Friday, August 24, 2018



The argument for object as art has been made through the ages: Decartes, Hussserl, Hegel, Heidegger ruminated and philosophized about the nature of art and it's "thingly" character. What makes an art object? Art theory will always touch upon form, context and the nature of an object, but it is left to the beholder and the artist to define what art is. A hat is an object, either made as a protective or a decorative thing. Wearable, and by definition, an object. But elevate its character to a more creative level and it can be art.
Hats lend an element to the wearer and depend upon personality, personal style, the fashion of the hat, the world view of the wearer. In the past, hats denoted not just style but status. They were and still are a uniform depending upon definition. Geography mandates the shape, the form and the material. A hairdo limits or includes. In the 1930 photograph taken by Margaret Bourke-White, not a head was seen without a hat.
Image result for garment district hats
Hats in the Garment District by Margaret Bourke-White
This was NY, in the Garment District and was taken for an article in Fortune Magazine entitled "Cloak and Suit". Cloak and suit is a good place to start. A hat protects the wearer from the elements, and suits the framework that the face provides. Or it should. It should flatter and excite. It should speak volumes about the person, and live not just in the moment, but carry an element of timelessness .
In Lussac-les-Chateaux, in Central France, there are 15,000 year old rock drawings depicting people with hats on their heads.

Hats are part of the universal language of costume. Who, what, where becomes more easily translated with something as simple as the right hat.
Historically, we owe a debt of gratitude to St. Clement somewhere around 750 AD-818 AD. He gingerly placed a piece of carded wool into his shoe and lo and behold, felt was made! Hatmakers everywhere could now use that spontaneous discovery to fashion hats to protect the head. Jump 1000 years ahead to a burgeoning industry in Europe. We, the people, as a colony of Great Britain became both very important, and very disruptive all because of a hat. One could almost say that the American Revolution happened because of a hat. The beaver population of Europe was almost extinct, but we had the in over here. Beaver skins were the first great American Trade commodity.
We supplied Britain with pelts for their hat industry. From 1700-1770 21 million hats made from beaver pelts were made in Britain and shipped throughout Europe. And so, to protect this very precious cargo, the Hat Act of 1732 was passed in Parliament. Limiting the number of workers, apprentices and slaves in the colonies employed in our own hat industry, this Act was the first rumble of discontent within the American colonies. We couldn't make our own hats. Imagine how that went down.

Hats and wars have always gone hand in hand. The Revolutionary War may have happened because of a hat. And the Civil War helped create what is now widely known as the western hat. After the war, as displaced soldiers found their way across these vast United States, appetites whetted for adventure and new horizons, they took with them the remnants of their uniforms. Many a farmer wore basic shaped felts on their heads, the classic floppy style we all know and love today. Mr. Stetson lent a hand and created his own shape, loved it so much that he founded a hat empire because of it.
Image result for john b stetson
Military styles always cropped up in female fashion. The hat was the final accessory to mimic shapes seen in uniforms throughout WWI and II. But after the war, when lifestyles changed, styles in fashion changed as well.
Image result for margaret bourke-white
WWI brought us the suffragettes sometimes tricorne shapes. The undressing of the 1920's style with the new flapper mentality eliminated the architecture of the Edwardian era from fashion and substituted Art Deco. WWII brought the ode to the ration book, and with it, tiny perchy hats. Dubbed "Doll's Hats" by Elsa Schiaparelli in the late 1930's, while European fashion houses succumbed to the ravages of the limits imposed upon them by dint of war. The proportion worked with the reduced yardage now permitted in garments.
After WWII, when America returned home, home was often a shiny new car. Headroom in the 1950's vehicles was shorter than in vehicles of the 1930's and 40's. Fedoras became not as de rigeur. Costume had bowed to the new carefree vision of fashion, with more outdoor living and less indoor life becoming popular. Hairdos changed. For men, mimicking the pompadours of the early rockers and rebels was much more important that the color of a new fedora. And so, we have what we have. Do take history into account, and look around you. As America grew, New York City blossomed. We welcomed the felted shapes of the Jewish Community on the Lower East Side. We celebrated with our ethnic diversity as more and more cultures brought with them their culture, their joy, and their hats.
Where some of us wear hats for sports, some wear them for events, or protection, there are those who will always wear them for glamour, and a certain note of mystery they add to their wardrobe every day. Hats define, underline and help you to shine in a city that today finds itself often wearing a uniform of conformity. Since the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, fancy hats come out of their boxes . Since the Royal Wedding, fascinators have hit their stride. There is always a new reason to wear a hat to the hatlover. Hatters and milliners follow this simple recipe, put forth by Cheri Bibi, a milliner in Paris: Take some straw, felt, velvet, leather Add a healthy helping of grosgrain Trim with flowers, fruits or anything unusual you may have in hand Add a zest of know how Throw in a pinch of humor

