Hugo Lavoie of Radio-Canada Visits a Montreal Shtreimel Factory

Lire cet article en français "Hugo Lavoie de Radio-Canada visite un atelier de Shtreimel à Montréal"

The top of the schtreimels clearly shows the assembly of fur strips. Photo : Radio-Canada/Sarah Champagne

The top of the schtreimels clearly shows the assembly of fur strips. Photo : Radio-Canada/Sarah Champagne

This article is a translation of the the original piece that appeared on Radio-Canada.

Montreal’s art of manufacturing shtreimels – fur hats worn by Hasidic Jews

The pressed suits, the dark coats of Hasidim in Montreal are anything but flamboyant. But the tall shimmering round hats they wear do not go by unnoticed.

Objects of pride or curiosity, the shtreimels are produced on Van Horne, in the metropolis. Moshe Kraus explains that its roots are not attributed to religion, but to a fashion, a tradition. He opened the doors of his shop to columnist Hugo Lavoie and editor Sarah Champagne.

Kraus Shtreimel is a company that specializes in high-end hats. Its been in existence since the 1950s and sells mainly to the United States. “My grandfather was a fur coat merchant, but there wasn’t much demand [...] today its a growing market. At first, it was worn only by rabbis, but now everyone wants to wear it!”, relates the grandson, who took over.

Distinctively designed, the headgear worn on the Sabbath and holidays, is worn after marriage. The shtreimel is indeed important in the life of Hasidic Jews. Mr. Kraus, however he ensures us that to members of his community its primarily a matter of fashion. Therefore its not directly associated with religion, but rather a tradition that dates back to the 18th century. “Long ago they forced us to put a tail on our hats, we turned it into a fashion” says the hatter.

He is unwilling to reveal the price paid by his customers, but other sources indicate that an high quality shtreimel can cost up to $4000. Its not surprising then that clients are extremely demanding, according to the shop owners.

“A customer who sees a single extra hair strand does not want to buy it,” says Kraus. This explains the very attentive care he gives his hat.

The artisans who work at Kraus are not Orthodox Jews. The oldest of them, Van Tue, has been making shtreimels for at least 30 years, without ever having worn one, remarks Moshe Kraus, noting the irony of the situation. The important thing is to be meticulous.

Credit: Radio-Canada / Sarah Champagne

Credit: Radio-Canada / Sarah Champagne

Here we see Mr. Tue at work, working meticulously on the materials of the next Kraus hat.

These hats are not heavy, and contrary to the impression of a mere observer, are not really warm. Their skeleton is a simple black cap, adjusted to the customer’s head size. Thirteen tails of sable, a small mammal, are then mounted on tabs and overlaid to give a feeling of roundness.

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