Monday, June 30, 2008

How To Hat

Buckling under to popular demand, we have begun to teach millinery at Ellen Christine.  Classes are limited to not more than two student at each session, and the classes require a basic knowledge of sewing.  They're broken into categories according to the request of the group, but represent the vast amount of possibilities applied to the Art of Millinery.

The Basics: blocking felt or straw, depending upon the season.  This means we work with a series of wooden blocks to achieve a rudimentary familiarity with the manipulation of materials required in the millinery trade.  Basic millinery stitches are taught, and yes, there's homework.  We  do 3 hours in each session, over a period of 3 weeks, for a total of 9 hours.  The classes take place inhouse, evenings, from 6-9, or Mondays, from 12-3. Hand stitching rules throughout, for the most part, but we allow forays into machine stitching for some finishing.  Ingredients are discussed, and variety of application is executed, with the final result in a hat, finished, embellished, ready for the world.
There is a separate kit we supply, at the student's cost, with or without a basic balsa block in the size of choice.  Included is a detailed breakdown of stitches, a bibliography, and our personal attention, as professional milliners, to individual requests for project development.

Frames: this group covers (pun intended) the making of millinery frames for bridal and fabric hats.  There is lots of hand sewing,  patience is required, and  individual projects are encouraged. We teach the student to prepare patterns, work with buckram and French elastic, wire, mulling and blocking basics for making shapes happen. This group is excellent for theatrical applications.

Couture Finishing: in this group we work with ribbons and silks to create specialty and novelty trims, tulle, wire, flowermaking, feathers, and materials appropriate for the finishing of a hat.
We're open to suggestion , and vary the content according to the focus of the group, but schedule each session to cover one topic: flowers, feather, ribbon.
Please call the shop for further information, and any questions you may have.  The summer session will begin in mid-July.
Ellen Christine Millinery
255 W. 18th St.
NYC, NY 10011

Sunday, June 29, 2008

the Vault

The little known fact about Ellen Christine Millinery is that there's a vast selection of antique pieces available upon request.  With some notice, we can pull from our collection of thousands of articles of clothing, accessories and props for perusal.  Notice, because it's all warehoused, and not in the Chelsea store, and so the customer must put in a request for items they may need for props, gifts, or special occasions.
Vogue Magazine ran a mention of our collection, and other publications have mentioned various pieces they have seen in the shop from time to time, but it's an inhouse piece of knowledge.  Personal shoppers for celebrities know about us, and stylists from Conde Nast knows about us.  If you're paying attention to our sites and publicity, vintage is always in there somewhere, as inspiration, or actual items bought and worn out in the world by our vast customer base.
Since I've been involved in the vintage clothing business since 1971, well before this round of stylish shoppers was a blink in their parents' eye, I've seen the wide variety of what we called antique clothing from the start of the business.
Without going into the entire story (my friend Erika Kawalek is writing a book about it, so we'll leave that to her), suffice it to be said that I know what I'm talking about when I talk vintage.  That and the millions of credits toward my Doctorate at NYU have filled my background with a plethora of interesting facts about clothing and accessories.
So, when you innocently wander into the shop in Chelsea and see the hats out front, don't be surprised if there's a customer in the back room going through a selection of antique dresses brought in from the warehouse just for them.
Oh, and yes, you can ask for your very own appointment.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Floppy Brim

Why do stylists love the floppy brimmed hat so very much?  When customers come in to try them on, they are usually overwhelmed with the flop, and can't figure out what to do with the hat, so I ask myself, why do stylists love it so?
Art and form enter into each shoot with the photographer, shape providing the elemental geometry, and light producing the effect.  It's the stylists' eye that adds the note of whimsy so often seen in fashion editorials.  The product, and here I mean the hat, is used as an object, seen as accessory, and not, at the same time.  There's no need to have the hat function as a recognizable silhouette. It's much more creative to adapt the look of the shoot by manipulating the accessories, and have them work as artist devices within the context of the ensemble, and the photograph.
When you see a hat on the runway, or in a magazine, expect the unexpected.  Allow your own imagination to capture the image of the hat and place it in a different context. Can I repeat that, please?  Let your imagination place the hat on your own head, and play with the idea of maybe trying it on, letting it sit for a moment, absorbing the image.
It's all about imagination, kids.
Brigitte Bardo, or BB, as she is known in France, luxuriated in her abundant hair, usually not hidden by a hat.  In some films, she's with a scarf, or a headband, but not usually in a hat.  Catherine Deneuve and Faye Dunaway wore lots of them.  This shot of BB is atypical, but works to capture the imagination.  How would I look in that hat?  You may ask yourself, but think of this:  the photographer placed that hat on her head just so, for the shot, and the brim may have been trimmed a bit for the shot, and so on, and so on............
This is why we do custom work, because every face is different.

