Splitting her time between Toronto and Berlin, Persian milliner and artist Maryam Keyhani is helping to keep the art of hat-making alive. After a three-year stint as a jewelry designer, she switched gears to launch her eponymous label of hats four years ago. “I’m not a trained milliner, but that’s to my advantage. I approach my hat designs with no limitations,” says Keyhani. A manifestation of her world, straw top hats, billowing silk creations, and sculptural headbands are just a few examples of her dreamlike headwear. “I started wearing hats as a way to express myself, but I didn’t realize until much later that it was so much more emotional and psychological. They’re like a security blanket. Yes, they attract attention, but at the same time I wanted to hide from people and feel protected,” she confesses. Her personal collection has more than a hundred hats, collected over the past decade. “They’re kind of all just stacked in groups everywhere,” she says with a laugh.
Following the success of her debut collection, Keyhani’s latest gig is a whimsical twist on traditional bridal headpieces. “I launched a line of bridal hats after a few clients asked me to do custom pieces for their wedding,” she shares. “After doing these one-off pieces, I found a huge gap in the market and realized that people want to express themselves with a little something extra special on their wedding day.” Keyhani’s bridal toppers include an ostrich feather blusher, a plush high-bun headband featuring a detachable veil, and a scalloped tiara delicately trimmed with pearls. Ranging from safer styles to over-the-top drama, the collection is for the bride who wants to be the star of her own story. “I’ve noticed that a lot of women would go for a classic dress silhouette, which gives them the justification to go bold with their headwear. The pearl tiara is my personal favorite,” she shares. “The point is never to impress others. Once women give themselves permission to think like that, it changes their entire life perspective.”
If Keyhani can’t find it, she’ll make it, even when it comes to her wardrobe. “I wanted play clothes – fantasy and make-believe – and I couldn’t find what I was looking for,” she says. “Normally, things like that are super expensive. I couldn’t afford to live my everyday life in those outfits, so I decided to design my own. Now I buy fewer clothes and I have outfits that are so much more satisfying to play in.” Empire waist gowns complete with voluminous sleeves and parachute dresses are reoccurring silhouettes in her array of one-of-a-kind garments. Separates such as striped balloon shorts with a ruffled hem and ballgown skirts reminiscent of a beach umbrella that she pairs with a cotton T-shirt are as “basic” as it gets. Her own wedding dress was a product of her imagination, which made a cameo in her bridal hats’ lookbook. “It is like a minimal cake – poufy and very structural. I still love it,” the mother of two reminisces. “I don’t know why I’m attracted to the 18th century aesthetic,” she says of her nostalgia for the Age of Enlightenment. “I grew up in Iran, I never saw an image from that era until I was in art school.”
Strokes of joy
“It’s romantic when a woman buys art for herself,” says the painter of abstract female figures featuring swirly strokes and creamy acrylic laid on thick like pastel buttercream frosting. Like the hats and clothes that she designs, the chandelier, candelabras, and balloon-like women in her paintings are characters that live in her surreal imagination. “They’re fancy ladies who dress up and are fabulous. They’re almost like the ladies who lunch, but in their own way,” she explains. “Normally, with art, people consult their partners, the person they live with, or go through their interior designer, but it’s so incredible when people see something that makes them happy and buy out of impulse,” says Keyhani, who has sold every painting she’s posted on her Instagram page. “The buyers send me pictures of the piece in their space and share with me how happy it makes them feel,” she says of her work that she delivers wrapped with a velvet blue ribbon. “I feel like a child making a drawing for another kid; there’s something so lovely about that.” Blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, her alternate universe serves as a coping tool to escape her anxiety. “When times are so dark, I need that more than ever,” Keyhani admits. “Adults need to play, we need paintings of characters, we need feather headpieces, we need puffy cakes, we need all these escapes, because the world can be so heavy-hearted.”
Originally published in the September 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia