Hats have been a part of fashion history forever….I have personally worked with several of the icons in this field.  But first a brief history lesson…

Rose Bertin, Marie Antoinette’s milliner, and dressmaker, was a true fashion diva, since that time milliners have tended to be arrogant and egocentric.  I did not find this so with the designers I worked with, talented…absolutely, major egos…perhaps. but not at all arrogant. Many milliners became dress designers.  They include Lucile, Jeanne Lanvin, Chanel,  Schiaparelli, Jacques Fath, Halston, Adolfo and Mr. John to name a few.

Rose Bertin opened a dressmaking and millinery establishment on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore in Paris in 1772.  In 1774 she was introduced to her best-known client, Marie Antoinette.  All of France came to her for their elaborate caps and headdresses.  she survived the French Revolution, her business, however never recovered.

Charles Worth considered the father of Haute Couture, he was responsible for creating the first hat worn instead of bonnet.  Charles Dickens was quoted saying a male milliner (there wasn’t a name for couturier) with thick fingers dressed and undressed the women of France (including the Empress Eugenie)

Gabrielle Chanel opened her millinery business in 1908 from the Paris apartment of her lover Etienne Balsan.  With the backing, of the love of her life, Boy Chapel, she moved to 21 Rue Cambon.  She designed millinery exclusively until 1913 when she designed her first garments.

Elsa Schiaparelli opened her fashion house in 1928 and her outrageous garments, equally important were her ingenious hats including the surrealist shoe hat in 1937.

Obviously, I didn’t work with any of the aforementioned creators.  But did work with several who were considered creative icons.

Bes-Ben in 1920 Benjamin Green-Field opened his first Bes-Ben hat shop in Chicago.  In 1941 he created his first silly hat and earned the name of Chicago’s mad hatter.  Ben Green-Field was a Chicago institution.  His Salon, filled with treasurers from his world travels, was located on Michigan Avenue.  All of Chicago society women wore Bes-Ben creations, many of which are housed in the Costume Collection of the Chicago History Museum and some are on permanent display at the Museum,  Each year he famously had a “sale” of hats priced at $5.00 this began at midnight at 2:00 AM he would “throw” out hats to the assembled crowd…it was complete madness and great publicity before we knew what the word marketing was all about! Bes-Ben creation.

Mme. Paulette, Paulette Modes opened in 1939 on Avenue Franklin D. Rooseveltt in Paris.  She became known for her draped turbans and made hats for Robert Piguet, the couturier, up until her death she designed hats for many fashion houses including Chanel, Cardin and Mugler.  Paulette was the Philip Tracey of her time.  Creating timeless, beautiful millinery at a time when everyone wore hats…even in the evening.  She was very French, very charming and, of course, very talented.  She loved to share her expertise with the staff as well as work one on one with the clients at Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago. Paulette in her Paris Atelier. of the iconic hats by Mme. Paulette

A superb monograph on Mme. Paulette.

Tatiana was born in St. Petersburg, Russia she went to Paris after the Revolution  She studied painting and sculpture but also learned millinery to make a living.  She fled to New York with her daughter in 1941 and began designing hats for Henri Bendel within a year she joined Saks Fifth Avenue and became head of it’s custom millinery salon, working along side Sophie Gimbel, until the Salon Moderne closed in 1963.  She was considered a perfectionist in choosing both materials and colors.  She married Alexander Liberman, an artist and editorial director of Conde Nast Publications.  She came to the Chicago Saks Fifth Avenue store on several occasions to work with the clientele.  Everyone at the time, late ’50’s early ’60’s wore hats, you just weren’t complete without one….in came the bouffant hairdo, out went hats!  I found her very austere, extremely talented and an authority everyone admired, especially the ladies lucky enough to have her personalized attention and specially created chapeaux. in her workrooms.

I love this photo…long before I met her.

A memoir written by Tatiana’s daughter, Francine du Plessix Gray, a very good read.

Adolfo having served an apprenticeship in Balenciaga’s workshop in Paris he emigrated to New York in 1948.  In 1953 he became chief designer for Emmé in the same year he won the Coty Fashion Award.  In 1962, with a loan from Bill Blass (which he quickly repaid) he opened his own custom millinery salon and later began making clothes to compliment his hats and then as his primary business.  He was a star with Saks Fifth Avenue for many years and a dear friend.  I will do a separate post on Adolfo in the future.  I wanted to tell you the story of our first encounter, rather amusing now, then not so much!!!!

imageAdolfo in his millinery salon.

Each time we had a guest designer at the Store we did a press reception, could be a breakfast, luncheon, tea, cocktail reception and always with an accompanying fashion presentation.  Adolfo’s first visit with us was no exception.  We planned a formal sit-down luncheon in the Bagatelle Room at Maxim’s restaurant in the Astor Towers (more on that restaurant in a future post).  At the time we had 4 daily newspapers, each with a fashion editor and an assistant fashion editor, several local weekly and monthly publications and lots of daily TV shows.  All were invited to this special event. I always liked to “personalize” the events in some way, and thought it would be amusing to do individual place cards in the form of hats.  Going a bit further, I went to our local “party store” Dennison’s (think Michaels or Hobby Lobby), they had all materials to use for showers, parties of all kind…just lots of good stuff…at least I thought so!  I found charming miniatures floral hat boxes, probably 3″to 4″ in size, matching tissue paper and materials to form miniature hats (look at the Bes Ben hat above for the look I was going for) for each guest.  I thought of each guest’s personality and created a one of a kind hat for each, placed them in their hatboxes tied them with a silk ribbon and attached their name card.  Having Adolfo with us was HUGE and everyone was extremely excited to meet him for the first time and hear his story and enjoy his creations.  As I was placing my miniature hatboxes at each place I had a major wave of horror….what was I thinking, I a non-creator making hats for a major designer….I was, of course, doing it to honor him but what would he think.  Well as I was just finishing the placement, in came my store manager with Adolfo, much too late for me to retreat!!!  I don’t get upset nor nervous very often but in this case I was terrified.  He looked at the table (oh, by the way, I had done one for him as well!!!) opened his hat box and said it was one of the most charming things he had seen and he found them delightful!  Everyone shared their own miniature millinery and placed them on top of their boxes to be admired. We were friends from that time onward!



  1. Tom Mantel January 20, 2017 / 12:50 am

    Great photos and stories. I live hearing about your experiences with these great designers.

    • nenasnotes January 20, 2017 / 12:54 am

      A million thanks. A bit of a history lesson in this one.

  2. Barbara Varro January 20, 2017 / 2:49 pm

    Lovely piece on hats. I remember those days well. And I remember with fondness your press events when I was fashion editor at the Sun Times.

    • nenasnotes January 20, 2017 / 2:54 pm

      Thank you so much. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your comments they mean the world to me!!!

  3. Petra January 24, 2017 / 8:31 am

    Love this!

    • nenasnotes January 24, 2017 / 12:42 pm

      Thanks Petra. Hope to see you soon!!

  4. Quinn February 22, 2017 / 4:59 pm

    I absolutely love the idea of the miniature hats! I’d say they kept and treasured them! What a lovely detail.

    • nenasnotes February 22, 2017 / 5:09 pm

      Thanks so much Quinn. It was fun to do, I don’t seem to do too many creative projects any more. Need to change that!! I’m sure the miniature millinery are all long gone!’

      • Quinn February 22, 2017 / 5:13 pm

        You should definitely set some time aside to make something – you sound like you’re really good at it! Would be a shame not to put your talents to use!

      • nenasnotes February 22, 2017 / 5:23 pm

        At the moment my blog is my creative outlet. Thanks for the thought.

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