Friday, June 27, 2008


There are headpieces,and there are headpieces.  Sylvia Tosun is one of our performing customers, with a serious following of club fanatics, and she loves her headpieces.  She and I are of a it up, do it big, and do it right.  I actually have a coterie of gorgeous damsels who think the same thought every time they see a feather in my shop.
Sylvia will be singing her Venus' heart out at the Pier Dance, for Pride Day in Chelsea this Sunday, and she'll be wearing a sparkly concoction on her head, designed especially for her gown, and the venue.  Last year, she wore a huge 1920's headdress from us, that had another life in a cabaret back in the roaring, flapping, highstepping era.  Very High Priestess, she was, in her glorious moment.  This year, our lovely Sylvia will be Venus rising from the river, surprise, surprise.
Head pieces are becoming more of a thing seen in all walks of the social register.  As fascinators, they show up at weddings.  As show girl toppers, they were on Katie Lee and Hoda yesterday on the Today Show.  Hair accessories are not headpieces, by the way.  If you're wearing a Harry Winston diamante bauble on your tresses, I'll concede.  If it's from Rite-Aid, not on your life.  A head piece can blend in with the hairdo, or it can take the hairdo to new heights.  Wear them and flaunt them, and be proud, girls.  don't let the boys have all the fun this weekend in Chelsea!

Thursday, June 26, 2008


George, as you may know, was the magazine name chosen by John Kennedy , Jr., for his venture into the world of publishing. Copies of the magazine still turn up at home, because my Mother loved them, and she stashed them everywhere.  To be sure, George Washington was a hat wearing man.  Everyone was, in the Eighteenth Century, so this was not a departure from the norm.  John, Jr. wore baseball caps, as evidenced in press coverage of his short, but important life.  That's not where I'm going with this hat thread, though.  It's the connection straight through John, Jr., to his Mom, Mrs. Kennedy Onassis, and her pillbox.
The pillbox had many rebirths: as a page boy costume accessory, as a monkey's added extra attraction, as a cigarette girl's hat in a nightclub, and finally, as Mrs. Kennedy's iconic hat.  It may not have been the only thing our beloved Jacqueline ever wore on her head, besides Hermes scarves, but it's the hat we will always see her in.  So when the New York Times calls and says they need a pillbox for a shoot in Paris, we say: "Like Jacqueline Kennedy's pillbox?".  I prefer to interpret Halston's style, rather than copy, unless it's a costume gig, so the pillboxes we make are a cross between that highly recognizable c. 1963 pink nubby wool version, and the ones my Mother's bridesmaids wore  in 1964.  
Back to George, and the much missed John, Jr.: he came to the antique clothing store I worked in many moons ago to buy several pair of sharkskin pants.  I got to do the fitting. Pin by pin, three pair.  

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hat of the week

Hat Tales

14th street between 8th and 9th Avenue.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Scaling the Heights

Dior Fall 2008 introduces the height of fashion: the 1970's silhouette in hats. Placed high on the head, it's a notable line, much interpreted by Mr. Phillip Treacy. the Dior hats are set atop very large hairdos, so the Sharon Tate factor is in evidence. And with the Broaway arrival of Gina Gershon in "Boeing, Boeing", hotties will abound this Fall. The stewardess hats popular in the 1960's, designed then by Pierre Cardin, have little domes, and peaks in the front, a reminder of the much maligned baseball cap. Since the riding cap has had a resurgence on pages of popular fashion magazines, the stewardess cap may just be the next hot ticket once cooler weather comes around.
The Valley of the Dolls , or Stepford Wives hairdo of the late 1960's -1970's required a hat that would sit atop the mass of curls, or teased assemblage. The final look harked back to Marie Antoinette , or stretching the point a bit, to the 1940's perchy Doll's Hats made popular by Schiaparelli.
So it's time to learn how to wear a different hat, girls.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Coming Revolution

