Harlem Milliner Hosts 'The Great American Hat Show'
HARLEM — Harriet Rosebud knows exactly how she wants a woman to feel when she slips on the black fascinator style hat with the delicate feathers that she designed and made by hand.
"The feathers are mysterious because they sweep the face," said Rosebud. "I want a woman to feel elegant, vintage and classic."
Rosebud, 53, has been designing and manufacturing hats for 20 years after she said she couldn't find a nice one to fit her head.
After a two-year stint studying millinery at the Fashion Institute of Technology and another two working at a hat factory, Rosebud launched her own company called Rosebud of New York. She designs up to 4,000 hats per year from her home studio in Harlem.
Her collection includes everything from fascinators — the highly decorative pieces that sit on the side of the head attached by a band and made famous recently by Kate Middleton— to her $600 hat for the Kentucky Derby called the "Triple Crown."
"It's art, but it's wearable art. That's something I want people to understand and appreciate about hat-making," Rosebud said.
The public will get that chance on Feb. 8 when Rosebud hosts "The Great American Hat Show" at St. James Presbyterian Church on 141st Street, a daylong event that will feature hat-making classes for adults and children and new hat collections.
"The show is to give the art form more exposure," said Rosebud who also has a degree in political science from Florida State University. "It's a real conversation about hats and what they mean to us."
Hatmaking is a form of expression, said Rosebud who added that she dreams up fresh designs almost daily.
"I see something that inspires me and I'll draw it out," she said.
Millinery hasn't changed much over time. Rosebud uses some of the same techniques that hat makers used centuries ago.
"A brim is a brim and a crown is a crown," she said.
The only thing that has changed is the fabric. In the past, hats were made mostly of wool and straw. Today they can be made of almost anything including ribbon, satin, synthetic fabrics and mudcloth.
Rosebud said she'll shape the hat on a mold using fabric before it goes through steaming, shaping and even a baking process. That shaped hat becomes the blank canvas where she plays with color before moving on to adding feathers, ribbons, crystals or silk flowers.
"Dressmakers start with a sketch, but most hat designers create the shape with molds and then design the hat. The hat is a blank canvas we paint on," Rosebud said.
Rosebud is one of the most well-known African-American milliners in the country, especially after her collection of miniature hats took off a few years ago. She has clients in the U.S. and in Canada, some of whom will travel to The Great American Hat Show.
The Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, chairwoman of Community Board 9, is a prolific hat wearer who owns more than two dozen of Rosebud's designs.
For President Barack Obama's first inauguration, Rosebud made Morgan-Thomas a white wool hat with fox trim and a big buckle that was "blinging," and gave the notable crystal bow hat that soul singer Aretha Franklin wore that day a run for its money.
"My hat was better than Aretha's. She should have had a Harriet Rosebud creation," Morgan-Thomas said.
For her son's recent wedding, Morgan-Thomas hadn't planned to wear a hat because she didn't want to draw any attention away from the bride. But when her now daughter-in-law requested that Morgan-Thomas wear one of her trademark hats to the wedding, she turned to Rosebud, who created one with pearls around the brim.
"It was me: soft, feminine and yet outstanding," joked Morgan-Thomas. "Her hats are always very chic, even the ones that are ostentatious."
Rosebud credits her degree in political science for her interest in the sociology behind hats.
Hat designs often change with the country's social and economic situation. In the 1920s the hat styles were more grand to reflect the booming economic times. But during the Great Depression and World War II, hats were plain based on the inaccessibility of supplies.
"A hat could denote your wealth," Rosebud said.
She should know. Rosebud is putting the finishing touches on an $800 hat that is loaded with rhinestones and crystal. The "car payment," as she facetiously calls it, will be stunning and worth every penny because hats are also a symbol of a feeling that the wearer is trying to display, she said.
The giant brim of the massive triple crown hat denotes a grandness associated with going to events like the Kentucky Derby. The black fascinator hat is playful but also a serious evening hat. For the black church women in Harlem, it's all about large brims, tall crowns and bling.
"The more rhinestones the better. They look like Christmas trees," Rosebud said.
Rosebud is working on purchasing her own small factory to produce her designs and can't wait to unveil her new creations at The Great American Hat Show.
"America is a leader in fashion and I want to return the art form to greatness," said Rosebud. "It's very important to me that the art form doesn't die.
The Great American Hat Show will be held Feb. 8, starting at 2 p.m. at the Dorothy Manor Theater at St. James Presbyterian, 409 W. 141st St. at St. Nicholas Avenue. Call (212) 690-1361, visit Harriet Rosebud Hats or email HarrietRosebud@gmail.com for more information.