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UnCommonwealth: Breeders' Cup's official milliner says 'every hat finds the face' for which it is destined

Milliner Christine Moore, left, helped Tacy Byham of Pittsburgh select just the right hat at Keeneland in early October.
Milliner Christine Moore, left, helped Tacy Byham of Pittsburgh select just the right hat at Keeneland in early October. Herald-Leader

Almost every woman who came by milliner Christine Moore's display at Keeneland's on opening day tried on the same hat.

Some of the customers tried on many hats, but almost everyone who stopped tried on the raspberry chapeau with a wide brim, adorned with a cluster of raspberry and navy fabric.

It looked elegant. It looked like something characters from Downton Abbey would wear to a spectator event. When the hats were donned, with discreet peeks in the mirror, the women — even with different face shapes and hair colors — all looked great.

Such is the power of well-made millinery, Moore said. It changes the face you present to the world.

Moore, 49, is the official milliner for the Breeders' Cup. She has Breeders' Cup collections for women and men posted on her website, Camhats.com

Expect to see a slew of hats at the Breeders' Cup at Keeneland on Oct. 30 and 31, she said.

Hats have been with us throughout history. China's ancient Han dynasty had hats. The ancient Egyptians were fond of head coverings. And as anyone steeped in Jane Austen can tell you, there was precious little romantic maneuvering without the proper cap, bonnet or hat.

Men wore hats, too. Consider romantic heroes from Darcy to Don Draper.

Hats hit a skid in the 1960s, with the exception of Jacqueline Kennedy's pillbox, but they made a comeback with the popularity of Princess Diana in the 1980s and '90s.

Moore's business is heavily event-driven, she said. That means she travels much of the year promoting her hats at various locations.

When customers say they can't pull off wearing hats, Moore considers that a challenge to find them just the right hats.

The New York-based Moore first fell in love with the art of millinery as a costume designer when she saw how a milliner bent feathers into an elaborate design. It was the flashpoint that launched Moore's career.

She asked the milliner for a job.

"The more she gave me to do, the more I soaked it up," Moore said. "My staff is like that because they love the craft."

Hats transform the face, Moore said. A properly chosen hat can make a wide face look more narrow, a long face more compact. They are both festive and utilitarian.

"You can wear hats in the rain, in the snow," Moore said. "It's going to be fine. Everybody's going to have fun."

Proof that assertion is true: On Oct. 2, one customer bought three hats — including a soft black hat with a band of animal print highlighting the area above its small, jaunty brim. Several of the hats wound up being worn immediately.

Three hats is not a small investment: Moore's hats for women often run from $300 to $500. They are individually handmade and, as Moore points out, made of materials you can't pick up just anywhere. In fact, the scarcity of quality millinery materials is one of her biggest frustrations, "but you improvise because it's artwork."

Breeders' Cup hats are different from Derby hats, Moore said.

Derby Hats are more about following the style of the moment and the color of the season, Moore said. They're more celebratory, an eruption of color and energy. In Derby hats, the thrill is in the unexpected.

Breeders' Cup hats are different. They're more European, Moore said, and "it takes on more of a tailored, couture look that is understandable anywhere in the world."

Breeders' Cup is also more of a fedoras and fascinators market. A fascinator is a pin-on head decoration that is not quite substantive enough on the scalp to be a hat, but might be very tall and full nonetheless. One of the fascinator designs in Moore's Breeders' Cup collection looks to be about the size of a dinner plate.

For Breeders' Cup, sophisticated hats such as those with big brims with a dramatic slice of draped fabric on the side are popular, but so is the smaller, close-fitting cloche.

"This took me by surprise," said Moore, who thinks the cloche has more of an urban appeal.

Moore also is producing a line of "food hats" designed to look like a food item, such as an ice cream sundae or a lattice-crust pie. There's even a macaron fascinator. She calls them "head confections."

"Every hat finds the face" for which it is destined, Moore said.

One young customer announces her preference during a hat fitting at Keeneland: "I don't go Southern. I go Soho."

She got her Soho hat.

Moore has put hats on Hoda Kotb, Kathie Lee Gifford and Matt Lauer on the Today show. Weatherman Al Roker "wears my hats all the time," she said.

Her website keeps a running list of celebrities who have worn Moore's hats, such as actress Connie Britton of Nashville and singer Mary J. Blige.

"People say, 'Do you ever feel you're going to run out of designs?" Moore said. "I say no. Just seeing someone in a hat, I can think of 12 other designs."

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