Aretha Franklin's Inauguration Hat Conquers the World
Friday, January 23, 2009, by Izzy Grinspan
A funny thing happened when we decided to write something about the gray, bedazzled, bow-topped church lady hat Aretha Franklin wore to sing at the inauguration on Tuesday, and its sudden, meteoric rise to internet fame. Every time we thought we'd found all the relevant links, twenty more popped up. The hat has its own website and its own (surprisingly funny) Twitter. Buzzfeed has asked readers to demonstrate how it would look perched on their own brows, thereby flooding the Internet pictures of cats in the hat. It is, in sum, a force to be reckoned with.
It's also exclusive to Aretha, since the Dr. Frankenstein behind this monster, Detroit-based designer Luke Song, won't sell it to anyone else. Shoppers "want the same hat, but they understand it's for the 'Queen' only," he told the New York Daily News.
Aretha Franklin's hat, Detroit-made, wins global acclaim
January 22, 2009
New York? No.
New Center? Yes!
Aretha Franklin's bow-tied, gift-wrapped, jewel-studded, $179 inaugural hat was designed, produced and sold to the Queen of Soul by Mr. Song Millinery, a family-owned business on Woodward Avenue just south of West Grand Boulevard. Aretha Franklin performed at the inauguration on Tuesday. (Ron Edmonds/Associated Press)
”A lot of my clients know my signature style, and they knew instantly that it was my hat,“ Mr. Song said in a telephone interview Friday. ”They called to verify it, and then they just started screaming at the top of their lungs.“
Asked to define that style, he said he couldn’t quite put it in words, except to say that he liked hats that ”frame the face.“
The calls overwhelmed him, he said, and before long there were reporters asking for interviews as word of the hat went viral. It was still a current topic on television three days after the inaugural, discussed on ”The View“ and mocked by Jon Stewart and Ellen DeGeneres.
And Mr. Song has been flooded with hat orders, creating an instant backlog of three to four weeks.
But what he is selling is a similar design to The Hat, which he designed specifically for Ms. Franklin with her help — not an exact duplicate.
”Her particular hat, I will not sell a copy, even if someone offers me a million dollars,“ he said. ”I have to keep it exclusive to her. I made it for her.“
If he did make any exact duplicates, they would cost more than $500 apiece, he said; the near-replicas, which will use different fabric (satin ribbon, held together with horsehair) and smaller bows, are being sold for $179. (He did not charge Ms. Franklin anything for hers.)
The story line of a small family hat shop suddenly put on the map by a superstar is a romantic one, but it doesn’t quite fit the facts, Mr. Song said. Yes, his business started small, in a store opened by his mother, an immigrant from South Korea, in 1982. But Ms. Franklin has been a customer for two decades, and the business long ago outgrew the store: Mr. Song, who studied at the Parsons School of Design in New York and first thought he wanted to become a painter, dropped out after two years to return home and transform the business into a sizeable garment and millinery supplier, Moza Inc.
”It started out as a store, and now that is only about 5 percent of our operation,“ said Mr. Song, who is chief executive of Moza. ”Our main operation is wholesale manufacturing and distributing. We ship our products to about 500 boutiques, most of them in the United States, and do a lot of private labeling,“ particularly with women’s suits and dresses, though the Mr. Song Millinery name is still on the company’s own label, and on the sign over its door. Most of his clientele is African-American women, and most of them buy outfits for church.
There’s still some magic in the story for Mr. Song, though. Since Tuesday, he said, the Detroit office has not been able to handle the load of hat orders, so they are being run through his agents in Dallas.
”The order numbers exceed what we can physically make,“ he said. ”Our vendors say the clients can’t wait three or four weeks, so some of them are just buying up our inventory, just so they can have the label. I’m in disbelief of what’s going on.“
Mr. Song said that he had been having a strong season even before the Inauguration, despite the sour economy. His theory is that while customers are scaling back on buying clothes generally, they are still buying hats, because a new hat can change the look of an outfit for less money than a whole new ensemble would cost.
”So the season was phenomenal,“ he said. ”This was icing on the cake. But it is a life-changing event.“
Starting minutes after Franklin finished her distinctive rendition of "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" on Tuesday,
the store's phones started ringing.
By Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Song had sold hundreds of hats. A store in Dallas had sold 500 more, and the material was running out.
"People are calling from England, asking for the hat," said Luke Song, who designed Franklin's chapeau. "I'm shocked. I had no idea. We did not expect this."
The hat has gone crazy in the media and cyberspace. Everyone from Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" to the women on "The View" talked about it Tuesday and Wednesday. Stewart poked fun at it; the women seemed more appreciative. On Wednesday's "The Ellen Show," host Ellen DeGeneres wore an exaggerated hat similar to Franklin's.
People have created dozens of Web sites devoted to the hat and have placed it on mug shots of Dick Cheney, assorted dogs and the heads of Mt. Rushmore, among many others.
On the Los Angeles Times blog page Wednesday, a poster named Sarah Hart wrote: "Loved that hat! She is the Queen and she rocked that hat and made that old staid anthem new and powerful!"
Song said Franklin, a longtime customer, came to him and wanted something to go with a coat she had picked out for the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
"She had in mind what she wanted," Song said. "She said, 'I want it altered this way.' That's what we do most of the time with the client. We meet them halfway."
The heather-gray hat was done in wool felt. The sparkly things are Swarovski crystals.
The hat Song was selling to customers Wednesday is not the custom hat Franklin wore, but it's very close.
Song, 36, of Southfield chatted Wednesday and took calls from around the globe, surrounded by about 1,000 vibrantly colored hats in the store, which sits on a stretch of Woodward that has evolved into a funky avenue of fashion. Next door on one side is an abandoned store. On the other side is the Praise Him Beauty, Barber and Nail Salon.
The hat store was started in 1982 by Song's mother, Jin, an immigrant from South Korea. Luke Song, who graduated from Birmingham Seaholm High School and Parsons the New School for Design in New York, is the designer.
"It's an art form for me," Song said. "For me, hats define a culture."
Mr. Song Millinery's clientele is 90% African-American, churchgoing women, Song said. His wholesale business supplies hats to shops in other cities with large African-American communities, and the merchandise sells especially well in California, Houston and Dallas. He designs 100 hat styles every six months.
Business was good before the hat appeared on one of the most-watched spectacles in recent years. But now, Franklin's flamboyant headpiece has "taken on a life of its own."
Contact BILL McGRAW at email@example.com.
Aretha Franklin’s church hat in high demand
By JOY SEWING Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
Jan. 25, 2009, 5:59PM
Paul Sancya Associated Press
Luke Song, 36, designed the hat Aretha Franklin wore while singing My Country ’Tis of Thee during President Obama’s inauguration. Song says orders have poured in from around the world for the church hat.
The milliner who designed the now-famous bow-tied, Swarovski-crystal inaugural hat that Aretha Franklin wore for her inauguration performance has run out of fabric.
After getting thousands of e-mails and phone calls from across the world, Luke Song said he has so many orders he’s exhausted his supply of fabric. Now his 500 vendors, including several Houston stores, will have to wait at least a month until they get the hat.
”I’d thought I would just get a mention in the local newspaper, but I never imagined this,“ said Song, who runs his family business, Mr. Song Millinery, in Detroit. ”I knew it was going to be a momentous occasion, but this is mind-boggling.“
Franklin has been a Mr. Song Millinery customer for 20 years, said the designer, a graduate of Parsons the New School for Design.
For last week’s occasion, she wanted a style to frame her face and to match her gray coat and gloves, he added. The hat took two days to create.
Mr. Song Millinery is known for its bold, statement-making church hats. Song’s designs have been worn by gospel-music legends from the Winans to the Clark Sisters. He designs about 200 styles a year, selling them to stores in California, Dallas and Houston.
Song said many customers want this hat because it’s a part of history.
”I voted for Obama, and I lobbied people to vote for him,“ Song said. His voice was choked with emotion. ”The change he talked about is happening. That moment changed all of our lives.“
January 23, 2009, 6:52 pm
Lasting Buzz Over Aretha Franklin’s Hat
By Katharine Q. Seelye