Truth is, try as one might, it’s nearly impossible to buy the kind of viral social media magic that can happen organically. Watching hat designer Ruslan Baginskiy’s ascent is proof. The Ukrainian milliner has been in the game for only a few short years but counts the girls everyone has on their radars as fans: Emily Ratajkowski, the Hadid supermodel sisters, Camila Coelho and Camila Cabello, Janelle Monáe, Irina Shayk, and more influencers than you can count on one marketing deck.
That love has translated into a thriving business. But it all starts with a great hat, of course. Baginskiy’s signature is the baker boy, a trend that shows no sign of waning, and has been joined by jaunty leather berets, straw boaters, plaid bucket hats, silk headbands, and more. Below, the former stylist breaks down his background, where he is, and where he’s headed.
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Tell us about your background. How did you get into the hat game?
There are no good fashion schools in Ukraine, and I didn’t have money to go to Central Saint Martins or Istituto Marangoni on my 18, so I got a master’s degree in geography. The local millinery studio in Lviv became my main university. When I got interested in production of hats, I found out about only two women in the city who could teach me. For some reason, they didn’t want to share their knowledge, but I persuade one of them and started my education. She taught me everything about felt. And during the next few years, I read tons of literature to study more about other materials and all hat shapes.
Why were you drawn to hats?
Some hat styles are timeless, they seem to be the only constant in fashion. I wanted to be a part of this monumental story.
What’s your earliest hat memory growing up?
Hats were an essential part of men’s style in Lviv in the ’90s. The third husband of my grandmother had a black felt fedora, and I could explore it for hours. Seams, tag, accessories … all of this was super interesting to me.
Also my mom had a baker boy cap when I was a child. I didn’t remember this, but one or two years ago, I found her old picture in our family archive. And it seems like she has always been my inspiration.
Girls really fell for the baker boy hats. Why do you think that was?
I think that the baker boy cap combines sexuality and utility. It’s the most basic accessory, you can wear it with every single outfit in your wardrobe. Everyone looks good in a baker boy cap. It doesn’t need any special efforts, it’s always stylish no matter what the current fashion trends are.
What’s your design process like?
I always start with research. I can find inspiration on the streets of Kiev, in vintage fashion magazines. I don’t make sketches, but I create a lot of mood boards. Then, I and my team search for materials and accessories, and after that, we spend hours experimenting in the studio. For my next collection, which will be presented in Paris in January, I prepared 75 samples, but only 49 of them went into final production.
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What do you love about hat design?
I like the artisanal approach to fashion design and production. Handmade accessories, interesting details, and embroidery are more sincere to me in our technology age. It’s always been my dream to show the world how many diverse and unique techniques there are in Ukraine—we always try to find artisans who can teach us something new. For example, there are only two or three producers of wood hat blocks (which are used to make felt hats) in Ukraine, and we are always in touch with them.
And we are also proud that the RB embroidery, which embellishes our every baker boy cap, is made by hand.
You recently did a couture collection. How did that differ from your general approach?
Creation of the couture collection takes more time for sure. It requires knowledge and a wide cultural background. It’s a long process, with ups and downs and a lot of experimentation. Fashion has always been art to me, and I like to feel myself an artist while making a couture collection. There is a story behind every piece. I invited artists and IT-specialists to help me. We used 3-D printing and different local technologies. For example, voluminous silk flowers from eco-plastic inspired by traditional wedding boutonnieres, and ears of wheat decorated headbands refer to Ukrainian landscapes.
How has social media and Instagram in particular affected your business? What were some standout Insta-moments for you?
Instagram is 95 percent of our business success. I’m really happy that social media exists. I used its power even before the Instagram era. When I was a stylist, I published all my editorials online, so my FB page looked more like a CV. Now, you can easily connect with a person from any part of the world, you need only a few seconds to find any stylist or photographer online. We always ask buyers how they found out about our brand, and they almost always find us through Instagram.
We have two memorable Insta-moments. Fashion influencer Lena Perminova was the first celebrity who wore our hat and tagged the brand, and only in two days, the number of our followers doubled.
But the rest of the fashion world heard about the brand after Bella Hadid became our fan. She has lots of our hats and wore baker boy caps all the time, and that fact led to placements in the best fashion magazines in the world, including yours.
So many famous faces have worn the brand. Who is your dream girl, real or fictional, who you’d love to see in RB?
It’s true that hundreds of cool well-known girls have worn our brand already, so I can’t name someone particular. For me, the best feeling in the world is to meet a girl in our store who has always thought that hats are not for her, and to see her happy face when she finds a style which fits perfectly. I think that hats should be an essential part of any outfit as it was in the 19th century. My dream is to make hats for every girl in the world. I wish when people say “hat” they mean “Ruslan Baginskiy.”
Would you ever explore other categories?
You know, I’m very superstitious, and not the kind of person who promises a lot and does nothing. I am planning a new product release next year, and you will be the first to know.