Hat Designer Benny Andallo Is a Head of His Time

The London-based headwear designer wants to “crown you” with his haute couture hats, as he explains in an in-depth interview.

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This article originally appeared in ‘Hypebeast Magazine Issue 32: The Fever Issue.’ Please visit HBX to grab your copy.


“The Hat Makes the Man,” proclaimed artist Max Ernst in naming one of his most definitive works. Of course, Ernst’s Dada-ist exploration of men’s headwear in paint and collage (more recently interpreted in sculpture form by Damien Hirst) was a nuanced reference to hats as a symbol of classism, one that he proudly challenged in his eye-catching work. A century later, and hats are still providing an ample ecosystem for both creative expression and social critique, especially for Filipino-British headwear designer Benny Andallo.

Born and bred in London, Andallo was raised in social housing (where, at 31, he still lives), and is one of the most notable figures in the city’s avant-garde fashion community—embodied in large part by designer Nasir Mazhar’s Fantastic Toiles collective. Besides his style-centric peers, Andallo pulls inspiration from the city’s underground party scene. Known for everything from high-tempo, bass-heavy warehouse nights, to unexpected rave-friendly hubs in reimagined forests and marshes on the city’s edge, these gatherings are where Andallo’s inspiration and ideas come to life.

The designer’s headwear shines as a way for wearers to “crown” themselves, in his own words. His visionary hats transform the wearer into something fabulous, attention grabbing, and authoritative, regardless of their social or economic status. It’s no wonder his designs (which he sells through Fantastic Toiles and directly via social media) have gotten the attention of musicians, celebrities, designers, and stylists from around the globe. Rihanna, Pink Pantheress, Kid Cudi, and FKA twigs, as well as now-collaborator Junya Watanabe, have embraced Andallo’s silhouettes for their idiosyncratic look: one that embraces the past, but is still fearlessly futuristic.

London-centric fashion means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. What is your experience of London and how do you feel it’s expressed in your work?

There are loads of designers who show in London or have studied in London, and I’ve done that as well, but there aren’t many designers or artists who represent the diaspora here. The change, for me, was with M.I.A. She was a brown girl coming from London creating this cool alternative noise. I think that’s what I do too, being a brown boy soaking up London, taking the traditional thing, and converting that into visual noise.

How did your roots and upbringing inform your creative approach?

I’m quite British in my sensibilities, but my Filipino attitude comes through in my creative process—the hustling mentality of creating something out of nothing. I’m pretty tight when it comes to sourcing fabrics, or the logistical and financial side of creating stuff. I always create through limitations and turn the throwaway into a really exciting product.

And what about that British sensibility?

When I began making hats, I started making these baker flat caps. I got obsessed with it because the area I live in London is called Newington Green. The area is a mix of so many different cultures. You see older men wearing a flat cap with their own kind of style. I see crowning yourself with these baker hats as a nod of Britishness, because this hat has relations to the royal family, as well as working class people in the UK.

You’ve been a consistent part of designer Nasir Mazhar’s Fantastic Toiles conceptual fashion boutique and collective. How does what you’re doing fit within the ethos of that collective?

A lot of the Fantastic Toiles designers are expressing their own interests, identities, and communities by creating treasure out of trash. I know it sounds like a bit of a naff thing to say, but it really is that kind of situation. A lot of it has to do with underground party culture in London; that’s where the energy and rawness comes in. It’s about sticking to your gut, rather than thinking about what might look good in a retail store. It’s very anti-commercialized.

How did you connect with Nasir Mazhar?
I assisted him when I was 17 or 18. I was such a lazy fucker and I was a terrible assistant. I had an expectation of the glossiness of fashion, but at the time I hadn’t realized how raw it was. Then later, I bumped into him and I didn’t realize it, but I guess Nasir saw my work and he said, “Yeah, I’d like to put some of your stuff in Fantastic Toiles.” This was still early in my hat career, but I got my first sales from Fantastic Toiles to Rihanna and Kiko Mizuhara.

Speaking of Rihanna, what are your feelings about celebrity in general and the way your designs have become part of some of these iconic looks?
It’s strange because sometimes people say, “Oh you’re a celebrity designer.” It’s like, “No, I’m definitely more than that.” I don’t chase anyone, it’s just a thing that happens. Stylists know my work. They tell me certain kinds of artists [are interested in a commission] and it’s like, “Yeah, I’m up for that.” I think other people get more excited about it than me because when a project is done, I’m going on to the next thing. I get over things quickly.

What about your recent Junya Watanabe collaboration for the men’s Fall/Winter 2022 mini-show and its accompanying video? Was working with Junya more exciting to you than a celebrity wearing one of your designs?
I’m a huge Junya fan, so I was not even really believing it. They had reached out through Instagram, and then I got an email from Junya himself. I was like, “OK, this is kind of weird.” Throughout the entire communication, I had no idea what it was about at all. They were very direct and very specific, so I didn’t hesitate or question anything because I was just like, “Fuck, it’s Junya, I trust whatever they do.” I only found out the collaboration was Jamiroquai-inspired when the video came out. Then, I was like, “OK, this makes sense now. This is actually pretty sick.”

“A lot of the Fantastic Toiles designers are expressing their own interests, identities, and communities by creating treasure out of trash. I know it sounds like a bit of a naff thing to say, but it really is that kind of situation.”

Black Fuzz Silly Top Hat

“This hat was made for the Junya collaboration, but it got taken out of the video because it was too big and heavy for the dancers to move around in. It came alive again because Erykah Badu wore it. The creative director of Marni, Francesco Risso, bought it for her for Christmas.”

Green Fleecy Floral Wonky Dome Hat
“This hat just didn’t feel right as one of my traditional dome shapes, so I added the tubing on the edge in the same fabric. It’s kind of trippy, animated, and cartoony, and is made out of fleece. It looks like Play-Doh or a raver’s hat from the ‘90s.”

Leopard Fuzz Baker Crown Hat

“This is one of the hats I’ve sold the most of and it’s the hat I personally wear all the time, too. I used contrast trimming, so it kind of looks like a crown in and of itself… you can crown yourself in it. I think it has all the best bits of something bad and good, all in one.”

Kitty Kat Doodle Bonnet
“I made this one for a shoot that was styled by Anna Trevelyan. It was inspired by the anime and comic book Tekkonkincreet. The idea was to make a cat ear bonnet that looked like someone walked out of a comic book and into reality.”

Hot Pink Fuzz Ear Bonnet
“This hat was made for Kid Cudi’s new brand Members of the Rage. I think they wanted me to consult on how to make their first season more fashionable. It has really subtle choices: color, length of fur, and shades to go along with the collection. This hat gave kind of a Harajuku style add-on to the look of the brand itself.”

Hot Pink Fuzz Dome Hat
“This is the first dome I made, and it was a statement. That pushed me to make more statement hats. Pink is just a great color because it’s so punchy and ridiculous. Culturally, it’s a bit of an homage to that Pamela Anderson VMA hat or Cam’ron’s iconic looks, as well.”

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