At a Crossroads between myth and legend: Mr Legbas' true story
Entering Chris Morris' studio in the heart of Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, Australia, one feels an immediate urge to discover more about the place and the person. Chris’ creations line the walls, and there isn't a surface without sewing machines, hat blocks, needles and threads, feathers, leather stamps, leather bands, beads, recycled cloth... The more you look, the more you find. Moulded felts of all colours are piled high, waiting to be transformed into someone's dream chapeau... and the dark, mysterious atmosphere of the whole studio transports you into another era, when craftsmanship and traditional techniques were at their height. Indeed, the studio feels as if it is hovering at the Crossroads of several centuries.
Mr Legbas' life journey is a most unconventional one. Chris grew up with a bevy of brothers and sisters on the heavenly tropical island of Great Keppel, off the north-east coast of Queensland. Surrounded by prolific nature and free to run wild, his imagination was fuelled by countless activities and enthralling stories about his ancestors’ role in the island’s history. His life on the road started at an early age, as he was schooled on the Australian mainland, and so divided his time between the island he calls home and Biloela. And his hands have always been his creative tools: initially trained as a chef, culinary masterpieces were his original forté before he sustained an injury which forced him to rethink his professional journey. That was when he arrived at his own Crossroads in life.
But before recounting the rest of his story, it is necessary to explain the play on words behind the name Mr Legbas, based on Chris’ love of old spiritual legends. Papa Legba, a loa - a Haitian Voodou character - stands at the spiritual Crossroads between humans and the after life, denying or giving permission to those at the Crossroads to speak or not with the spirits of Guinee, where the souls of the dead reside. Imbued with great eloquence, Papa Legba’s talent with words is only equaled by his love for dogs and for playing tricks. Add to this the fact that our Aussie Mr Legbas is also fascinated by a legend concerning the life of the late Blues musician Robert Johnson. Beautifully portrayed in the 1986 movie ‘Crossroads’, the legend goes that Johnson sold his soul to the devil - to a "Mr Legba" at a local Crossroads - against a life of musical success. Although the Mr Legba in the film is portrayed as the Christian devil, Chris believes that the true being behind the devil is indeed Papa Legba. And Mr Legbas and Papa Legba undoubtedly share a great love for hats and dogs: a would-be Jack Russell joyfully greets each visitor with a well-chewed ball and rapidly transforms the Brisbane hatter’s studio into his personal playground.
Combining these legends with his own life journey, Chris feels a strong connection with being at a Crossroads... the logo which emblazons his creations and so succinctly represents his own life of work and travels.
When Chris' life came to a Crossroads in 2008, he chose the path of creation. It was then that he discovered a passion for felt making, for that magic soft, smooth touch that inspired him to create, to give life to the inanimate. He gradually moved from working with scarves and shawls to... felt hats. His passion took a more serious turn when he enrolled in a two-year fashion course, where he learned the basics of pattern making and sewing before deciding that ‘institutional’ fashion wasn’t for him. He thereafter followed his own path, combining an intellectual foray into early ‘hatter’ literature with the practical application of old-fashioned processes and self-taught techniques.
This path lead him to a life on the road for several years: travelling from market to market, from festival to festival, living for the moment, sleeping at actual crossroads, collecting random objects and ideas from town and country and transforming them into exotic creations to sell in his mobile store. His wagon, represented in the crossroads logo, is symbolic of this period of his life.
His hands, and his hands only, can create the extraordinary Mr Legbas hats. The number of work hours put into each creation cannot be counted; all that counts is the satisfaction of each client getting his or her own dream headpiece.
“You can change someone with a hat. I like to bring out something in them,” claims the Brisbane hatter.
And here he shares another gift with Papa Legba: helping to bring out talents in others through his own creations. Mr Legbas continues to create more new paths, more Crossroads to come.