Pre-Bastille Day, while Marie Antoinette still played at shepherdess at Versailles, Vigee le Brun recorded the times at hand in her portraiture. Hair had come down a bit, and hats became very important. Wigs were on their way out, so the huge head, coiffed to accomodate gardens, ships, birdcages, fell into softer curls. Hats took over the weight bearing requirements, with feathers, flowers, fruits, fabric in mountains atop a straw or a felt picture hat. (Guess where the name"picture hat" comes from).
Shades of Victorian millinery. The birds of the world may have been still safe from extinction in pre-Revolutionary France. Silk flowers came into vogue, first created in this time period for their lasting beauty . Ostrich seems to be the feather of choice on hats seen in these portraits. Cavaliers had been using up the ostrich feather supply for generations. I can just see the groundskeepers running after all those ostriches, gathering plumes for their masters'/mistresses' hats. Odd, we see peacocks in landscapes, but I don't remember seeing the odd ostrich sticking their necks up over the teatable. Where did all those feathers come from?
Ostrich feathers have had their glory day most days of most eras. The Victorians used them on hats; the Edwardians used them on hats, and as trim on garments.......bump through two World Wars to Hollywood, and ostrich still abounds. On Broadway Ziegfeld used ostrich feathers galore on his Follies Girls; in the Post WWII popular culture deluge, Gypsy Rose Lee brought them to the forefront, literally, on her feathered fans.
Ostrich feathers can be had without harm to the bird, and so have always been popular as their own regenerating product. No harm to the environment, no worries about being politically incorrect. Curled, dyed, stripped....done up on hats, sewn onto jackets, fashioned into fans, ostrich feathers give a girl a certain softness. A feminine seductiveness, with a mere swoosh of a feather.
How easy is life, no?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pin Up Girls Wear Hats

Given the latest trend in hats for guests to wear to weddings, the Fascinator, and given the swing dance retro craze, with little perchy cocktail hats the hat of choice, it should be safe to say that the younger generation is embracing the hat. Hat as hair ornament, hat as small accessory, hat as complimentary addition to their wardrobe, none the less, it's a hat on those heads out there.
Designers like Tracy Reese and Catharine Malandrino make the perfect summer function dresses, and their customers come to Ellen Christine Millinery with dresses in tow, to choose headwear for their outfits. We're used to the more mature customer having a hat made for their ensembles, but these new young pin up queens are racing for the perfect feather , flower, veil combo. This, for evening weddings, and with an eye to a future New Years Eve date, as well.
Vintage is a trickle down effect, with old movies supplying the grist of reference, and the West Coast creating a wave of reacion that East Coast girls can no longer ignore. With Paris Hilton showing up wearing a feathered something on her head, the young ladies of the world want to mimic that Hollywood glow, and are getting with it. No longer just the thing at swing band contests, or antique car rallies, hats are seeping into the fabric of popular culture.
Slowly but surely, we'll bring the hat back to it's rightful place: at the top, right where the head is.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Angela You Lucky Girl!

Major concerts have to be attended. Beatles, Woodstock, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, The Concert for Bangladesh..........on and on in my history of "yes, I was there" concert lists.........and so presented with the possibility of seeing and hearing Roberto Alagna and his most gracious wife, diva Angela Georghiu, at an outdoor, under the stars venue, was not to be shrugged off.
For this did I trek by subway, thank you very much, to Prospect Park, with a bit of trepidation, but a goal firmly in place. We close the shop at 7 in the evening, so giving myself just a scant hour left me worried. But it's Brooklyn, and maybe no one will find it, so it won't be millions and millions of rushing crowds, blanket and wine bottles in hand.
Taking the F train from 23rd Street, an adventure unto itself, and leaving everything to the opera gods, was the first part. The second part was the stream of happy people strolling into the park entrance, fenced, guarded by a relaxed police force, on and off their horses.
Have I mentioned any hats yet? Maybe because there were none to be seen. Hang on.
The third part was finding a spot........and with huge speakers and monitors set up along the perimeter of the field, the choices were many. None close to the stage, but still many.
The best part was the concert: Roberto Alagna, the Rock Star of Opera, and Angela Georghiu, together... a magnificent occasion in itself. The Met orchestra and the chorus were on hand to provide the wall of sound, and the operatic duo dove into their performances with obvious glee. The program, from orchestration to solos, was planned to provide enough snippets of familiarity to make the novices in the audience feel at home. Mr. and Mrs. Alagna behaved with coquettish charm, giving their delivery more romance, and having fun with the crowd's response. They danced, they kissed, they hugged, and boy, did they sing. For those of us familiar with full voice arias, the difference was interesting. Singing out of doors, with microphones is a talent unto itself.
Wonderful experience; Peter Gelb is so smart.
So, hats......... there were some, to be sure...practical no-nonsense hats for the park. I sigh in mission is huge, I know. Hatting the heads of the universe is a tough job, but I'm up to it, to be sure.
P.S. Mrs. Alagna, please let me make you a little something for the hair. Anytime, I'm at your service.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Hippies recycle. Old hippies still recycle. We recycle everything. I've been using antique ingredients on my hats for decades, because it was too painful to let a beautiful remnant of a Victorian gown go to a trash heap. Bits and pieces, old ribbons, embroideries, even hats themselves, can be deconstructed and used in modern application on anything. We'll leave the how-to's to Martha Stewart, but think about it: There are scads of embroidered dresses on the market at the moment.......wouldn't you just love that embroidery on a turban?
Depression era hats were remakes from their flapper counterparts, the cloches of a decade previous. Housewives redid their clothing, mended, patched, made quilts from cloth scavenged from the family worn-outs, and perked up her hat wardrobe by cutting and draping a new shape for herself. Let nothing go to waste was the motto.
In the WWII era, hats were made of everything you could think of: paper (no, not toy soldier hats), cardboard used as stiffener, sheet linen used for hand painted flowers, sequins recycled from gowns as hat pins....
Redoing had been part of our cultural heritage forever. the pioneer spirit mandated using everything, so as to conserve, and so we conserved, until the 1950's.
Keeping up with the Jones' meant new!new!new!, not recycle. The Love generation in the 1960's began a Renaissance that has culminated in a Green movement that would make any Hippie mother's heart proud.
Take a bit of old jewelry and stick it on your hat like a brooch. Wrap your silk scarves like turbans. Come in, I'll show you how, if you can't figure it out for yourselves. Hermes has a little book out that explains lots of different ways to use a scarf, by the way.
Let a new hat perk up an old wardrobe, too. It's an easy way to refresh, and see things differently.
Think about using what you have, and redoing what you have, and working your wardrobe to suit your lifestyle.
Spare me from the bucket hat revamp, though, please.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


