I Love Belgium interviews Elvis Pompilio

Elvis Pompilio is standing in his doorway when I arrive at his new atelier in the rue Lebeau on the Brussels Sablon. With a broad smile he welcomes me in his new kingdom. He looks very relax and his eyes are sparkling. This Liège-born son of a miner is a very passionate man. After studies in graphical arts Elvis Pompilio designed his first hat creations becoming well known in the fashion world. In 1987 he began to work on his own and opened his first boutique in Brussels followed by a second one in Antwerp and later in Paris and London. But in 2002 he got fed up with the hassle of managing four different boutiques and doing the follow-up of a long list of regular clients such as Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys, Bendel,… There was only one thing that he wanted to do in his life and that was creating… His new boutique opens the 1st of April. I Love Belgium sat down with the master-hat designer himself to have a chat before the big opening.
A very simple and logical question, why the come-back with a store?
My passion is bigger than my reason. Do you know when I had the idea to start a new atelier? Six months ago! I woke up with the idea, and now here I am. My passion always had the upper hand with my reason. I am a designer, I create. I am not a manager. And I missed the contact with my customers, that is so important to me.
And why did you open your atelier on the Sablon and not downtown where your former boutique was?
I love the Sablon, the ambiance is so artistic here and I love all the antiques shops. Downtown, where I used to be, is still great, but I have the impression that it got more commercial. There’s nothing wrong with that. I still love to go downtown too.
Do you think that hats or hat accessories are ‘in fashion’ nowadays? If you think about the success of Maison Michel (where Brussels born Laetitia Crahay is creative director) and the Belgians of Mouton-Colette, you would say yes! Or what do you think of this?
There’s no ‘fashion’ in hats. Hats and hat accessories have always been there. I rarely buy fashion magazines. I just do what I want and that’s to create something beautiful
In the past, hats were a sign of status. Do you want to re-install this sign or why do you think that people should start wearing more hats?
People who wear hats have a sparkle in their eyes and that’s what I want to accomplish. People who come to my store have to have a good time. I love to take people into my world and I’m the happiest man on earth if they leave with a big smile. Every person is different and wearing a hat creates a different sort of reality. It’s like poetry. You can be a cowboy with a cowboy hat or a baron with a top hat. Everything is possible when you wear a hat
Do you think that Belgium is a country of hat designers? Because there’s also Christophe Coppens, Fabienne Delvigne, Mouton Colette,…
I’ve been making hats for over 25 years, so that’s a difficult question to answer. I don’t know, but maybe I’ve inspired people to create.
Do you think a lot changed since you closed your boutiques in 2002?
Oh yes. Everywhere I come, I see the same. It’s horrible. Where’s the uniqueness? People are buying and buying without any respect. I’m disgusted with the consumption society. I want to give the example of real craftsmanship. I was never in it for the money and this will stay this way. I want to make something typical Belgian with a unique and strong identity. This store will be the only Elvis Pompilio in the world. I could easily have chosen to open it in Paris, but I wanted to opened it in Belgium close to my roots and the people I love.
You already dressed a lot of stars: Madonna, Joan Collins, Axelle Red, Sharon Stone and also a lot of royalty. Who’s your dream woman or man to dress?
I want to dress so many people! Not only famous people. Sometimes I walk in the street and I see somebody for whom I really want to make a hat. It’s great to make a hat for a movie star but I have the same joy of making a hat for somebody unknown than for somebody famous. When I had an appointment with Joan Collins in Paris to show her my hats she said to me: “I’ve seen you on television, I adore you!” I was in a talk show on French television the day before. That was so adorable.
Together with your boutique, you also launch your biographie called ‘Vie Privée’ (Private Life) written by Jean-Paul Masse de Rouch. Are there any spicy details from the fashion scene in the book or have you been a good boy?
Of course there are some anecdotes from the fashion scene but most of all the book tells my story.
You were in Brussels during the wild eighties. What is your best souvenir?
I loved the fact that we were welcomed as kings and queens in clubs in Brussels such as the infamous Mirano. Whereas they refused me and my friends in clubs in my hometown Liège – because we were dressed outrageously – the doormen from the Mirano opened the velvet ropes when they saw us coming.
And last question, the classic I Love Belgium-interview question: why do you love Belgium?
Belgians are modest, simple and very different. Even a bit surreal. And the fact that we are all so different makes us very rich. You will not find superficiality here. We are also very cultivated, humble and very open-minded. I could live anywhere, New York, Paris, London,… but Belgium still makes me dream. It’s not a fake country and I have the feeling there are still so many things to be done.

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