February 26, 2024

The Mad Hatter Pasquale Bonfilio

In the vibrant tapestry of Milan, amidst cobblestone alleys and echoes of the Renaissance, lies the creative sanctuary of an exceptional artist: Pasquale Bonfilio. His workspace, an amalgamation of home, workshop, atelier, antique store, and museum, is where his magic takes shape. Where hats are transformed into sculptures, and paintings come to life.

The journey to Bonfilio’s atelier is more than a mere physical passage; it is an opening to another dimension. Here, the essence of the Renaissance intertwines with modernism and each step feels like walking through a corridor connecting two eras, where creation becomes a timeless experience.

Native to the charming region of Puglia, Bonfilio has established his base in the bustling city ofMilan. He can be described as a truly multifaceted artist, dividing his days between hat craftsmanship with various materials and artistic expression, to painting with watercolors and oils. His creative palette embraces the Renaissance period and surrealism, resulting in creative works that capture the illusion of a world suspended in time.


suit KENZO

The heart of his creativity; Bonfilio Hats, is a hat brand that has achieved international recognition. Collaborations with the most prestigious fashion magazines have elevated his products to new heights, from gracing the covers of major publications to adorning the heads of icons like Adriana Lima, Irina Shayk, Isabeli Fontana, and Paris Hilton, among others. Beyond being merely fashion accessories, his hats are works of art, merging functionality with aesthetics in a symphony of style and craftsmanship.

 Collaborations with renowned figures and a presence in the fashion world are just some facets of Bonfilio’s career. His watercolors and oils, conceived in the same space where his hats take shape, form a relationship to parallel artistic dimensions. Each stroke reflects the same illusion experienced when entering his atelier, as if the brushstrokes pause in time and allows an immersion into the essence of Renaissance.

Decades of dedication and effort intertwine in this magical space, where Bonfilio’s craftsmanship and artistry merge with his surrealistic vision. Whether in the form of his hats gracing the streets of Milan or paintings intoxicating the senses. His works are testaments to an artist in every sense of the word.



In a friendly interview with the artist, we explore the innermost layers of his creativity.

We would love to learn more about your beginnings in the art world and how you developed your passion for painting. Can you share specific details about this artistic journey?

I began painting as a child. I used to assist my father in his work and would receive the equivalent of a few euros for my help. I remember rushing to the local stationery store and buying pencils and paint to paint and draw. Any surface was suitable for my experiments: I used paper, fabric, wood… anything, even a tablecloth, I remember. At the age of 13, I already participated in my first group exhibition.

In addition to painting, can you tell us at what point you decided to start your hat brand and what motivated you to take that step?

I had been living in Belgium for several years when I secured my first solo exhibition with an art gallery. I negotiated the opportunity and had a few months to prepare. With much to accomplish, I decided to leave my job, working for a 3D Printing company, and dedicated myself to painting day and night to meet the deadline.

At the opening cocktail event, just minutes into the event, I finally found a moment to relax and enjoy a glass of wine after attending to last-minute details. To my surprise, a friend whispered in my ear that I had already sold the first piece, a red dot adorned my artwork. I couldn’t believe it. I immediately asked the gallerist to introduce me to the buyer.

It turned out to be Elvis Pompilio, the renowned milliner from the ’80s and ’90s. He admired my work and subsequently invited me to decorate his new shop in Brussels. Following that collaboration, I was involved in a hat project, marking the beginning of our partnership for several years. Eventually, a few years later, I returned to Italy and embarked on establishing my own brand.

What is your main source of inspiration when creating both hats and paintings? Do you believe there is a common thread between your work as a hat maker and a painter?

Ultimately, my journey has consistently revolved around the pursuit of beauty. I’ve explored diverse artistic domains, such as painting and fashion. However, at its core, it has always been my enduring quest for beauty, that is common to both.

necklace SWAROVSKI

(left to right)

full look VALENTINO


How do you manage to balance your two passions harmoniously in your daily life? From your perspective, how do you interpret the relationship between fashion and art in your work?

I must confess that, regrettably, I don’t get much sleep. Typically, my days are consumed by crafting hats from morning till night. Subsequently, during the late hours, I engage in painting until 3 AM. However, the two pursuits are deeply intertwined, with a mutual influence. The pursuit of harmonious color combinations and shapes is a shared essence in both realms.

