When I found out that I would be afforded the opportunity to meet the man who designed the hat that Aretha Franklin wore to the inauguration, I was excited.
The meeting took place at the beautiful home of Ritchie Scaife, honorary chair of the fab Spring Hat Luncheon. He and I spoke briefly and I shared that I planned to be in Detroit on the upcoming weekend. Of course he invited me to his store. I couldn’t wait to get there. Mr. Song Millinery was located in Downtown Detroit, however, due to his newfound popularity, he moved to a new location in Southfield (think Monroeville, Pa). The store is a hat lover’s dream with hats covering every available space; there were big hats, portrait hats, berets and fedoras. I wanted to try them all. Luke Song also had a display of his ultra dressy headbands and if you didn’t see something that fit, he would design a hat for you.
A copy of the Aretha Franklin hat is now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Smithsonian. Franklin had been shopping with Song for over 20 years. However, a picture of Franklin in the hat was noticeably absent in the store. I did try to get some clarity on that issue but he was too polite and humble to give me real details. But how did Song feel when he found out Re-Re was going to wear one of his hats to “the” event of 2009? According to a published story in the Chronicle, “three words describe how I felt,” Song said, “Thrilled, honored and then just plain scared. I knew the hat would be seen by a billion people, and it had to be perfect.”
Song and Franklin worked together to create the hat, deciding finally on heavy gray felt to match her wool coat, and adorned with a large bow outlined in tiny crystals.
“She’s a bigger-than-life character, so it had to match her personality,” Song said. “But we didn’t want to overshadow the event. Our main focus was always Obama.” Song’s phone started ringing even before Franklin finished singing “My Country ’Tis of Thee.” First to call was Glamour magazine, followed by The New York Times and a slew of European fashion magazines.
Suddenly Song, a South Korean native who had been toiling for years in his family’s hat shop, was an international fashion celebrity. The family’s business exploded. Initially, he had very little interest in his parents’ hat business in Detroit. Instead, he studied biochemistry at Michigan State University, but dropped out a semester shy of graduation to pursue art at the Parsons School of Design in New York.
Before the inauguration, the staff made about 100 hats a day. Now they make more than 500 a day. They’ve shipped more than 5,000 copies of Franklin’s hat, known as “the Aretha,” retailing at about $180.
Linda Ware and her husband, Rev. James Ware, drove from Pittsburgh to meet Song. “Man, I just love bows,” said Linda Ware as she tried on the Aretha. “When I saw this hat, I knew I had to have it. Not because Aretha wore it, but because of the bow.”
(For more information, go to www.mrsongmillinery.com.)
(E-mail the columnist at email@example.com.)