One of the most anticipated sporting events of the year, The Kentucky Derby, is just as well-known for its Spring fashions as it is for its prize thoroughbreds. Southern belles and gents pull out all the stops in their race day ensembles, however one item takes center stage. The beautiful sea of hats is one of the characteristics and traditions that make this day unforgettable. A time-honored tradition of the derby, Upscale Living Magazine interviews Christine A. Moore, the owner of Cam Hats, to get the inside track on what makes them so special!
Upscale Living Magazine Interviews Celebrity Milliner, Christine A. Moore, Owner of Cam Hats, about the Biggest Fashion and Sporting Event of the Year
How did you begin your career in designing hats?
I started in the theatre as a costume designer. During a project at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia I met a milliner and became enthralled with the craft. I moved to New York and took a job with Rodney Gordon the milliner who till this day still makes most of the hats for Broadway shows. During the five years I worked for him I worked on dozens and dozens of shows. I learned so much from him and in 1994 I started my fashion business. Everyone who works for me comes from the world of theatre.
Do you feel pressure when you’re hats are worn by high-profile clients?
I never feel pressure or intimidation because I am designing for someone who may be a celebrity. I am confident that the final piece will look great, and I always do everything in my power to make sure they are happy. I do enjoy collaboration. I do however feel pressure when there is a tight deadline and a customer or stylist or an assistant has trouble seeing the vision. That can slow down the process and make it very stressful. To help alleviate this I will often do a sketch and always send a photo when it is completed.
What’s your career defining piece?
I design a few different collections every year and they are always growing. This keeps an artist or designer fresh. The woman who wears one of my pieces brings their own personality to it and that helps define it. I always say “make the hat your own!”
When you think of your everyday client, who is she?
She is a woman who loves to dress, has confidence in how she looks, and either knows her personal style or loves trying on hats to find it!
Some customers hats are often styled somewhat conservatively, is it important to you that your designs are viewed as high-fashion piece?
I design different collections that run the gamut from street-wear to what are called fancy. For me it depends what type of event you are wearing a hat to and that will help define the category. No matter what I design I want it to be comfortable and to last. When I think of high fashion, I think of a one-of-a-kind piece meant for the camera’s eye. I certainly do pieces like that for magazines but my everyday focus is on the woman who is interested in wearing a hat for everyday wear or an event.
How much of a client’s personality go into hat design?
When I design a collection I take into consideration many women’s personalities because I want something for many different women to be able to choose from. When I design a custom piece the personality of that person is very important. I love to talk with them and meet then if I can, to get a feel for them, as well as the event they will be wearing it to. Just like a dress or a suit can reflect a woman’s personality a hat does that even more because it frames the face.
When working with VIP clients, are you given free rein in the design process or is it collaborative?
Collaboration and a free rein to design work hand in hand. It all comes down to trust and to be given that trust one must get to know what the client is comfortable with. Once I know what the event is, the dress style and color, hair color, even shoes I will do a sketch of my idea and once it is approved they have to trust me that it will be amazing! I often will adjust the design during the process simply from listening to their feedback.
How does one go about picking a suitable hat? Does face shape come into play?
Sure it does, but other elements come into play that can make it work. I hear from so many women that “oh I just don’t look good in hats”. I always tell them that just have not tried the right hat on yet! For instance the style should always be appropriate for the event. How one wears the hat is important. Most styles should be worn to a slight angle on the head and never far back on the head – always right above the eyebrows. Some women will look better in fascinators than hats, hair style comes into play as well. The best thing is to try on many styles. Follow these simple rules and have fun doing it and you will find the style that is right for you.
I love designing for women who truly appreciate my work. Each of those experiences is rewarding in its self. Having said that – I would love designing a hat for every dress that Oscar de la Renta has ever designed!
What goes into the process of styling a hat? When should we wear them?
Here in New York City I wear a hat every day. A hat is great for the rain and sun protection and of course to keep you warm. My go to for travel is always something packable like a rain hat, a felt fedora and a leather beret, all from my collections. Choose a hat appropriate for the weather, straw for warm and felt for fall and cooler weather and always choose a style that is comfortable and appropriate for the event.
What should one keep in mind when wanting to purchase a hat for the Derby?
Because the season is spring the hat should be made of a light straw. You should be able to wear it all day long. Some women like to find the dress first and then match the hat and some buy the hat and then find the dress. It all depends what you are comfortable with. You can have your hat shipped to your hotel and then ship it directly home and not worry about airline travel. We custom design any of our styles to match an outfit and will block a hat to the customer’s head size. Women routinely send photos of their dress for us to match. Start thinking about your outfit early and order early!
Are there hat rules or traditions when attending the Kentucky Derby?
The Kentucky Derby is the largest fashion/sporting event in America and fashion statements run the gamut from fantastical to elegant. The motto is “go big or go home”. A large hat can still be elegant but should always be comfortable. Oaks day is the Friday before the Derby and women will wear pink and coral to support breast cancer awareness. Fascinators are popular for Oaks and hats are popular for Saturday Derby Day. You will see lots of red on Derby day because it is the “run for the roses”.
What are the dos and don’ts when it comes to picking out fabrics and accessorizing?
We make all our own trim for our hats. We use lots of silk; it is beautiful and light and can be worn all day. Stay away from heavy fabrics they will only make the hat heavy and uncomfortable. Don’t go crazy with over accessorizing – the hat should complement your outfit and face and not steal all the focus. Feathers are popular but use them in an elegant not garish way.
Most challenging design?
I have quite a few styles that are challenging to make. Since theses pieces are part of a collection each one has to be made and resemble the original design. We have a spec book for each collection with measurements and photos. One hat that takes some time to make is the Queenie – the straw is hand-dyed and then hand-blocked. The hat is made of parisisol straw, nylon horsehair with a wired brim for structure, hand cut and hand-made silk petals.
How did the tradition of wearing hats for the derby begin?
Churchill Downs says it best – “The Kentucky Derby’s long history began in 1872, when Meriwether Lewis Clark, the grandson of William Clark – of the famed pair Lewis and Clark – traveled to Europe. While there, Clark attended the Epsom Derby in England, a well-known horse race run since 1780, and also fraternized with the French Jockey Club, a group that developed another popular horse race, the Grand Prix de Paris Longchamps. Clark was inspired by his travels and experiences, and, upon his return, was determined to create a spectacle horseracing event in the States. With the help of his uncle’s John & Henry Churchill, who gifted Clark the necessary land to develop a racetrack, and by formally organizing a group of local race fans to be named the Louisville Jockey Club, Clark and his new club raised funds to build a permanent racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. On May 17th, 1875, the racetrack opened its gates and the Louisville Jockey Club sponsored the very first Kentucky Derby”.
| Photos courtesy of Cam Hats