In high school, algebra was the only thing I ever flunked.......but I got an "A" in the make-up summer class, and I still think it's because the teacher took pity on my lost soul. The following year, I got geometry. And got it. Didn't have to crib, cram, or cry over those lines. I think it's the numbers and calculations in algebraic formulas that twisted my brain, because geometry felt right. An early inkling of metier, now that I've had years to ponder drafting and pattenmaking.
Lo, these many years later, architecture is directly affecting contemporary design, both industrial and fashion. Stylists ask for "shape", in a vague, transcental manner, and we give them "shape". It helps that one of the new Frank Gehry buildings is on Eighteenth Street, and an extraordinary wall of glass it is. Citysearch is housed in its confines, and I've been promised a tour, since we do business with them, but not yet. It's still enough to oggle the exterior.
When Les Grands Projets went up in Paris, and I stood in muted awe of the Pyramid in the center of the Louvre , my sensibilities were not ready. But all things French grow on me, and somehow, with the Gehry constructs global now, and modernity seeps into every facet of our society, I can pause, and see them not as intrusions, but as another art form.
Architecture , from Palladio to Stanford White has always been fascinating to my artistic side, as the classicists always spoke to me in an easy, flowing text. My penchant for the 1950's as a textural, dynamic, and aerodynamic phase helped to forewarn my creativity of moods to come. All is not romantic ruffles. The organic flow of a piece is what naturally comes in good design, whether it be the Guggenheim in Bilbao, or the Eiffel Tower.
And so we come to the Fall collection. Inspired by shapes, instigated by Camilla Nickerson once again, we find ourselves molding and draping felt for lightness and form. Soon to be seen in Italian Vogue, and other publications in the Fall.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hat tales

Hat of the week

14th Street between 8 and 9 Avenue

Monday, June 16, 2008


Here's the 'splainin':   Monday is my Friday.....not because it's a weekend, but because I get to kick back and play with my stuff.  As in warehouse, studio, or on my settee.........the joys of a minute to think, design, plan, as well as wash, dye, block, mold, drape............that's the hatworld, folks.  
Today I had to pull for Ralph the industry (rag, that is), designers often use antique textiles and clothing for reference and inspiration.  Usually, my agent deals with the design folk, since I'm busy making hats and tending to the hat wearing masses, so all I have to do is imagine what the designer in question would like, bag it up, and send it off on speculation, quite frequently.  For example,  Eugenia Kim will come in for vintage hats, or visual research;  the designer from Coach will drop by to see what's up in the shop.  This, on a daily basis, as well as the magazine shoots , campaign shoots, stylists' comissioning specialty pieces , makes for a very interesting day at Ellen Christine.  
For example, this weekend, we did the campaign for Baby Phat.  That means the stylist comes in, reviews what we have in stock, and rents several pieces to use in the photoshoot........check you local magazine for our hats in lots of situations like this.
By the way, we're in the current Bergdorf Goodman catalogue (Pre-Fall).  Shameless stroking, there.
Shoots like these do not carry credits, because the product is not available from that particular company. But when you see advertorials in magazines, they're usually propped from design inspiration sources.  It makes for a mad hat mentality, and hopefully, raises the awareness in the mind and eye of the buying public. Are you getting my hint, here, folks? Come in and get yourself a hat.
Mondays are prep day, and I can usually do that in between a manicure, or a massage, or drinks on the water somewhere...........
It's a fun thing, this world we live in, no?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Champagne Taste

