sergot's shop feels like a step back in time, to another era, when a choice of hats was the serious decision of every elegant gentleman and lady.
He features some 200 hats in his establishment -- all sizes, styles and price ranges. There are casual, formal, sun and business styles, for men, women and children, all made of the paja toquilla plant of Ecuador and Central America. His handwoven Panama straws come from Ecuador where they are crafted by descendants of the Incas who first wove the plant for water vessels. "These weavers learn their art as children and devote their entire lifetimes to it," he is eager to explain to customers who come to browse or to learn about his product line. "Sometime I would like to bring some of them here, to demonstrate their craft in some public way."
Prices for Sergot's hats can range from $20 to $300... from $6,000 or $9,000, he said, and the choice of bands -- all bias cut hem facings -- contributes to the uniqueness of each creation.
The grade of the weaving and the intricacies of the pattern determine the value, Sergot told The Bisbee News.
"Grade three looks like burlap," he said, " with grades 10 and 11 resembling cotton weave. By grade 14, it is looking like linen, and 15 has the appearence of silk. Seventeen looks like fine silk," he continued, " with 20, the finest weave, resembling heavy paper."
Sergot said once a customer has chosen a particular shade and grade of weaving, picking the specific brim and crown height, he begins his artistry. Using Eastern closed-grain wood hatblocks and steam for the shaping process, Sergot puts the soul into the hat.
Eventually, he said, he hopes to set up a complete basement studio to show visitors the many facets of an operational hatworks.
How did he master this unusual craft?
"It's self-taught, really. It has evolved from experimentation, trial and error. I had to learn about drying times, moisture content, about shaping, about styles..."
Incas began weaving thousands of years ago and hats date back to prehistoric times, Sergot said. Only in the past 50 years have people not relied on headgear. "That's one of the reasons there is so much skin cancer today. People need that protection from the sun. Medical factors will heavily influence fashion in the future," he said.