It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a lady in possession of a good wardrobe must be in want of a good hat.
The first sentence of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” makes the perfect template for fashioning an axiom on the necessity of hats, or the necessity of possessing at least one great hat.
Why such absoluteness? Simply because we may have forgotten the allure and stature that a good hat can lend; it has the power to lift an outfit out of chromatic mediocrity—think all black or neutral colors—and provide just the right accent for a memorable ensemble.
New York-based hat designer Susan van der Linde is passionate about hats. Her creations have graced the heads of celebrities such as Oprah, Nicole Kidman, and Lucy Liu most recently, and the straw hat she made for the sitcom “Friends” was imposing enough to have a whole dialog built around it.
The Same ‘You’ but More Spiffy
She is adamant that the function of a hat is to make the whole look: “I want you to look like yourself, a spiffy version of yourself, so that there’s a whole picture, and that’s a very powerful thing,” said Van der Linde.
But take heart, a hat need not mean a contraption the size of an umbrella, laden with feathers of nearly extinct birds, as was the fashion more than a century ago. It can be as subtle as a beret or as outlandishly elegant as a wide brimmed creation for the Kentucky Derby, or anywhere in between.
Van der Linde’s creations seem perfectly perched on the fine line between classical elegance and modern relevance, with a nod to the high drama of Hollywood’s golden years.
She is like a hat whisperer. The most adamant anti-hat customer or one who has been left disillusioned by the fit and design of hats available in department stores will find solace and a pleasant surprise when guided by van der Linde’s keen eye.
And she does whisper often, as if imparting information in the utmost confidence. This is not just endearing but somewhat mysterious, a suspenseful lead-up to trying on some of her creations.
“My biggest enjoyment is when somebody comes here and says, ‘I need a hat for a wedding, I don’t wear hats, I look horrible in hats.’ We try the first one and she loves it, we try the second one, and she loves it … Because a hat has to frame your face, so no matter what kind of face you have, it has to frame it,” said van der Linde. She explained that the hat may be asymmetrical, or if the customer has a longer face, a turn-up brim may take away the severity of the length.
The Path to Millinery
Following a successful career in modeling, Van der Linde’s passion for millinery took her from the classrooms of the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, where Janine Galimard (a protégé of Cristóbal Balenciaga) recognized her talents and connected her with the legendary milliner, Don Marshall. Van der Linde’s apprenticeship with Marshall also lead to working with Verdura, Geoffrey Beene, Mary McFadden, James de Givenchy, Randolph Duke, and Ralph Rucci.
Currently, van der Linde has her own business, where she is also designing shoes, bags, and clothes.
She reveals that spring 2014 is the season of vibrant colors: deep blues, plums, corals, apricots, and yellows. These fashion-forward colors will act as the accents of her collection, rather than the main focal point.
Her belief is that a hat should look as though it has never been touched by human hands, and her designs are elegant without overpowering the wearer.
“We keep it classic, but with really a twist. The twist is the color, a little unexpected texture. Except when you go with the fascinators, then you can go wild,” said van der Linde.
The Secret Life of Hats
Each of her creations seems vivacious, beckoning to be tried on so that it can reveal its story in motion and through the wearer. This is the intangible feel of the hand-made. It must be that, somehow, through the handling and outpouring of creative energy, the designer is able to imbue the finished article with a little something extra.
In the same way that a movie can be a heightened version of reality, a hat somehow heightens the character of its wearer. As I try on the newsboy cap with the up-turned brim, I definitely feel dramatic and yet very “New York low-key.”
Van de Linde sums up “the hat effect”: “It’s empowering for a woman … it definitely has a cachet.”
For more information, see www.svdl.com