It’s a well-known fact that the late Frank Olive was literally “head man” when it came to women’s fashions. The designer of hats for stars and fashion houses was the mainstay of the millinery artform. According to Frank, who died in 1995, “I think that hats are an essential part of being a woman,” he told an interviewer in 1968. “I design hats for a woman who feels this. I want to help her discover herself.”
Last Thursday hundreds of women discovered themselves as well as others in the sisterhood at the Dallas Arboretum’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Interestingly enough, this discovery was once again helped along courtesy of some designing men like Shane Walker, Todd Fiscus and Steve Kemble. More about that later.
But before getting started, let’s set the stage. It was a gray, threatening day with dampness in the air. Oh, great! That translated into “Teflon-strength hairspray” for the hats’ hairdo foundations. And then what about the delicate hats surviving the potential drizzle. Not to worry. Valets with umbrellas allowed nary a drop to drip on the heads of those arriving.
Some guests had limousines and mega-SUV’s transport their entourage. Emerging from their vehicles, it was obvious the reason for the special carriage. Some of the hats were as big as a Smart Car.
Once within the walls of the Arboretum, the wet stuff seemed to disappear. But who would have noticed when being greeted by Jill “Tweedle Dee” Rowlett and honorary chair Yvonne “Tweedle” Crum, whose burlap look of last year was replaced with colorful “tweedle” outfits. The gals admitted the hardest part of their outfits was locating white tights.
Just beyond the greeting Tweedles was a fantasy table set up for the Mad Hatter, the white rabbit and the entire mad crew. Unlike the luncheon tables under the mammoth tent, the Mad Hatter’s table was out in the open and none the worse for it.
Favorite game of the day was guests checking each other out. After all this event requires more than dropping by MJDesigns and gluing a flower on a bonnet or digging out that ages-old hat from the attic. Nope. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party has become a fierce but friendly undertaking creatively and financially.
Pity the poor judges (Valerie Elizabeth, Lisa Garza, Daniel Lewis, LeeAnne Locken and David Wren), who scampered around trying to figure the winners of the day.
Susan Scully, who won last year for best hat, once again took top honors as “Best of Show” by working with Atlanta designer Nicholas Kniel. Despite having never met, the two have got their program down perfectly. During the year, they exchange ideas and voila, the hat arrives. This year’s delivery was similar in color to her 2010 version, only scaled down dramatically. Instead of a 180-degree fan of deep-pink peacock feathers, it was an carefully designed anorexic gathering of feathers surrounding a red-hot cushioned heart. Susan admitted that last year’s was easier to wear, but , shoot, sometimes fashion demands a little pain, suffering and balancing.
Speaking of feathers, Virginia Chandler Dykes, whose dazzling nest of white feathers, flowers and butterflies (no, not real ones!), was perhaps more subtle than others, but its beauty won her “Most Whimsical Hat.”
Some like Carmaleta “Most Botanical Hat” Whiteley and Barbara Daseke turned to local creative brain trust Todd Fiscus for their floral artworks. In Barbara’s case, it
was too much of a good thing. There were so many flowers that the brim sometimes waylaid her view of the surroundings. On the other hand, Carmaleta decided to make some last minute adjustments to her citrus-colored chapeau resulting in her winning one of the day’s awards.
But the ladies weren’t the only ones in the race for the roses. This year the gents decided to join in the fun and had a jolly romp. Steve “Most Outlandish Hat” Kemble had been a judge last year causing whiplash-damaged necks thanks to his hat — a Super Duper Bowl complex. This year he was back to compete with a “Kate in Wonderland” on his head complete with Kate Middleton, Prince William and Queen Elizabeth waving.
But giving Steve a run for his money was Shane Walker. Not only did Shane create some of the best looking hats at the event, he had a top topper, too. Among his clientele were –
- Petite Faye Brigg‘s gray cocktail hat with inlaid rhinestone and topped off with white feathers and netting surprised no one when it was announced “Most Elegant Hat.”
- D’Andra Simmons‘ gargantuan royal blue, purple and black hat with silk flowers and
bigger-than-life- feathers challenged many from closed encounters with her. She even managed to find a dress and pink shoes to fit the dramatic look.
- Tanya Roberts‘s “My Fair Lady” white showstopper thanks to feathers, flowers and gold
highlights was positioned just right on her head, but pity the person who sat behind her at the fashion show.Earlier in the year, Tanya had won a Shane Walker creation for the Mad Hatter’s at an auction.
But that Shane was a smarty. He saved the very best for himself and his partner Billy Fulmer. After completing all this
commitment, he had burned the midnight oil to come up with two hats that set cell phone saluting from friends and wannabe’s. Their hats were mind-boggling in beauty and detail. While Billy’s featured a smiling green-and-yellow caterpillar encrusted with rhinestones happily settled among leafy greens, Shane’s had a white rabbit covered in
rhinestones with his eyes focused on a clock just below a floral teapot. Shane and Billy tied for “Most True to Theme.”
When asked how much such a masterpiece would run retail, Shane replied a negotiable $3,000 depending on if you use rhinestones or the real things. That must be the going rate for over-the-top toppers because that was the same price that Steve Kemble quoted on his head-strong complex.
But not everyone was out for awards and bankrolling a one-of-a-kind topper. Some of the girls just wanted to have fun. Barbara Bigham had the smallest fun with her itty-bitty Barbie top hat that was barely visible. . . Chief judge Dee Wyly wore an invisible hat that was quite fetching according to those who saw it. . . Leigh Lombardi managed to wear an adorable rose
sundress that blended nicely with her pink sunhat topped with green flowers. . . . Jocelyn White and Dale Robinowitz decided red and wide brims were just right for the occasion.
Then it was inside for the fashion show including everything from formal linen shorts to evening gowns from Tory Burch, Karen Millen, Betty Reiter, Anne Fontaine and Tootsies. Closing the show was a very formal Mad Hatter with the fuzziest ears, pocket watch at the neck and mischievous look.