Rodger Chieffalo isn’t the type to be seduced by fancy, new and shiny. Start talking gritty, old and authentic, however, and you’ll get his attention pretty fast.
Chieffalo is an expert in the art of restoring lost luster. Over the past several decades, he built a successful career revitalizing old commercial buildings across Fort Worth to appeal to today’s modern tastes. For 10 years, he also did the same thing with hats, cleaning and reshaping Fort Worth-made men’s hats and giving them to friends and clients — a token of the city’s history, restyled to wear today.
Last year, Chieffalo started posting photos of his remodeled hats on Instagram under the moniker Chieffalo Americana. He figured he’d find a niche audience for his efforts, hopefully selling a few along the way. What happened next? Hold on to your hats, folks.
The hats began to sell. Really sell. Faster, in fact, than Chieffalo could source them.
Bold-faced names and celebrities started buying them up — everyone from actor Timothy Hutton and musicians Joe Ely and Jack Ingram to President Donald Trump.
“It kind of got away from me,” he says with a laugh.
Rather than slow down, Chieffalo decided to harness the momentum to create, innovate and expand. He is now rolling out a spate of new products that he hopes will turn his once-humble hat project into an in-demand global fashion brand specializing in vintage-inspired, made-in-America accessories for men and women.
For years, Chieffalo focused on a single hat: the Shady Oaks. This beaver-felt topper, a cross between a cowboy hat and a fedora, was designed by Fort Worth icon Amon Carter Sr. It was and still is handmade by the legendary Peter Bros. Hats in downtown Fort Worth.
Dressing well always has been important to Chieffalo, but he says he wasn’t really a “hat person.” However, he valued the tradition and the history of the Shady Oaks hat.
“I wanted to bring hat-wearing back to life, and specifically this Texas-style hat,” he says.
Of course, there are only so many Shady Oaks hats available at any one time, so Chieffalo also offers a range of other styles, colors and makers. He sources hats from all over the country, but each one is cleaned, reconditioned and reblocked locally and always by hand.
In addition to hats, Chieffalo Americana sells cuff links and belt buckles. Most cuff links are new, cast in brass using molds that Chieffalo made from his late father’s extensive personal cuff-link collection.
There is, however, a curated selection of vintage designs, which Chieffalo restyles from women’s sterling-silver earrings from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. Recently, Chieffalo perfected a tuxedo stud and cuff-link set made from brass bullet shells that he says he spent six months developing.
“You wouldn’t believe how easy these studs are to put on,” he enthuses.
Chieffalo’s belt buckles are all vintage, but the fasteners — the chape and prong — have been remade to work with the line of vintage-inspired leather belts that he designed. “The concept is like a belt bar,” he explains. “Every buckle works with every belt — they’re interchangeable so you can put together a new look every day.”
This month, Chieffalo is launching a line of straw hats for men and women. Every hat is made of entirely new materials but inspired by old-school styles and patterns.
The hats will be sold on MalibuAmerican.com, a website owned by Chieffalo’s girlfriend and muse, Los Angeles-based handbag designer Jackie Prophit. She’s a frequent model on Chieffalo’s Instagram feed and is an unabashed fan of the line.
Topping It All Off
Chieffalo wasn’t itching to enter retail: As a real estate professional, he’d had a front-row seat to the market’s rises and falls. But he says that now more than ever, the timing seemed to be right for what he had to offer.
Specifically, Chieffalo saw a trend emerging of men wanting to elevate their laid-back looks.
“Men still want to keep it casual with jeans and cowboy boots, but they want to dress better,” he says. “I thought, ‘I could make it easier to do that with the everyday things that I believe in and wear myself’ — things that have a vintage feel but are functional and easy to wear every day in today’s fashion environment.”
For Chieffalo, material was a key part of pulling this off. For example, most men would never reach for a flashy pair of gold and diamond cuff links to add to an outfit that also included jeans and boots. But if those cuff links were crafted from burnished brass, he says, they would add a stylish yet masculine touch that was definitely suitable for everyday wear.
Chieffalo credits his appreciation of rugged, worn materials to his years riding horses and playing polo. “When you spend so much time in equestrian gear — saddles, bridles, boots — you gain a respect for materials like brass and well-tanned leather,” he says.
Brass, he adds, “is a man’s metal.”
Chieffalo Americana was also an opportunity to further advance what had inspired his career from the very beginning: the heritage and skill of American workmanship.
Accordingly, he strives to source all materials and commission all manufacturing in the U.S., and he tries to work as locally as possible, whenever possible.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the vintage Fort Worth-made hats that started it all.
“We have hats that are more than 50 years old, and they were owned by guys who wore those hats on their heads every single day,” he says.
“Those guys are gone now, but those hats are so well-made, they’re still around.”
Jenny B. Davis is too short to wear hats, but she loves how they look on other people.
Chieffalo Americana Apparel
Men’s and women’s straw hats: $210 – $240
Bullet casing studs and cufflink set: $200
Brass cufflinks: $200
Silver vintage earring cufflinks: $300-$400, depending on size.
Vintage buckles: $175-$200