Top off the Spring
published April 7, 2004 The Daily Oakland Press
Hats are the frosting on a fresh new outfit
By BETHANY BROADWELL
Special to The Daily Oakland Press
"Wearing a hat is enjoyable to outside events on warm, sunny
days, traveling on a cruise or just sightseeing and sitting by
Carol Robinson of Bloomfield Hills is someone who owns about
10 hats, loves to wear them and agrees they make a statement.
"Hats finish my outfit and make me feel glamorous and feminine,"
Her favorite hat is a dramatic chapeau, named "Derby Day,"
made from sinemay and open weave toyo by Gena Conti Millinery in
Wyandotte. With its large brim and shallow crown, it is draped in
black velvet with dotted tulle and a black silk rose that sits on
the side with a matching dotted tulle bow.
Robinson fondly recalls wearing "Derby Day" to the
annual Grand Hotel jazz weekend on Mackinac Island. She, however,
does not limit her hat wearing to formal settings.
Whether she wears one to work or for a dinner date with her husband,
Robinson says, "Every time I wear a hat, I am complimented.
"Not only complimented," she adds, "but stopped
and asked where I bought my hat."
In fact, she just purchased a new spring chapeau from Gena Conti
Millinery. It is red parisisal straw covered in red-glazed chiffon
with handmade trim of matching fabric, horsehair on the edge and
red rhea tail feathers.
"In these days of self-serve, fast-serve, no-serve, I find
my clientele are extremely pleased to be pampered with a hand-sewn,
custom-made hat that fits from our workrooms," Conti says.
She not only has her Wyandotte shop location, but Conti also
books millinery showings and speaking engagements, private parties,
high teas and fund-raising events in Oakland County and around
"Our custom business has always been very popular, but it
has skyrocketed over these last five years," she adds.
Sculpting material and draping are Conti's favorite elements
"We, ourselves, are sculpture - viewed from all sides,"
she explains. "When I sculpt a hat, I spin it 'round, as
if it were on a potter's wheel, because it must flatter its wearer
from all angles."
Cynthia Hencsie of Troy is the owner of Design Network, Inc.,
the current president of the Michigan Chapter of the American
Society of Interior Designers and someone who treats hats like
"finishing touches" in a room. They coordinate, highlight
and add complexity, in an effort to draw interest.
Estimating she owns about 100 hats, Hencsie describes her favorite
as a wide, off-white hat Conti made for her a few years ago with
vintage black veiling and a silk flower.
"It enabled me to get a glimpse of how women must have felt
in the turn of the century with the extravagant hats and outfits
they wore," Hencsie says. "It makes one stand taller,
walk more gracefully. Because you feel good, smiles are easy."
Men who wear hats like the attention, too
Volz of Bloomfield Township says his favorite memory of wearing
a hat was walking in midtown Manhattan, wearing a brown leather
jacket and a brown bowler by Conti and "getting compliment
after compliment from men who looked like it had been a long time
since they had last complimented anyone about anything."
owns about 20 hats, and the next one he is considering for his
spring 2004 collection is another bowler, maybe in a rich loden
As someone who has studied with lifelong milliners and traveled
throughout Europe designing and creating hats for clients, Conti
summed up why now is the season to give these accessories a try.
"We bloom under hats in springtime colors and fabrics,"
she says. "Spring is a fine time for a new hat!"