And you have a hat!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Best Clown of All


Thank you, Mr. Gelb for starting my New Year with the verismo gift that keeps on giving:  Roberto Alagna, Aleksandra Kurzak and George Gagnidze transforming the Met stage for Pagliacci. Just a few moments before the clown makes his appearance, Sir David McVicar  and his double-faceted production of Cavalleria Rusticana brings a 1900’s piazza in Italy to life, with Roberto showing us the selfish, vile and obsessive side of Turridu . The set is dark , the mood is dark and Roberto is spot on as the cad in question. The imaginative twist that McVicar gives these two often- paired short pieces is his use of the piazza where both take place. The Old World feel of Cav places us in a different time, a different mentality and practically an alternate universe with faithless love and death as the mirror image themes of both Cav and Pag. Roberto grounds us in the feeling of the place and George, as Alfio , the cuckolded husband, as his anchor.

Flip the coin and you’re in an ebullient world of color. The piazza  in Italy is now post WWII. Roberto makes his effervescent entrance atop a travelling troupe’s truck amid a blast of confetti, in blue. The darkness remains in essence, ghosted from the Cav set, as a psychological pall over the piazza.
George in the meantime has fleshed out the nature of the scene in an inappropriate wig and suit that scream tacky but so work. 

Moritz Junge did a raucous, ebullient set of costumes that reflected a post-war scrabble for travelling entertainers.

George, long known to Met audiences from ( among other roles) his brilliant Scarpia in Tosca must be foul.  He betrays Nedda in his jealousy and carries the bitter end of this two-act opera to fruition.
Roberto is at his acting and singing apex as Canio.  Adding to the electricity on stage is Aleksandra’s portrayal of Nedda. 

Nedda does it all: she passes the hat (literally), she performs in pantomime and carves out the ingénue with lively pacing. Aleks grasps the nuance behind the character and gives us an imaginative interpretation of this Jill of all trades.

Roberto as Canio is something we’ve been waiting for since the interruptus two years ago when he was pulled out of the role and saved the Met’s production of Manon Lescaut. His poignant delivery of one of the most famous arias in opera melts the soul and hammers the heart.  The list is very long of all the iconic arias that Roberto has gifted us with and treasured by the entire lyric world. Vesti la Giubba strikes home, with a fervor only Roberto can grant.

For those of us not so hip on lyric terminology but immersed in the operatic for the intensity that comes with a mammoth stage, costumes that excite, voices that prolong the experience long after the last note dwindles on the airwaves and music that echoes through the ages, Pagliacci per Roberto et Cie. is a must see.  Bravo, Mr. Gelb, Sir David, Roberto, Aleks, and George along with the euphonics of the Met orchestra and the ever-present talent of the chorus. Long may this clown live in our memories.

Cavalleria Rusticana, Pietro Mascagni
Pagliacci, Ruggiero Leoncavallo

Conductor,  Nicola Luisotti

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Don't Wear the Turkey

The post-Thanksgiving stupor, plus the vast expanse of a long weekend, may make you feel like shopping. The mall rats will be trolling this weekend, off to the big box stores for bargains, to buy things so important they'll be forgotten or broken by next year. Ah, the joys of the holidays in the States.
Think, instead, of the long-term, the investment piece....that gift that brings joy now, and for years to come. An investment piece doesn't have to be come in a little blue box (forgive me, Tiffany's). An investment piece is something that adds value to your life in some way, whether it be a visual documentation of a friendship, or a new hat for that coat you still love. An investment piece should be a timeless thing, based on the long term good feeling it will bring year after year. Stocks and bonds, real estate, jewelry, all familiar faces on the landscape of investment. Translate the word into real meaning, and bring something new to the table. Gift someone a trip to a good tailor, to have a special something made to order. Give a cancer patient a trip to a local milliner, to get a new hat designed just for them. Do a field trip with your best friend's kids, and record it as a gift for the parents.
Use your imagination, and the stars are the limit. The thanks and the joy resulting will be without definition, and definitely an investment.

