"Living Proof of a Dying Breed." This is the slogan that Kyle Cutter Nickerson embosses inside every Cutter Paul hat. The hat’s “vintage” is also on display in gold, a nod to his winemaking roots. Every heirloom quality hat has its own style and personality due to every part of the process being done by hand. “There are a lot of machines that could help with this process and make my life a lot easier,” says Kyle. “But there's something special about doing the whole process with two hands.”
After a brief email introduction, Kyle invites me to his unassuming studio on a quiet street in Denver’s Berkeley neighborhood. Following a friendly welcome and an offer of coffee, with a warm-toned vinyl record on in the background, he starts by admitting to me he’s still a little jetlagged. He’s been back in Denver only for a few days after a bustling couple of months making wine in Chile. His first passion just so happens to be winemaking, which is exactly what he was doing on this trip to South America. Kyle's passion for wine has led him to other artisan endeavors including both photography and hat-making. He now spends a few months a year traveling to different artisan wineries testing out a different terroir with each season: Chile, Italy and South Africa, just to name a few. He also mentions making many a hat for his winemaking peers. He continues to tie together his passions and he plans on continuing winemaking a quarter of the year and focusing on Cutter Paul for the remaining three quarters.
It was at a friend's dinner party on the Western Slope of Colorado that Kyle’s interest in hat-making started. Kyle approached a stranger to ask him where he got his sharp-looking hat and he responded that he made it himself. This started an obsession with learning how to craft hats with his own signature touch. He shows me the first hat he ever made, well-worn and blemished with grape juice stains, letting me know it’s traveled the world with him. After initially knocking on a few hatmakers' doors and getting denied due to the competitive nature of the industry, Kyle traveled to a few different workshops to learn as much as he could about the hatmaking trade. He landed at a workshop with a legendary hatmaker of Hollywood, Tom Hirt. This is where Kyle gained a wealth of knowledge and confidence in his trade.
Kyle walks me through his tools and materials: hat blocks and bands, a 50s Singer sewing machine in the corner. He talks about the different types of felt he uses to mold the perfect crown and how they differ in pliability.
“It’s almost like working with clay,” Kyle says. “When you hit it with steam all these fibers start to loosen up and you can actually work them down and around and eventually you achieve the perfect shape."
He uses both rabbit and coypu felts for his handmade creations; the former being the entry-level offering and the latter being more high-end.
Kyle had toyed with the idea of dedicating himself to Cutter Paul since 2018. It was an intense accident in 2020 where Kyle was hit on his motorcycle by a drunk driver that put that on hold. He points out where the metal screws are in his hands and arms and mentions that for several months after the accident, he was told he might lose his right hand.
After an astounding recovery, he’s dedicated most of his time to growing Cutter Paul with excitement and gratitude. He mentions that he doesn’t want it to grow too much though. He wants to retain full control, put his stamp on every hat that comes out of his studio and limit his production to no more than 200 hats per year. He tells me about keeping in touch with his clients and offering to make changes in the moment, if they feel like they need a new hatband or have the crown remolded.
Cutter Paul’s popularity grows with each hat Kyle sells and his business is almost exclusively word-of-mouth. He revels in the fact that each one of his clients is a walking billboard and most of the connections that he makes start off with the words: Hey, where did you get that hat? The music scene has caught on and he’s made hats for many musicians, including Wesley Schultz of The Lumineers.
“I'm a firm believer that if you retain humility and put a lot of love and good intention into what you're doing, it's just going to keep coming your way,” Kyle says. He tells me how he’s made several hundred hats over the years, but he remembers every single one. The artistry and craftsmanship in every Cutter Paul hat speaks for itself.