What to wear to that wedding next week?  I ask this from a purely personal standpoint, since my nephew is getting married on the 29th of June, and I have to make an appearance.  Family things can be touchy, since everyone has something to say about every body's outfits.  And I'm the only one ever wearing a hat anywhere in my family group.  Now that all the mags are showing hats, my sister-in-law wants to wear one, so I may not be alone in my exotica.  At the last wedding I wore a small, lace encrusted pillbox, with a chou of tulle, and a gold lame rose.........this time I'm thinking color.  The dress I have chosen is a Catherine Malandrino turquoise silk chiffon, and I want to wear something coral with it.  Or brick, caramel, in that family.  It's not the color, it's the style.........usually my style has to do with geometry, height, dimension......not so close to the head.  More 1940's than 1930's, so I want to come up with something ribbon-y, with veiling.  The dress has a lace edge on the hem, and is a trapeze style I can belt, if I'm feeling svelte that day, so it's not my penchant to do the matchy-matchy thing and go for the lace.  Ribbons, draped like a chinese chrysanthemum on a disk, very Andrews Sisters, like a pompadour hairdo from the WWII era would be more me.
The problem with that is I don't have earrings to go with an outfit like that.  
Usually I do a monochromatic blend of tone on tone, and marry it all up somehow.  But color is screaming to happen here.......after all, the wedding is in San Juan, and believe me, they're not afraid of color down there.  It's bad enough I've chosen a cocktail dress, and not a gown.  
A sculpted straw might be in order, in a cocktail version, in rasberry, maybe.
The joy of being a milliner is that I get to indulge my hat passion and try lots of different things........and believe me, I change my hat every single day...............

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Hat Time in the Summer

Time to tame the cowgirl, get off the horse, and head for the beach.....or waterfall.  Or Grand Canyon.  Such is summer in the States:  more or less divided up between mountain or beach, depending upon where your tastes lie.  
Beach side you have your upscale crowd and your everyday crowd.  Hamptons or Wildwood, N.J., Cape Cod or Atlantic City......all along the Eastern seabord are encampments of like minded folk, reveling in summer festivities.  Mountain top, in the Catskills, or the Poconos, the summer cabins are rented, the lakes are full, summer stock is packed with New York actors looking to get away from the heat inducing sidewalks of the Big Apple.  
Summer has been thus as long as I can remember....except for fast trips to Europe with every other American, German, and English tourist, summers in the Northeast revolved around where your friends went, where your family went , and as adults, where your friends go, and where your family goes not.  The hat of choice for the summer months is by request, something pack-able, easily forgotten on a beach towel, left on a dashboard, stuffed in a suitcase.  The poor thing gets abused more in a month on the road than three months in the closet.  
My solution is a wardrobe of three hats: something large and exotic looking, something quasi normal, for town and country, and something novelty and quirky.  This way all bases are covered and I'm happy.  Not to mention the hats get out more.........and that makes them happy, too.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ancient History

Look to your research books for the silhouettes showing up on the runways......the fez, popular in Turkey, atop a whirling dervish, has been part of popular culture for decades.  Those that know, will remember any lodge member of the 1950's wearing them.  In Bye, Bye Birdie, with Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh, the lodge members were after her in a number that had them whirling on their tables.  
Louis Vuitton showed them in the Fall 08 collections, as deconstruction: smooth bits of curves, whirling up into the air, or curving down over the model's foreheads.  
We'll see a rash of fezzes in the mags, to be sure, but I'm not sure if the average Joe or Jill will sport one with their Ralph Lauren tweeds. Ellen Christine does a crushed fez, last seen in "Tell Me On a Sunday", with Maxine Linehan, and we include a taupe one in our Fall 08 lookbook, with a smart burst of magenta on the upside.  Very  "The Women", you know.  So, back to history.......trace the shape from earlier years, to the Whirling Dervish of Turkey, onto the 1930's hats aplenty in cinematography and Haute Couture (here we need to reference Elsa Schiaparelli), and voila!  Fall o8, interesting is our world, n'est-ce pas?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lime Rickey

When I lived in Boston for design school duty, a wonderful beverage came to my attention in the summer months:  lime , rasberry syrup,, and you got yourself a refreshing, satisfying, down-the-hatch summer drink.  Virgin, that is.  Now that I'm a big girl, and can legally partake of the Devil's brew from time to time I add creme de cassis instead of the rasberry syrup, and fool myself into thinking it's a no-cal kind of deal.  Just as refreshing, but you can't drive while imbibing, so errands are out.  
That's how I feel about Panama hats.  Some segue, right? They cool and refresh, and somehow block enough of the sun, or deflect it, to create a little breeze around your head.  Old movies testify to the fact that in the tropics, everybody wears a hat........I forgot, they all wore hats no matter what, no matter where.  Back to the heat, though: the top of your head is more susceptible to heat because of the mere fact that the sun is beating down on it.  Bald people know this fact.  Sunburn is inevitable, so add a hat to your daily mix in the summer, and give it a whirl.  Start with an unassuming little panama, not a huge South-of-France wide brim, just a little panama.  Make it your friend, get it wet, let it have some fun outside, on your head.  
when people ask me where they can wear a hat, I tell them all the same thing: on your head.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hat Tales 2

14th Street in Chelsea, style on the street...