Image courtesy of:

Sunday, November 19, 2017

St. Catherine's Day

...or week, as we do things here in the States.
In Paris, on Nov. 26th, all of the single unmarried "hands" working in the fashion houses of Paris don a green and yellow hat in honor of St. Catherine, and to win for themselves, their employers, and their future. What they win is unsure, but this has been a tradition amongst the seamstresses, milliners, tailors and needleworkers of France for decades. The idea is to make a superlative, hysterical, over- the- top- hat, and go for it. There were parades in the past, through the streets of Paris. Now, perhaps, just the fashion show, the hats, and a bow will suffice.
If you're in Paris for the Fete, email me and let me know what's happening.
In New York City, The Milliners Guild, a scant two years old, is holding their annual St. Catherine's Day tomorrow. By meeting at the Millinery District Synagogue, in the Garment District, and parading up Fifth Avenue to the party at Haven, they hope to stimulate hat wearing in general, and camaraderie in the industry, in particular.
The idea of donning a specialty piece and parading through the streets is often met with interest, even in New York. Last year, the New York Times covered the event with splashy photography as the milliners et al proceeded through Bryant Park, up to Rockefeller Center, and around St. Pat's.
This is the opportunity of the year to wear whatever outrageous gear you have, hat-wise, and have fun. Send in the hats!
This year, there will be a contest for the best hat, non-milliners only, thank you. Once at Haven, a complimentary Champagne Hour will be from 6-7, with Veuve Cliquot (thank you, Moet Hennessey USA!) and hors d'oeuvres. The latest collections from the milliner members will be on display, for pert posing and purchasing.
Haven itself is a warm and inviting space, reminiscent of a gentlemen's club from the victorian era, with a mezzanine and a choice seating area for light repast.

Puerto Rico Gets to Work

Puerto Rico Gets to Work

Most of you know about the island, and the hurricane, and the aftermath.  Perhaps you don't realize that this is a static situation, with very slow growth and progress thanks to a few generalities.  Not necessary to get into the politics of the situation on the island and in the hallways of the US Senate, but only with an ongoing effort from all of us "off-island" will there be progress and change.

Jump back a few decades, to the 19th Century actually, to discover the origins of the US relationship with Puerto Rico. Follow the thread to the post-WWI era, through the 1950's and up to today.  Bear in mind that the Jones Act impedes imports, and the US finds ways and means of latching onto contracts that produce income for anyone and everyone except the people of Puerto Rico.

Millions of us  from famous names to high school students feel the hardship and not just because we all have relatives in Puerto Rico who are living through this nightmare. The Puerto Rican people are as they say, resilient, but the island needs all the help we can give it.

Think of Puerto Rican's as your next door neighbors and find a way to help.

My Puerto Rican side lives in daily frustration knowing that the island needs help and it isn't arriving fast enough.  And it just isn't enough. Some, not all, politicians in the US are making life even more difficult for this little jewel of an island.  Reading online will help educate, as to the status quo, so it's not up to me to do that.

Our job at hand is to help keep Puerto Rico within eye sight. Ellen Christine Couture is designing a capsule collection of hats , headgear and caps to help introduce products that might work for a gift, or just to help keep the topic alive in your circle.

For the first two items in the collection we've hand-painted a stylized Puerto Rican flag onto cotton canvas, and used it as an applique...sold as a patch that you can sew on yourself, or  pre-sewn on our kepi. Not a baseball cap, a kepi is a throwback to the French Legionnaires, and the American Civil War military issue headgear.  A bit more stylish that the normal baseball cap. The kepi is made in NYC, in cotton, with fabric donated by James Thompson & Co. an American fabric company established in 1860, and very appropriate for this style cap.
Our production was a limited edition, executed by our guy, Felix, in Long Island City. No more can be produced, as limited runs interrupt the flow in the factory.

