Detroit Make It Here 2008 July
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It’s the individual attention and concentration on quality that have drawn customers from England, South Africa and New Zealand to Gena Conti. Since 1995 the milliner has been attracting people, mostly women, seeking to avoid the constraints of mass-produced and size-limited headwear.

“Everything is made one at a time from scratch,” said Conti, founder of Gena Conti Millinery in Wyandotte. She designs and hand-sews custom bridal headpieces, cocktail hats and seasonal hats, among others. “It’s really old-fashioned.”

Conti has gained an especially good reputation among those seeking a custom piece for the horse racing season, where some believe chic spectator hats are just as important as the race. In fact, Conti’s hats have been featured in the Kentucky Derby Museum’s Hat Exhibit for the last six years.

Horse racing “carries me for three quarters of the year,” Conti said. Every year her studio is swamped with orders: “It’s ungodly, it doesn’t stop,” she said. “Sometimes during race season I don’t sleep.”

The company is intentionally tiny with one other full-time worker and one part-time worker. Conti said the intimate workplace ensures quality. On an average day, they work on about 10 hats. Prices range from $165 to $1,200.

Conti said customers can come to the studio for a fitting. She can also design hats for a particular outfit. Her Web site, www.genaconti.com, allows people to self-measure and send photos back-and-forth with design ideas. “The whole world is the showroom now.”

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