Modern hat designs usually encompass baseball hats and beanies.
Karen Morris, a women’s hat designer, is reimagining the form for a modern, elegant audience who isn’t just looking to go to the Kentucky Derby.
“When I was young, I always thought, ‘Oh, I want to be a fashion designer.’ … I loved beauty and fashion very much,” Morris said. “But the problem was, when I grew up, I found out that I don’t draw. I can’t draw.”
Morris worked in advertising before finding her place in fashion design.
“I met my husband about eight years ago, and he … brought me to the Royal Ascot, [a horse race], in England, and we would dress up and wear the hats. I really fell in love and [hoped] that I could make my dreams come true,” Morris said.
By studying alone for a year and then seeking out well-known milliners as mentors, Morris developed a detail-oriented skill set. After moving to the Twin Cities in 2009, she turned her experience into Karen Morris Millinery in 2011. The brand produces high couture hats, both as ready-to-wear designs and custom-made pieces.
“I have been in the Twin Cities … for about eight years. The first three years, nobody knew about me. … They would look at the hats and say, ‘Oh no, I can’t wear this on the street,” Morris said. “After a few more years, ... they started to get very excited because … they just felt like, ‘For my whole, whole life, I haven’t tried it before, so why not!’”
Although a Karen Morris Millinery design will cost hundreds of dollars, the lofty price tag is indicative of the work and attention that goes into each design.
“[The prices] are because of the materials. They’re all imported materials,” Morris said. “My hours are the other reason — the shortest time for the simplest hat … takes about three hours. … If you buy any hat in a department store, 1,000 other people are going to have that same design.”
Morris’ fall and winter 2017 designs range from whimsical, feather-adorned headpieces to more practical felt fedoras, which match trends in hat design.
“Hats are part of the [outfit] that we look at, and in Minnesota, it’s really important that it serves a function and has to look good,” said Marilyn DeLong, an apparel design professor at the University of Minnesota.
Even in her more avant-garde pieces, Morris tries to adhere to simpler hat styles.
“I try to do some crazy or [more] innovative designs, but I find that it’s not me. I don’t want to force myself to make a hat that I don’t like,” Morris said.
Whether the design is made from metal or felt, hats are often worn to make a personal statement with an outfit.
“I think that … people wear a hat … to be noticed in a way,” DeLong said. “People feel that the hat needs to have some individuality … and speak to their own personality.”
Morris hopes that every customer finds a hat that makes them feel elegant for any occasion.
“I just want people, when they wear my hats, [to feel] like a fair lady, like Audrey Hepburn,” Morris said.