Master Milliner and owner of Oldham County-based Judith M. Supply House, Jenny Pfanenstiel returns as a Featured Milliner for the Kentucky Derby Museum. Pfanenstiel’s one-of-a-kind pieces have been worn by some of the world’s most fashionable people including Former First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Madonna just to name a few. She has been a Featured Milliner for the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve for many years and is a Tory Burch Fellow of the Tory Burch Foundation.
She has created hats for some of the world’s most fashionable and famous people – Former First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, Neil Diamond, Barbara Corcoran (Shark Tank) and Nikki Sixx from Mötley Crüe.
Jenny Pfanenstiel has a passion for creating hats, and the success of her Derby hats has propelled her to open a shop in Oldham County, KY. Located on historic Main Street, Jenny has transformed the building’s interior into a hat lover’s dream known as Judith M Millinery Supply House.
After living in Chicago for 16 years, Jenny first visited Louisville and discovered that Kentucky Derby goers loved her custom made hats-they were the perfect complement to the perfect outfit to wear to experience the thrill of the fastest two minutes in sports.
“I’ve been sewing since I was five,” said the Colorado native. “I grew up in a sewing family and made clothes.” Pfanenstiel attended the Art Institute of Colorado and earned a degree in fashion design. She then began to pursue the idea of “creating costumes for ballet and theatre.”
But after deciding this wasn’t quite the direction she should be going in, she refocused on hats. Serious about her new career choice she researched “where to go to embrace the craft. Not a lot was offered in the U.S.,” so she traveled to Australia to fine-tune a hobby that would soon turn into a lucrative business.
Pfanenstiel’s Derby hats were an instant success. After moving to Kentucky, she chose a location in Louisville where she established Forme Millinery Co. in 2007 to sell her custom made couture hats.
Since then, Pfanenstiel has been named the official milliner of the last several Kentucky Derbys. “It’s truly an honor to be recognized for my craft. There are a lot of hat people in the world, but to be an actual milliner and make hats from scratch is such an honor. It’s wonderful they chose someone local.” She has also been a Featured Milliner at Keeneland, and featured on CNN, NBC Sports, FOX News, and The Oprah Show.
Jenny was even selected to be one of four distinguished milliners for the 2022 Derby Hat Showcase, the Kentucky Derby Museum’s one-of-a-kind hat fashion show event. Throughout the year, Jenny will also be one of five featured hat designers showcased in the Kentucky Derby Museum Store at Churchill Downs.
Mike Anderson, president of Churchill Downs, said in a news release, “The artistry and talent that she pours into each design contribute in a memorable way to the overall ambiance of The Run for the Roses.”
Her second business, Judith M, was formed when Jenny and her husband Bart purchased a millinery supply business out of La Grange, IN from Judi Mishler, who had run the business for 27 years as an online business. Relocating it to 115 East Main St. in La Grange, KY Jenny said, “In Louisville, I strictly sell couture hats for all occasions and seasons. Judith M will focus on raw materials.”
Mishler thinks La Grange, KY “is a perfect spot for the business.” She said, “The new location will allow more people access to classes and shopping. It also is a bit more centrally located,” than her business was in La Grange, IN.
“We feel that by bringing a retail establishment to Kentucky, especially with the Derby, and international airport, and hotels in La Grange, we can have something that appeals to everybody,” as well as build a nearby customer base, Jenny said.
She splits her time between the Louisville business and the La Grange business. Judith M not only sells supplies, but also a line of finished hats such as rain hats, sun hats, cowboy hats, and fancier hats for weddings and Derby events.
Jenny is involved in every aspect of the hat making business. This is actually the third business for the couple. Bart runs the hat box division of Forme Millinery Co. When the couple had trouble finding quality hat boxes, they created their own line.
Jenny uses a 100 year old process called blocking to make hats, crafting each one by hand using old wooden hat blocks that are displayed throughout the workspace in her Louisville store. “It’s easier to mass produce oversees,” she said, “but that’s not why I make hats. I love the technique of working on these old hat blocks. I like to think who might have made a hat on these blocks 100 years ago. It’s what I was meant to do.”
The art of Millinery is a technique that dates back centuries and consists of molding straw and wool over wooden hat forms. She combines traditional millinery skills to create a unique style of hats which are sculpted on a braid machine that dates to the 1800’s. Jenny sculpts the braid with her hands as it is sewn together to create a one-of-a-kind piece, something Jenny has gained a reputation for throughout the world.
The goal for both the Louisville and La Grange business is “to create an experience,” she said. For Jenny, making a hat is a personal process. It’s also a personal experience for the customer. “They try on different styles, and pick out materials,” to help create a one-of-a-kind hat. “Typically people get a hat for an occasion or memory of a journey in life.”
Jenny is a 2019 Tory Burch Foundation Fellow and author of The Making of a Milliner. The book, her first, was published in November 2015 by Dover Publications and combines millinery history with a “how to” slant, explaining different hat making projects. She is the winner of the 2012 FGI Rising Star and both the 2009 and 2012 Hatty Awards.
Jenny has collaborated with an array of companies to create hats for their collections and productions, including: Co-branded Derby collections with Vineyard Vines, Covet Fashion Style App, American Express, Goodman Theatre, and the Joffrey Ballet. Jenny has designed hats for McCall Patterns and creates flat pattern hats through the Formé Millinery label.
When the Pfanenstiel’s first moved to Kentucky several years ago in mid-winter, they settled in Louisville, but wanted “acreage and a safe place for our family,” she said. Jenny grew up in a big city and instantly liked the small-town quaintness of La Grange. Once they discovered the town, she knew this is where she wanted to put down roots for her family and run a business.
If Jenny is not busy making hats in her Louisville Hat Shop, you can find her teaching hat making workshops at Judith M in La Grange. She also puts on the annual Derby Hats on the Tracks event in March along Main St. La Grange.