Watch for our next style, and please help Puerto Rico.
Our funds from the sale of these work hats go to: ConPRmetidos and Centros Sor Isolina Ferre, both non-profit organizations that are easily researched on the internet.

It's just one of the ways we're helping.  Build a network within your community or join one of the agencies already reaching out.  It feels good, and good is what we're all about, right?

Just an aside about our picture: our lovely intern, Holly sits with two of our neighbors rescued from  Puerto Rico.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Millinery Bibliography

These are just a few of the books relating to hats on our shelves. We hope that they help inspire and delight your burning need to learn all 
about millinery.

Adele, Campione, Il Cappello Da Uomo, Itinerari D’Immagini, 1988

Albrizio, Ann, Classic Millinery Techniques, Lark Books, 1998

Anlezark, Mildred, Hats on Heads: The Art of Creative Millinery, Kangaroo Press, 1990

Bawden, Juliet, The Hat Book: Creating Hats for Every Occasion, Lark Books, 1993

Ben-Yusuf, MME. Anna, Edwardian Hats: The Art of Milliners, R.L. Shep, 1992

Besson, Jean Louis, Le Livre Des Uniformes: Histoire Des Costumes, Gallimard, 1987

Blum, Dilys E., Ahead of Fashion: Hats of the 20th Century, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1993

Bolomier, Elaine, Le Chapeau: Grand Art et Savoir-faire, Musee du Chapeau, 1996

Bou, Louis, and Stephen Jones. Couture Hats. New York: Harper Design, 2012

Burke, Emma Maxwell, A Perfect Course in Millinery, The Illustrated Milliner Company, 1925

Burkel, Archie, The Joy of Hats, Nelson Printing, 2012

Clark, Fiona, The Costume Accessories Series: Hats, B.T. Batsford Ltd, 1982

Couldridge, Alan, The Hat Book, Ventura Publishing Ltd, 1980

Dache, Lilly, Lilly Dache’s Glamour Book, So Stated, 1956

Demornex, Jacqueline, Le Siecle en Chapeaux, Du May, 1991

Dreher, Denise, From the Neck Up: An Illustrated Guide to Hatmaking, Madhatter Press, 1981

Du Mortier, Bianca M., Chapeau, Chapeaux!, Rijksmuseum, 1997

Feen, Diane, Hat Life, A Mint Publishing Company, 2009

Genin, J.N., An Illustrated History of the Hat: From the Earliest Ages to the Present, N.P., 1848

Gorsline, Douglas, What People Wore, Bonanza Books, 1987

Hopkins, Susie, The Century of Hats, Chartwell Books Inc, 1999

Jones, Stephen, Hats: An Anthology, V&A Publishing, 2009

Kamitsis, Lydia, Les Chapeaux: Une Histoire de Tete, Dans Le Droit Fil, 1998

Kim, Eugenia, Saturday Night Hat, Potter Craft, 2006

Maroukian, Francine and Sarah Woodruff, The Handbook of Style: Expert Fashion and Beauty Advice, Quirk Books, 2006

Mercie, Marie, Voyages Autour D’un Chapeau, Ramsay/De Cortanze, 1990

Probert, Christina, Hats in Vogue, Abbeville, 1981

Pufpaff, Suzanne, Nineteenth Century Hat Maker’s and Felter’s Manuals, Stony Lonesome Press, 1995

Reilly, Maureen and Mary Beth Detrich, Women’s Hats of the 20th Century, Schiffer Publishing, 1997

Remiasz, Stella V., Hats: Design and Construction, Hat Tree Studio, 1986

Robinson, Fred Miller, The Man in the Bowler Hat, The University of North Carolina Press, 1993

Schilling, Gigi, Ageless Bride, First Printing, 2007

Shields, Jody, Hats: A Stylish History and Collector’s Guide, Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 1991

Shover, Edna Mann, Art in Costume Design, Milton Bradley Company, 1926

Smith, Desire, HATS: with Values, Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 1996

