Mr Legbas - The Mad Hatter From Fortitude Valley!

February 21, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Mr Legbas Chris Morris Portrait

Introducing: Australia's very own Mad Hatter, Mr Legbas! This enigmatic fabricator of felt fancies is nothing short of inspiring! His creativity, ingenuity and left of field approach, form the perfect recipe for uninhibited headpieces to provoke the imagination. Currently creating in the heart of Fortitude Valley, Mr Legbas is an important member of the small, yet quietly developing, community of Australian hat makers.

From the 27th of December to the 2nd of January 2016/2017, Mr. Legbas set up a stall at the Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to photograph him - whilst listening to the story of how it all came to be...

It may surprise you to know that Mr. Legbas was not always a creator of charismatic wearable art. Before his career as a mad hatter, he was a fabricator of food. He worked as a chef until 2008 when he sustained an injury that forced him to take a break from work. Whilst in recovery, he began toying with felt and discovered that he had accidentally unearthed a dedicated passion. He first began by felting scarves and shawls before ultimately taking an interest in hat making.

Following his newfound passion for felt, he embarked on a 2 year course to study fashion. He painfully recalls spending many weeks perfecting A-line skirts and other elements of women's clothing. This eventually led to him leaving the course after 6 months, to avoid having to spend any more time crafting the perfect brassier for himself.

He didn't lose hope however, and he continued to pursue his love of felted possibilities. Hungry for knowledge, he began studying antique literature written for the hatter of the 1800's and prior. This helped to form his evolving repertoire based on the original techniques of hat creation.

Once he learned the basics, he threw it all out the window! Now, at age 34 he finds himself as a full-time hatter, crafting quirky and thought-provoking headpieces for all walks of life, perhaps giving us all the lesson that you never know when and where you might find your passion in life!

Throughout the photo shoot, we spoke at length about all things hats. I also took the opportunity to learn about his intriguing family history. He beguiled me with fascinating stories such as that of his great grandad who eventually landed himself with two hooks instead of two hands after a miscalculated incident while dynamite fishing. I realized that this hatter had no shortage of wild and wonderful tales to share!

Raised on Great Keppel Island with two brothers and two sisters, Mr. Legbas finds himself as the first hatter in the family from a long line of Greek fisherman and goat farmers.

We then got to talking about Keppel, or, as he referred to it as, “my island in the sun.” (A reference to his uncle Alan J. Morirs' book "My Island In the Sun: An Early History of Great Keppel Island".)

Mr. Legbas spoke fondly of the liberties afforded to him while growing up on the island, such as a lack of curfews and living with a sense of total freedom. It was everything a young boy could wish for.

When he was not on the island, he attended a school in Biloela about 147 km away. Although his time was split between Biloela and the island, to him the tropical paradise of Keppel Island is “the only place that's home.” This is not surprising as Mr. Legbas also has a unique family connection to the island. His grandfather, Constantine “Connie” Morris, was one of the pioneers of the original Silver Sands Resort on Great Keppel Island.

These days, while crafting his felty creations, he often draws inspiration from his childhood memories of the island. He does this in a variety of delightful and peculiar ways, such as adding in the process of burning in order to replicate the dark, rugged texture of the rock-faces that surrounded his island home.

Mr. Legbas takes great pride in incorporating the workmanship of his family into his own pieces. He enjoys collaborating with family and letting himself be inspired by their individual talents. His sister, Kerry Morris, works as a silver smith under the name 'Little Fish Jewellery' (@_littlefishjewellery), an example of her work with stone jewellery is featured in the image below. His dad also dabbles as a lapidary fashioning cabochons in his free time, and another of his sisters is also creative, preferring to spend her creative free time working with wood although not yet professionally.

When asked what his work means to him, his response was to quote Captain Jack Sparrow, remarking with a content sigh, “Ah, it's freedom, love.”

“I answer to myself,” he went on, “I never really learnt the correct rules, so it's a bit like road runner, when he runs off a cliff but he doesn't fall because he doesn't know the rules of gravity...he just keeps running.”


(Above images supplied by Mr Legbas)

Mr Legbas has ran with his natural talent for the hat making process.
Everything he creates is crafted with care and he has gone to great lengths to fully understand each stage of the hat making process.

Working the felt Working the felt


(Above images supplied by Mr Legbas)

Some of his pieces are constructed with wool, although he mostly prefers the use of rabbit fur. He says it tends to deliver a better finish for the overall product.

Often misidentified as a 'milliner' (n. A person who is involved in the manufacture, design, or sale of hats for women), Mr. Legbas will tell you, once pressed, that he much prefers the title of 'hatter' (n. A person who makes, sells, or repairs hats). He doesn't seem to mind the 'mad-' preface.

His name is based on the age-old tale of Papa Legba. The legend finds its origins in Africa, the characters and details of which are referred to by different names in different cultures. Our hatter, Mr. Legbas, takes his inspiration from the Haitian Voodou and New Orleans Voodoo version of the tale.

