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Theo Wouters

Born in Elsloo, Netherlands, 1942


1963 - 2002

Theo Wouters is a Montreal-based milliner, fashion designer and artist who ran a custom atelier and boutique on Selkirk Avenue. Never one to follow trends, Wouters worked more like an artist than like a typical fashion designer.

His handmade hats and ensembles were known for their innovation, experimentation and creativity.

Wouters attended art school in the Netherlands, briefly studying commercial art before switching his focus to fashion design. After finishing his studies, Wouters apprenticed with a Parisian-trained milliner in Amsterdam, learned tailoring, and ran the Hotel Wilhelmina in Maastricht with a friend. Wouters opened his first hat and couture salon in this hotel, designing under the name Jean Jacques.

A lover of fur hats, Wouters decided to come to Canada in early 1969, where he briefly worked as a designer for both Montreal-based Danish milliner Mr. Flemming and the Bata Shoe Company in Batawa, Ontario. After a brief return to the Netherlands, Wouters settled back in Montreal permanently in late 1969. From his apartment on Mackay Street, he began making hippie-inspired accessories and jewellery for several local stores, as well as custom hats for a growing list of clients.

Irene Wilson, owner of boutique Town and Country Clothes on Crescent Street, gave Wouters atelier space above the shop to make custom hats for her clientele, which quickly grew his business. He also became a partner in Hannah Hats for approximately two years, before deciding to open his own studio and boutique. After a brief stint on Sherbrooke Street West, Wouters moved the business to Selkirk Avenue in 1974 where it remained for the rest of his career.

Wouters never advertised; instead his business thrived by word of mouth. He developed long-term professional relationships and friendships with many prominent Montreal women who were loyal customers, in particular Ann Birks and Eva Steinlauf.

Wouters custom made garments and hats for his clients, designing, cutting and fitting them himself.

At its height, the atelier employed five seamstresses.

In addition to working from his atelier/boutique, Wouters made hats for John Warden, Serge et Réal, Les Créateurs, Lily Simon, Ogilvy’s, Creed’s, Grosvenor Furs, and Holt Renfrew fashion shows and clientele. He also supplied wardrobe and hats for several film and television companies and, during the 1970s, men’s hats for Jacques de Montjoye’s boutique on Crescent Street. He freelanced for Montreal-based hat manufacturers Kates Millinery, Acme Hats and Canadian Hat, trimming prototypes for production. In 1999, Wouters presented an exhibition of his hat paintings at Montreal’s Holt Renfew store on Sherbrooke Street.


Interview with Theo Wouters, Pointe Claire, Quebec, August 1, 2021.

Dykstra, Monique. “He’s just bats for hats.” The Montreal Gazette, April 29, 1999, A4.

Kelly, Susan. “Hats Off!” The Montreal Gazette, March 12, 1996, 84.  

Monahan, Iona. “Off to the Ball.” The Montreal Gazette, October 10, 2000, F1.

Phillips, Sandra. “Looking for a hat for spring? Here’s where you will find it.” The Montreal Gazette, April 4, 1993, C3.

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