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Fashion / Style File

The Mad Hatters

This Eye-Catching Duo Outrageously Changes Headwear With an Assist from a Dallas Billionaire

BY // 07.26.16
photography Chris Plavidal

Joseph Steffen and Dan Rodriguez are easy to spot across a crowded party. It’s hard to miss a couple of nattily dressed dudes with such follies atop their noggins as an orange patent-leather top hat and a black leather fascinator that looks like a piece of modern sculpture.

The business partners, who met 10 years ago as fashion stylists at Neiman Marcus NorthPark Center, are an eye-catching duo when they’re decked out in their hand-stitched chapeaux and passing out embossed leather calling cards. But it’s their Dan & Joseph collection of outrageous leather headgear and swank pony-hair handbags and other accessories that are turning heads of late. Their work is carried by Forty Five Ten and is sold through their website.

Their wearable art can take days or weeks to make, depending on the complexity. Everything is designed, hand-cut and hand-stitched by them from fine leathers and fabrics, with premium pieces custom-executed in exotic skins, fur, and Swarovski crystals.

Offbeat in their architectural construction in fashion colors and Day-Glo hues with contrasting top stitching, their pieces fetch serious prices: $300 to $5,000 for hats and $495 to $8,000 for handbags. For fall, they’ve introduced a collection of leather-and-fur teddy bears in two sizes, $595 to $5,000 each. (See a selection at the new Forty Five Ten when it opens this fall.)

Joseph Steffen, holding his Pomeranian Cha Cha, wears a Dan & Joseph sequined police cap, $425. Dan Rodriguez, with a Dan & Joseph Day-Glo orange patent-leather top hat, $550. Artwork from Samantha McCurdy's "Snugs" series, $5,000.
Joseph Steffen, holding his Pomeranian Cha Cha, wears a Dan & Joseph sequined police cap, $425. Dan Rodriguez, with a Dan & Joseph Day-Glo orange patent-leather top hat, $550. Artwork from Samantha McCurdy’s “Snugs” series, $5,000.

Two years ago, when Steffen and Rodriguez were working as independent stylists, they were asked to create a collection of leather goods for a party at Traffic LA at the Joule hotel. The men’s boutique, hotel, and Forty Five Ten are all part of billionaire Timothy Headington’s vast holdings.

“We’d maybe made two headpieces for clients at that point,” Steffen says. “We had no idea what we were doing, but we had an ample budget, and they said, ‘Go for it,’ so we did.” They went home and stitched up leather-fringed necklaces, key chains, fascinators, and masks, all with dyed feathers to fit the party’s Feathered Affinities theme. The evening and the collection were a hit.

Holiday Gifting

  • Loeffler Randall - Clutch
  • Oscar De La Renta - Earrings
  • Nocturne Studio
  • Bond No 9 - Perfume
  • Loeffler Randall - Shoes
  • Mariquite Masterson
  • Oscar De La Renta - Clutch
  • Bond No 9 - Candle
  • Cle Du Peau - Nail Polish
  • Cle Du Peau - Lip Gloss
  • Casa di Lino
  • Mariquite Masterson

Shelle Sills, director of retail and project development at Headington Companies, has since taken Steffen, 32, and Rodriguez, 27, under her wing. “If we have any crazy ideas, we bring them to Shelle to see if it fits into their mix anywhere,” Steffen says. “And Tim is trying to create an interesting culture downtown, so he’s a big supporter of artists and creative people like us.” The high-profile event helped launch Dan & Joseph as a retail and lifestyle creative brand that includes their leather goods and event styling.

Clients include longtime customers from their days at Neiman Marcus, along with philanthropist Cindy Rachofsky, who wore one of their Swarovski-encrusted leather fascinators at the Joule for the preview party of the 2016 Art Ball, and Boy George, who took a selfie wearing a Dan & Joseph short top hat. They’ve curated hundreds of special hats, including 30 custom creations, for real estate broker Don Knobler, known worldwide as the Mavericks super fan, who is seen on the front row of every game wearing a new outrageous outfit and a Dan & Joseph hat.

Dan & Joseph’s studio is located in the back room of Steffen’s 1920s Oak Cliff bungalow, which acts as a cozy, colorful backdrop for their leather goods. In the front room, a kaleidoscope of wacky fascinators dangle from the ceiling like a Calder mobile, and there are styled displays of structured handbags and eccentric top hats. In the living room, pink and orange patent-leather Dan & Joseph pillows are piled on the sofa, and prototypes for leather bears perch on tables.

The sofa in the living room was discovered by Sam Saladino and re-covered in pink floral fabric as a play on Diana Vreeland's "garden in hell." Vintage lamps and tables. Dan & Joseph pink and orange patent-leather pillows, $175 to $595.
The sofa in the living room was discovered by Sam Saladino and re-covered in pink floral fabric as a play on Diana Vreeland’s “garden in hell.” Vintage lamps and tables. Dan & Joseph pink and orange patent-leather pillows, $175 to $595.

The house is a groovy salon of sorts, a place for artists, friends and style-makers — such as Sam Saladino, Ken Downing, Colby McWilliams and Rob Dailey, who live nearby — to stream in and out, often lingering into the night, sipping cocktails or sampling fruit tarts or pies Rodriguez makes from scratch from figs, pecans and plums growing in the backyard.

In April, artist Samantha McCurdy helped turn the house into an art installation by painting it pink. “Pink House” was inspired by a vibrant frock by Isa Arfen, which McCurdy saw at TenOverSix, where she works. She’s created five monochromatic pieces to go with the show, and they hang throughout the house, along with works by artist Gina Garza and the Dan & Joseph collection. “Pink House” will remain up until the end of August.

“We plan to roll out other pop-ups in the coming seasons in Chicago, L.A., San Francisco — all the major markets where we already have established connections with artists and clients,” Steffen says. “It’s a fun way to get our brand out there and get people talking.”

Dan & Joseph is poised to go bigger. “We’re talking to investors about taking the brand to the next level with a national retail and wholesale presence,” says Steffen. “It can’t just always be the two of us hand-sewing hats and bears in a back room.” They are mum for now on who the investors might be, but if all goes as planned, their new national venture will launch in August 2017.

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