Monday, June 9, 2008

Is It Summer Yet?

With the heatwave sweeping the gritty streets of New York, folks stay as cool as possible wherever possible.  Parasols work in the tropics, hankies wipe sweat from brows, but a hat will shade the face. 
This weekend, while at the 1920's gig on Governor's Island I surreptitiously conducted a little survey. Under the heat, a comely young miss put on the largest brimmed panama straw I had brought with me, and exclaimed at the difference in temperature!  No coaching from the peanut gallery.  Of course she bought it, to keep it for was more of a reality check than a hat, I feel. And she looked beyond great in it......
Because we make hats and wear hats, and have them around everywhere, under plates, under the bed, under more hats......we forget they create a different environment for civilians.  While dozens of friendly faces came to our spot under the trees to try on a cloche or two, they came with a shred of trepidation all the same.  Bizarre how a little hat can cause such a stir........I think it's something everyone wants to try on for size......size psychological, not real size.....and see whether their friends laugh  in horror, or gasp in awe.  At a casual venue like this , it's more than a looky-Lou environment, rather more an automatically permissive one.  Sorta like being at the Saturday night dance,  kicking it up with that boy you wanted to flirt with,  just because you could, with no flak from the infield.  When you and your buds can all try hats on, and feel no pressure,  and no judgement, hats can be friendly little things.  And who knows, that moment of Epiphany might come when you realize what it's doing for you:  it's keeping you cool, and making you look like the dish- of -the- day out in the big, wide world!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sunday in the Park with Michael

Arenella, that is, and his gorgeous gaggle of musicians, decked in 1920's gear, and Peabody-ing it up.
Ahhh, Governor's's as if we were in Smalltown, U.S. of A. on a sultry Sunday aft, relaxing on a blanket on the green.  The bandstand sits in it's grove, and when the band is down, there's a victrola spinning records, still 1920's mind, to amuse the townsfolk.  Scattered groups of picnickers (?) do their picknicking thing; bicycles provide the only transportation, once the vintage cars are parked.  Cloches rather than large brims, better to dance in when you're cheek-to-cheek,are the hat of the day.  Imagine an afternoon of flirtation, relaxation, and time travel.  A bit of that, since not all the strollers were dressed to dance perfection, so the old world met the new world every three people or so.  For me, having lived immersed in vintage, and antique, for decades, it's more normal than an afternoon in Central Park with the spandex crowd. 
History has a way of asserting itself, be it political repercussions, or a flippy little skirt dancing by.
Thank you, Michael. I'm already dreaming of September.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Island in the Sun

First time off the ferry to Governor's Island, and I want to move in. Gorgeous buildings, all open for tours, ancient trees, pathways for bicycles, areas for picnics, lolling about, strolling.  It's been three years since it's been open to the public, and now, we can all go and have it as our own back yard. 
Close your eyes and listen:  the orchestra playing, while the city across the water swelters.....the orchestra playing, crowds of happy people dancing to the music of the 1920's.  The crowds, often noisy in the city, murmur in a symbiotic stream, one with the ancient trees, calm.
Hats bob on the dancefloor, in the center of a grove of trees, some vintage, some vintage looking, some just sun protection. Gentlemen in two-toned shoes and wide legged pants Charleston with their skirted partners, hats on them all.
It's hat heaven.  Wotta day.......and more to come tomorrow.  I can't wait!

Friday, June 6, 2008


Some people need justification for dressing up.  Or at least what they call "dressing up". They need a wedding, a function, a launching of their yacht......what about everyday, in and out, up and down, life?  In New York City, we start off with the newsblast of the morning, jump into our skins, and blast off.  My skin includes a hat. Brian, my hairdresser, would kill me if the color faded one second sooner than he calculated.  Besides, I feel nekkid without a hat.......unfinished, incomplete, and I admit it, insecure.
Missing something, like.
So, this weekend, on Governor's Island, there will be a whole lot of people swinging and stomping to the sounds of 1920's jazz, hopefully all wearing hats.  I shall report, and take stock, as to who does,and who doesn't, btw.  Whether the aficionados turn out in their fancy flapper gear, or weekend r-e-l-a-x clothing, a hat works, no matter what.  As a part of the festive mood, much the same as donning a foam finger at a football game, a hat at a gig means business. When you go to a wedding, special guest, or member of the fam, a hat demonstrates joy, inclusion, celebration.  
Take that image one step further, and think of every day as a possible hat-wearing venue.
Why do I go on endlessly with this prattle, you may ask yourself, gentle folk?  It's a mission, I admit, but a kind and purposeful one: hats don't bite.  They may bring a twinkle to the eye, music to the soul, joy to the heart, but they don't bite.
If you come out to Governor's Island this weekend, stay and play, listen to the Michael Arenella Orchestra, but by all means,wear a hat...get jazzed!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Napoleon Didn't Wear a Panama Hat!

