After decades on fashion’s back burner, hats have made a serious comeback, and on the runways this coming season from Armani to Badgely Mischka, many are bold and even extraordinary. If anyone can be credited, it’s Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.
And it’s true — there’s nothing like a hat to make a woman a duchess.
“A lady with a hat is divine,” says Puerto Rican designer Raoul Blanco, who lives in Lafayette. “But there’s balance, a word many don’t consider when they put themselves together. A simple dress, a simple hat. Very constructed? Your hat, too. A little black dress with an elaborate hat? You’ll look like a mushroom. A colorful dress with a simple hat? The hat will be lost.”
Blanco uses hats with couture fashions and cautions women that once they put on a hat, they must wear heels, even with today’s trendy cocktail shorts. And while the duchess has exported fascinators to American women, they’re not for the small, but for the tall.
“Choose a fascinator that’s big,” says Blanco, who doesn’t care for birdcages (small hats with a veil) or pillboxes. “They remind me of flight attendants. Jackie Kennedy got away with them because of Bill Blass.”
He advises women to study themselves in the mirror.
“You have to work with a mirror or a professional,” he says. “It’s not just buying a pretty hat.”
Blanco utilizes the expertise of Fleur de Paris of New Orleans for his couture shows, and says designing a hat for a woman can take hours.
“You’re not just looking at composition,” says Joseph Parrino, owner of the French Quarter’s elegant millinery. “Collectively, it starts with the person and my staff. Perhaps there’s a need for an event, and if so, what is it? Viewing from the stands during a Mardi Gras parade? A tradition? We’ll take them in that direction.”
“Customers gravitate toward colors,” he says. “We consider everything from posture to facial structure and what speaks to them. A big 7-inch brim is not for everyone.”
He says in mid-to-late summer, savvy shoppers come in for bargains, especially when there’s 14 hours of daylight and more dining opportunities in the courtyard at night.
“In classic millinery, the rule is flowers — and brims — in the daytime and feathers at night,” Parrino says.
It all starts with the client and their level of comfort.
“We have trimmings that predate the Civil War, our collection is wonderful,” says Parrino. “It’s one thing to find just the right ribbon for a hat, another to find it among thousands. It’s a fun process.”
Head milliner Kimberly Gondrella is the one who begins the process. She considers the woman as a whole, not just one element or face shape.
“Hats are more complex than sunglasses. Yes, they need to work with and accentuate the best aspects of your face, but they also need to pull the whole outfit together, speak to the personality of the woman and look effortless,” she says. “Hats should never wear you, they should never make it seem like you are in a costume.”
The designer takes into account a woman’s haircut, facial contours, coloring and individual style, noting whether it’s sleek, sporty, tailored, vintage, feminine or edgy.
“When the client looks in the mirror and her eyes light up, I know I have succeeded,” says Gondrella. “A woman must wear a hat with confidence. A hat should impart a certain ‘hat-ittude.’ It should make you stand up straighter. The perfect hat is the crown to any outfit and the absolute reflection of its wearer.”
Parrino has noticed an uptick in hat sales that’s difficult to overlook. Interest has quadrupled, and he feels the hat business is cresting.
“It’s impossible not to see the potential,” he says. “The fad goes away; the fashion never does.”