Nicholson Hat Company: Filled to the brim with passion for tailored artistry

SONOMA, California — Keryn Nicholson's last step in handcrafting her trademark hats from Nicholson Hat Company is a fine alcohol mist that coats every newly shaped felt hat.

Then she sets it ablaze.

Within seconds, a cool blue flame envelops each hat, burning off the excess fuzz and felt to set the handmade hat's style and to cement its tailored artistry forever.

It's a figurative and literal trial by fire that's followed Keryn every step of the way.

"I have an innate love for hats and do everything myself," she says. "You have to be more than intrepid to call yourself a hatter … it's not for the faint-hearted."

Like Keryn, INFINITI builds its all-new 2022 QX60 SUV with a passion for details and with a craftsman's eye. It's the fine felts, bands, and accents that bring Keryn close to similar INFINITI artisans who use the same deliberation in the materials they select for INFINITI's all-new three-row SUV. From the sumptuous semi-aniline leather appointments that adorn the seats on the QX60 AUTOGRAPH to the open-pore ash wood trim, contrast stitching and piping, and soft-touch materials. Like Keryn curates her materials, INFINITI does the same to deliver to its customers a tailored experience that helps them Conquer Life in Style.

Keryn is a one-of-a-kind hatmaker in a profession older than the American West and one that men primarily dominate. Her trade and tools predate her by dozens, if not hundreds of years. She's forged her status as not only a hatmaker in Central California but also as a trusted source for the ranchers and farmers nearby who rely on her expert hands to create respite to block the sometimes-unforgiving summer sun. Rugged wear is only part of it: Keryn's also made fashionable headwear that wouldn't be out of place on a runway in Paris or a night out in New York.

With a laugh, Karyn admits she's worn many hats in her life, but the current one seems to fit exceptionally well.

After finishing college and traveling to Ethiopia with the U.S. Peace Corps, Keryn returned to California with a new outlook on the world and was eager to make her mark. Working during the daytime and rehabbing old vintage clothing for new lives at night, Keryn transformed how she looked at materials and apparel. Although always fashion-forward, haute couture isn't in Keryn's DNA.

Keryn's Texas roots run deeply. Workaday wear is in her blood, and a tall Texas flag hangs near her workbench at her shop in Fresno.

"In Texas, everyone has an innate love for hats," she chuckles.

In LA, Keryn befriended a hatmaker who offered to show her their workshop. Filled with centuries-old tools and shaping devices, the intimacy and artistry within the workshop struck her — each hat tailored for each wearer, bespoke for every head.

At home, she looked for ways to continue her education via an apprenticeship or mentorship. Opportunities were available, but hours away from home and impractical for her.

"The closest to me was three or four hours away," she says. "Way out there. Just unrealistic for a four-month apprenticeship."

Undeterred, Keryn set to work learning what she could. Sourcing felt for the hats and tools came relatively quickly, although not without some luck. The felt she gets, from Tennessee, is first-rate and highly sought-after — she was one of the last to secure the precious material before the shop closed its books to new hatmakers.

By the time she had researched what she could, learned from who she could talk to, and assembled just a handful of tools that were nearly impossible to find, she'd serve as her apprentice and teacher by learning on the job.

"I started slowly, made mistakes, but made a decision to have fun," she says. "A lot of the cowboys and ranchers around here looked at me funny."

Those first few hats weren't great, she admits. But her friends kept buying them — strangers, too. After just a few more hats, she found her groove. By the time she had been making hats for just a couple of years, her business boomed enough for her to make it her full-time profession.

A couple of years into her newfound career, her business is soaring. Clients from all over the country ask for her high-fashion, custom hats now. Almost as important as high style? The ranchers and farmers nearby seek her hats for the quality work and durability she takes pride in.

Keryn forged her path in hatmaking largely alone, although she acknowledges not all her journey has been solitary. She pledges to help other artists who buy her work, and all her vendors — the bands, the dyes, and other adornments — are female-owned businesses.

It's a forward-thinking attitude she's always carried with her, stoked by a fire within that sparked a long time ago.