Smith, Rodney and Leslie Smolan, The Hat Book, Doubleday, 1993

Steinberg, Neil, Hatless Jack, The Penguin Group, 2004

Waring, Lyn, Hats Made Easy, Sally Milner Publishing, 1995

Wilcox, R. Turner, The Mode in Costume, Scribner, 1948

Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences, Millinery: A Complete Course, Vivs Ribbons & Laces, 1993

Womens Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences, Ribbon Trimmings: A Course in Six Parts, Vivs Ribbons and Laces, 1992

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Art of the Bat

As Halloween lifts its head in the world context, costume and horror become part of an everyday ritual for some of us. Make that witch hat, prep those cat ears, reference those vampires.....all part of a millinery studio's to-do list. We see Halloween as a relief from the norm, nowadays.  An instant flicker of submerged reality, an escape from our perceived complications. With TV helping us along the way and Comicon now part of some internal lexicon on the plane of popular culture, costumes are often our interpretation of who and what we want to be. Since we were little runabouts in ghostly sheets, preying upon neighbors for our intake of sugar, costumes have grown up. The inspiration for those counter personae now seems rooted in comic books, film, tv spreading wide and far the possibility of becoming anyone or anything, if only for one night.

Bela Lugosi

Dracula's bride takes many forms.  Space age creatures and heroes, from Groot to Wonder Woman now amble serenely through party or gathering or convention.
Katy Kattelman and the author
The theory of costume as dress, or dress as costume is fast becoming vernacular. You can own a corset for many occasions, pulling it out of your closet for special affairs, or wearing it under a denim jacket. We did the same in 1980's Rockabilly days with our long-line Merry Widows and crinolines paired with vintage cowgirl boots and motorcycle jackets as substitute for  tuxedo and fancy dress.  The norm, for some. Costume for others.
Claire Fraser, The "Bat Suit " (courtesy of Terry Dresbach)

Watch your favorite TV show and behold wardrobe transformations take place all over the world.  Outlander, and the genius of Terry Dresbach and her crew have made tartan a de rigeur element once again. 18th Century riding habits are translated a la Claire ( female protagonist from Diana Gabaldon's world- shaking series of books and heroine to Jamie on Starz' series now in its 3rd season).

Bela Lugosi made the cape a required part of anyone's proper Dracula wardrobe, from the 1930's onward, when the film was released. But capes and shrugs and stoles and wraps were a truly necessary element for centuries.  It was cold. And so, back to Claire, in Outlander, and her Bat Suit.
Fashion photography by Henry Clarke, 1960s.
Janis Joplin
The Bat Suit, a phrase coined by designer Terry Dresbach, and the cape that tops it in the tv series becomes a time-travelling wardrobe for her in one fell swoop. Capes were part of the 1960's-70's dress-up era as we went from modish snow bunnies to Janis Joplin admirers.  Capes were worn by women in  the fashion plates of editorial Vogue and the hippie granny square rebirth of  San Francisco Haight Ashbury streetwear fashion. Capes and ponchos have been part of our culture in facets not always linked to costume. The wearability and protective nature of these garments lend a sense of normalcy to character improvisation.
Claire's cape, as part of an outfit she whipped up (euphemistically) for herself to regress to the 18th Century has to translate from 1960's conservative styles to daily usage in the unsettling daily routines of the 1780's. Cape, as part of her "Bat Suit" lined with pockets, as handbag, kitted out to prevent inquiring minds from wondering if she were a witch. (Watch the series, and read the books for all the witchy references).
Yvonne Craig as Batgirl and Burgess Meredith as the Penguin 
The reference is taken from the popular 1960's Adam West/Burt Ward interpretation of Batman.  Seen on TV with  a slew of Hollywood names as villains, this series brought the cape into our teenage homes. Yvonne Craig played the caped female version of Batgirl, and the image leapt from the pages of our coveted comic books to part of an iconic trail of heroes and heroines. In capes.
Capes lend a note of romance, mystery, and always, a place to stash your thingamajigs. Bela Lugosi didn't need to stash anything, since Dracula could transform at will.  But with our modern penchant for carrying the world in our pockets and pocketbooks, a cape allows for hiding, protecting, and serves as a broad brushstroke in style.
Pity Claire doesn't go in for headpieces.