According to this legend, Papa Legba stands at the spiritual crossroads and his permission is required in order for mortals to speak with the spirits. Papa Legba is known for his excellent linguistics as well as for his role as a trickster, warrior, and the personal messenger of destiny.

The logo that our hatter emblazons onto each of his creations reflects this mythology.

(Above images supplied by Mr Legbas)

Initially, Mr. Legbas strongly related to this image in a literal sense. He finds a strong connection to the idea of being at a crossroads and to a life on the road, as he found himself constantly traveling from market to market. He laughs as he says “I wasn't sure where I was going.”


(Above image supplied by Mr Legbas)

Being a lover of blues music, he was captivated by the legend surrounding American blues musician Robert Johnson. Rumour has it that one day Johnson simply disappeared. According to one version of the legend, while he was gone he sold his soul to the devil who then granted him the gift to came back as a brilliant musician (which he certainly was), seemingly overnight. However, Mr Legbas believes in another version of the tale which speculates that it was Papa Legba with whom Johnson made a deal. One thing is for sure: at some point in our lives we will each find ourselves at a theoretical (and sometimes literal) crossroads and we must make a decision that will affect the rest of our life journey.

Mr Legbas chose to embrace the decision he made at his own crossroads to become a hatter and was enthralled by the idea of Papa Legba. “I would have liked to drive off into the sunset and come back as a brilliant hat maker.” Mr. Legbas laughs. “I love his attributes. I would love to take on more of his traits, he is an excellent linguist.”

“You can change someone with a hat, I like to bring out something in them.” Mr Legbas reveals, sharing an affinity with Papa Legba who enjoys embellishing the talents of those who seek him.

As for Papa Legba's 'trickster' attitude, our hatter sees this as a positive, stating, “I think he chooses if you need to be tricked, to keep people honest.”


(Above images supplied by Mr Legbas)

So, who inspires the man that inspires?

Without skipping a beat, when asked this question Mr. Legbas will declare his love for American musician Tom Waits, "Tom Waits is a god, he is my hero.” Once described as "America’s favorite lacquered vaudeville rock beatnik carnival barking balladeer", the unique musical stylings of Tom Waits have undoubtedly been the soundtrack and inspiration of many a bizarre journey. “I admire his approach" Mr Legbas continued, "If the workshop day is not going well, he comes on.”

Here is a sneak peak at Mr Legbas' festival store / workshop where he could be found chatting with interested customers about the history of Australian felt or hats, or otherwise sitting on his stool, working on his next piece of wearable art.

knome hats at woodford on THAT chair...

Crafting hats at Woodford Folk FestivalThe intricacies Mr Legbas' festival workshop.

So what's it like to be a hatter?

A typical day in the life of this hatter consists of ample coffee, excessive amounts of time spent alone, and countless hours poring over the many elements involved with hats. From formulating bands and accessories to the actual "blocking", shaping and stitching of the wool or felt. So how does said hatter stave off impending insanity from so many laborious hours spent alone in his weird and wonderful workshop? Well, he invites other artists in, of course!

After opening up his Fortitude Valley workshop in January, he has put out an open invitation for anyone to stop by 176 Knapp St, say hello, and find the hat of their dreams.

The workshop is not only a place to come to and be inspired this unique individual, Mr. Legbas has created an open space where people can come and collaborate, or even work on their own art in the shared space. “I have this utopian idea that everyone will be happy in this workshop and get along,” and a space where people can come and work on their own projects as well, to “stave off insanity and to keep from licking the walls.” He laughs, and then adds, “Actually, a whole pack of 'wall-lickers' would be fucking awesome.”

   (Above image supplied by Mr Legbas)

Mr. Legbas wants people to question things. He wants them to ask “Why?” in every situation.

“The general idea of a perfect design isn't really perfect, it's what society deems to be perfect- question everything. There is nothing straight in nature, generally a straight line is out of place.” He wants people to look at the world “without all these human imposed lines.”

Through his work, Mr. Legbas finds himself urging people to seek and understand 'unconventional' beauty in objects and the world around us.

Mr Legbas' workshopInside the imaginings of the creator Mr Legbas' workshopInside the imaginings of the creator Mr Legbas' workshopInside the imaginings of the creator

So what can we learn from Mr. Legbas? Well, if you are anything like me, after spending time in his company and taking in the unique workmanship of his craft, you won't be able to help being inspired by his passion for his trade. You will admire the modesty in his nature and you might just be intrigued by the mischievous twinkle in his eye...

To find out more about Mr. Legbas and to be inspired by his latest creations, follow him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mrlegbas or instagram: @mrlegbas

Workshop address:
Mr Legbas' Crossroads Boutique
176 Knapp St, Fortitude Valley, QLD, 4006.

Thank you to Elaine Catherine for article editing and support!


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