But you can...especially now that it's summer in New York City. 
Panama hats are a cool, breatheable way to protect your head from the sun's rays.  They're made only in Ecuador and can be priced anywhere from 1oo up to thousands for an extra, extra, extra super fino Montecristi.  Yes, I did say thousands.
These hats are woven by hand from the fibre of the toquilla palm, stripped to different widths and formed, like a basket, into various patterns and shapes. There are artificial straws on the market that resemble a panama weave, but they never feel the same on the head. A true panama straw hat should be light, and comfortable, turning you into either Rico Suavay, or perhaps Greta Garbo, according to your mood. Or just yourself, ready to deal with the heat of the season.  It's the hat most people try on at Ellen Christine Millinery, and the hat that most people find when they're on vacation in exotic lands.  We like to do different ideas in fedoras and porkpies: a groovy jazzman, in black straw, or a MacDaddy in a checkered straw.......not every panama needs to be a natural white.  Charlie Chan wore the most popular style panama of the 1920's: the Optimo, or Colonial style, with the ridge down the center, and the flat brim.  Charlton Heston wore the plantation style, usually cocked off to one side.  The Duke of Windsor and Winston Churchill wore their favorite styles.  Gentlemen through the ages, good and bad,(okay, not all of them were gentlemen) all wore a Panama Hat.  Jump to modern day, and what do you see?  I don't know...I'm still looking.......hey guys, start wearing hats again, please!  You all look so good in a hat, really.  Andre 3000 wears one, or two, or more.  Kid Creole always wears one......Willy De Ville has his. Will Smith, Brad Pitt, Kid Rock, Bruce Willis... So what's stopping the regular dude from donning a hat and doing his thing every day? Tell me, so I can change it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Man On The Street

Let me explain: not man, the mammal,in particular, but the common man, the everyday man, John and Jane Doe, chosen at random, will have opinions.  Point a camera and Sarah Bernhardt can emerge.....or not.  Maybe John Barrymore. The basis of this pointing the camera stuff is to help each other loosen up, communicate in another medium, as per Marshall McLuhan, and broaden each other's scope of reference.  So, by sallying forth with camera in tow, and at that, an unassuming camera, inocuous in it's own right, we are directing our message.  The medium, so to speak, is a hat.  The opinions are those of the general public, some fashionistas, some average Joes and Jills.  The hats are by Ellen Christine Millinery.  By using a "normal" silhouette, in this case, a fedora, and seeking verbal expression about a 3-D object, we're creating a non-confrontational environment where the tryer-on can see himself/herself in a different light.
But wait....what will happen when we introduce a non-normal silhouette, perhaps a feathered concoction that allows a momentary splicing of personality, an escape from the everyday reality, a glimpse into another side of the tryer-on. You'll have to tune in another day to see ...we'll upload at random, unedited, with glee.
It's pedantic, I know, but then art can be that way.  If you see the girls in the street, and they ask you to try a hat on, please let them.......there's no selling here, this isn't a ploy.  It's an experiment, just a way to hear what people have to say.  

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

hat tales


What people think about hats in Union Square ??