Regarding the creative process, can you share how you select materials for your hats and what approach you take when starting a new painting? Is there any ritual or routine you follow before beginning?

The creative process for the two is markedly distinct. In the inception of my paintings, I initiate with a design sketch, conjuring one of my characters. Subsequently, I meticulously adhere to the ancient Renaissance methods: commencing with a monochromatic base, then methodically applying very fine layers of color one after the other until the desired result materializes. Remarkably, I can apply up to 30 layers of color.

On the other hand, when embarking on a hat, the process takes on a much more instinctive nature. I seek out a material that sparks inspiration, shaping it on my head in front of the mirror until a glimpse of beauty emerges. I then solidify the form through meticulous sewing and stitching. 

Which artists have significantly influenced your work and inspired you throughout your career?

It’s a formidable task to compile a comprehensive list of the countless artists who have left an indelible mark on my creative journey. The sheer multitude of influences is both enriching and challenging to encapsulate. However, I must acknowledge that among this vast array of inspirations, Vincent Van Gogh occupies a uniquely profound place in my heart.

Last summer, I embarked on a pilgrimage to Auvers-sur-Oise, the poignant location where Van Gogh spent his final months. The experience was nothing short of exhilarating as I immersed myself in the very landscapes that had stirred his artistic soul. Dining at the same establishments he frequented and paying homage to his resting place by leaving a flower added a deeply personal layer to my artistic connection.

 While Van Gogh holds a special significance, the spectrum of artists who have influenced meextends far beyond. Each has contributed in their unique own way, shaping my perspective, and fuelling my creative passion.



Explain to us how you integrate painting into your hats and how you decide on the colours and techniques you use.

My passion lies in the intricate study of Renaissance masters and their artistic techniques, with a particular focus on unraveling the mysteries of the colours they employed. I find immensesatisfaction in identifying pigments and hues reminiscent of those favoured by the great masters, embarking on a journey of experimentation to understand their unique combinations.

Admittedly, the realm of hat-making imposes certain constraints on the range of colours achievable with the materials at my disposal. Despite these limitations, a common thread ties together my pursuits in both realms – an unwavering commitment to achieving harmony in the composition of colours and shapes.

Is there a hat piece you have created that you consider your favourite so far?

All my hats are a bit like sons and it ́s not easy indicating the favourites. but I must admit that the Rubens ́Hat, is probably my favourite. The shape is very graphic and simple but making it so linear and simple was complex and took a lot of time. I’m proud of it.

Do you have any special stories about someone proudly wearing one of your hats?

Among the many poignant stories surrounding my creations, one holds a particularly special place in my heart. A man reached out to schedule an appointment to visit my atelier, embarking on a train journey from central Italy to do so. It was later revealed that he had diligently worked for months at a cleaning company, saving every hard-earned penny to afford not just any hat, but one of the most extravagant and unique pieces from my collection. His choice was driven by the profound impact my hat had on his sense of self; it made him feel truly special. The realization that my creation played a role in elevating someone’s sense of worth fills me with an overwhelming sense of pride in my craft.

There have been instances where my hats adorned the heads of iconic figures who have long been my muses. Celebrities such as Eva Herzigova, Monica Bellucci, and Rossy de Palma have graced my creations, bringing a surreal joy and immense pride to see my work worn by individuals I’ve admired throughout my entire life.



What advice would you give to those looking to start a career in hat-making?

The only advice I would give them is the same advice I was given many years ago: regardless of what you choose, there will be pains and frustrations so make sure you follow your passion rather than choosing because you are afraid of the alternative.

Regarding painting, is there a particular work you have created that holds a particularly deep meaning for you?

I would not mention a single painting, I would rather say the series of profiles of women that I paint. They look towards infinity, for me, it ́s a sort of meditation. It is a sort of optimistic aspiration towards the future.

In conclusion, is there any message or reflection you would like to share?

In these tumultuous times, we find ourselves confronting conflicts on our doorstep that we had hoped were relegated to history. Now, more than ever, it is crucial to recall the enduring wisdom Dostoevsky left us: “Beauty will save the world.” it becomes imperative to actively seek and appreciate the precious moments of beauty that surround us.


photographer JVDAS BERRA




make up and hair GIUSEPPE PALADINO