Fancy a Hat? Meet Gigi Burris.
New York City's chicest milliner opens up her studio for our Designer Dossier.
I’m convinced that some of New York’s most precious gems rest atop or at the foot of a steep stairwell, usually behind a tiny door, on a narrow storefront with just a whisper of signage.
These are the doors you only buzz if you’ve been invited in. Whatever lovely world lies behind is only for the host to reveal. That is Gigi Burris’ Chinatown Millinery — up a precipitous stairwell — nestled within the neon and lanterns of Chinatown.
Gigi and I have lapped each other socially for years. Both hailing from the American South with roots in rural Florida, we swapped stories about everything from Polk County to the musicianship of Leon Bridges to the old Garden & Gun Jubilee. The voice of Otis Redding was warbling over the speakers as she toured me through her Pell Street studio.
Gigi is a CFDA-recognized milliner. Hats are designed and made to measure within the four walls of her atelier. When I walked in, two chic young women were in the back room, surrounded by tonal swaths of felt and ribbon, happily crafting beautiful hats in real-time.
My eye immediately went to the Sharina hat. “A bestseller,” Gigi said. Perched in front of a mirror, she took a measuring tape to my head to fit me for one of my own. I chose it in a rich shade of hazelnut, telling her with confidence that it looked like something The Row would send down the runway (clocking in at a far more reasonable $425.)
As we sat and gabbed, Gigi’s husband poked his head out, a designer in his own right who sometimes shares her studio. I admired his work, bespoke handbags and outerwear sustainably fashioned from wild alligator skins cast aside in the Florida Everglades. Out trotted her Wheaton Terrier, Bo Derrick, to greet me as well. After a good snuggle and some play time, I asked her if she liked my hat.
JG: Tell me something about your background that’s not in your website bio. GB: I was a nationally-ranked synchronized swimmer in my youth. There is something so nostalgic about the sport; it is very feminine, but it takes tremendous strength.
How would you describe your personal style? A little feminine, always black, and a little western rock and roll flair.
What album, playlist, or song has captivated you lately? I love the Dolly Parton Rockstar album of covers - especially her version of Free Bird.
What’s your favorite restaurant? What do you like to eat/drink there? We love hopping over to the Tin Building after a day at the atelier. My husband and I will order the lemon pizza, and we can collect some groceries at the same time. They sell my favorite French yogurt and the most incredible spice collection.
Seen any great live shows lately? My husband and I are die-hard Willie Nelson fans. We go to every show in the New York area, and this summer, he played Forest Hills. That music while the sun was setting at the outdoor venue was so romantic. This season, we introduced Western weight felts, and it would be a dream to dress Willie.
What's on your travel docket for 2024? We love a quick getaway long weekend in Jamaica. The flight isn’t long, and the Rockhouse Hotel is impossibly dreamy but relaxed.
What are you packing? Our best-selling packable Ida hat.
Tell me about launching your line. I was blessed to start Gigi Burris Millinery at quite a young age, and that naivety is an advantage. The collections were fearless back then, now we have to look at selling data and partner with wholesalers so the experience of designing feels less free than when you first start. I’d love to capture that freedom again and really lean into creativity. We also are excited to expand our bridal collection and host bridal appointments in our new storefront.
You’re invited to a dinner party. What gift are you bringing the host? Hand-poured beeswax candle tapers - they smell so yummy, and I love supporting local artisans who craft them. A favorite is Root and Tuber from upstate.
How does where you live influence your work? We craft each Gigi Burris piece by hand here in New York City, so the city truly serves as the foundation of the brand. It is very important to us to keep artisanal fashion production thriving here. In addition to Gigi Burris Millinery, I founded a nonprofit organization — Closely Crafted — with the mission to preserve craftsmanship in the American Fashion Industry. With a good portion of our network in New York City, I have discovered incredible stories of family-owned manufacturing ateliers that have been in business for generations.
Drop a beauty secret. Sunscreen and a good hat.
Describe your perfect Sunday. Lazy bagel and lox breakfast while taking in church online. Walk to the farmers market with my husband Evan and our soft-coated wheaten terrier Bo Derrick. Meeting a friend for a glass of wine and oysters. Early bedtime!
Gigi Burris’ Guide to Dining in Chinatown:
Given her atelier location, I asked Gigi to spill her favorite neighborhood haunts.