My Red Sandals

I know, I know, this is a hat blog.  But, in all fairness, Yves St. Laurent takes precedence to everything right now.  It's taken a few days to settle in, but it's true.  He's gone, in body.  We're left with the name, the style, the passion for invention, for creativity that the name represents.
After all, hats were always a part of St. Laurent collections...just ask Elaine Stritch. He re-invented Chanel's boater, interpreted the Hippie floppy brim hat of the 1960's and 70's, added patterned silk to spark up a Russian chapka.  but it's not the hats of those years I's the sandals.  They happened the year I graduated from college and came to New York instead of going on my Grand Tour of Europe.  My girlfriend Ruthie had just lost her father, a warm and wonderful guy, and so our well-planned trip to Paris and beyond , slotted for the summer after graduation, became a moot point.  Her family was from Babylon, Long Island, and so I opted for sticking close to my home in Philadelphia, as an emotional support for her.  Europe was not going to happen that summer, so I came to New York and did what every redblooded college girl should do:  I went shopping.  In a major way.  Gucci became a mainstay reference point for kicking off each morning, deciding on which bag to go with which loafer.  My mother got presents, my grandmother got presents, I got presents.
Then I found the sandals.  Maybe in Saks, maybe in Bendel's...the geographic location of where isn't as relevant as the emotional impact they caused in my hippie heart.  Up to then, it had been my buffalo hide platforms, and  indian print that moment, I became a young lady.  How things change in a blink of a credit card! Warm red leather, on a slight stacked leather platform, slingback......they became my uniform shoe.  Yves St. Laurent had just transformed my life, my closet, with a shoe!  College had been a whirlwind of commune, our store, el K-rajo, and oh, yes,  classes.  New York was now my tornado of choice.  Alana, a brilliant  graphic artist, and friend, took me under her wing and carted me around to design houses, looking at line, proportion, Studio 54.  Store windows were celebrating the moment (there was a motorcycle in the window of Henri Bendel!!), fashion was becoming youthful, and St. Laurent had bridged that cultural  gap across the universe of couture and street.
Onto the second pair of sandals:  pale aqua patent leather, straps barely hanging onto my feet, worn as wardrobe in videos, worn to dance on the rooftop of Le Jardin , worn as a badge of graduation.  The little hippie had morphed into what would become her own mix of vintage clothing, couture and street.  And this was 1972.
Thank you, Monsieur.  God speed.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Indy Rules!

This weekend the female population of the country dragged their uninterested boyfriends to see Carrie and her cohorts cavort across the big screen, and beat out Indiana Jones in the ratings.  Matt Bauer on the Today show said they all entered with a ticket for SITC, then snuck down the hall to see Indy.  Wearing their fedoras no doubt.  If anyone noticed the empty seats in the theater, that's were they all were no doubt.  
I didn't feel the burning need to see Carrie et al, in spite of Mr. Big, at least not right away. Archeology beats fashion on my list of things to oggle , especially if the archeology has Harrison Ford on the dig.  Fashion is there, is always there, and although I'm interested in the pieces Patricia Field has put together for her leading ladies, they're not  as compelling for me as,say,  the costume designs for Elizabeth.  As in Queen Elizabeth, pick any movie.  
The June issue of Vogue gave us the preview of the movie, and somehow, for me, that was the taste I needed to carry on (pardon the pun) for a little while longer.  And then, we got the hat to smooth our way down the pink carpet.  Sarah Jessica Parker has unending good taste when choosing her red carpet outfits.  For the opening  of  Sex in the City in London Miss Parker had the vision to order a hat from Phillip Treacy, presumably one week before the event, and wowed the world press with the creation.  Weeks later, the image of that creation is still in the minds of the general public.  And in the hearts of all milliners everywhere! Go SJP!  Thank you, Mr. Treacy.
After that, how can the movie live up to it's own reputation?  Is there a gorgeous green cocktail hat in every scene?  Are there hats?  Are there people in hats?
I'm not biased, oh, no, dear folk.  I just love hats.  Indy gave me what I needed, what can I say?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sunday, Sunday........

Does anyone remember the ads on the Philly radio stations:  Atco, Atco, Sunday, Sunday........?
Al Roker seems to have been there , because he chirps up with a "Sunday, Sunday..."every once in a had to be there, but it's one of those things that automatically kicks in everytime you hear a vague reminder of the ad.............Atco was a Dragway, for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, and Sundays were THE day to go............
That was after church, mind you, when you got changed and took off for parts unknown with your buddies, Atco or crowd wasn't into drag racing...we were into rollerskating, with our little outfits. Not a hat to be seen in the rollerrink,by the way.  
Sunday was the day we got dressed in our civilian clothing.  It's how my hat addiction started out.  No school uniforms on Sundays, just miles of pastel dresses, hats, gloves, clutch bags, and of course, matching shoes.  It was another uniform, to be sure, but what else is social dressing, but a uniform? Hats were de rigeur in the fifties, and until 1964, a part of all of our lives when we planned our Sunday outfits.  The Ecumenical Council changed all of that, as did the beehive, Jackie Kennedy, and post WWII lifestyle.  But then, the hat reigned supreme, since it was all you could see once everyone was seated in church. 
What a picture!  Mrs. Broderick's little flowered bucket; my girlfriend Joanne's yellow straw helmet; my pink straw with the cabbage rose.  Whew!  We wore hats that only a mother could love.  Think Doris Day and that should engrave an image on your brain.  In the Sixties we started wearing triangular kerchiefs, to supplement our hat wardrobes.  Thrilling!  Denimheads, or madras, to match our reversible windbreakers, that matched our reversible wrap skirts.  But they were never as picturesque as the hats.  The trims, the shapes, the outfits concocted to match.  How delirious were the hatmakers of America in the 1950's to have every head covered.  Those were the days.
P.S. Atco Raceway is still going strong.