Monday, April 29, 2002

Get yer Derby hats

Elite New York hat designer sets up temporary shop in Louisville

The Louisville Courier-Journal

        LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For hat fanciers, Frank Olive is as famous a Kentucky Derby name as Shoemaker or Secretariat. The late designer all but branded the first Saturday in May with his broad-brimmed, distinctive pastel creations.

        So when Olive's successor and the brand's current owner, designer Gabriel Amar, decided to set up shop apart from his New York showroom for the first time, Louisville was a natural choice.

        “I was there last year for the Derby, and I had a great time,” Amar said. “It was really unbelievable for me to see so many women and so many hats.”

        The Frank Olive retail store will be open in the Jacobson's wing at Oxmoor Center until the running of the Kentucky Oaks on Derby Eve. It's been there since March 22.

        Women will choose from several Amar designs made specifically with the Derby in mind. They'll be able to don their spring outfits and have their hats customized to match. An inventory of accessories is also planned.

        “Some of the designs have to be special for Louisville,” he said. “Some hats have to be a little bit wild. Some people like to have more wild hats for the Derby, and some people like a quiet hat.”

        Casey Ross-Russell, a dance teacher with the Louisville Ballet, has been daylighting as the store's manager.

        “Women have known Frank Olive hats over the years; they see Frank Olive hats and they come in swarms,” Ross-Russell said. “My goal is to make it a very classy experience for anybody who walks in here.”

        Ross-Russell helped organize a benefit fashion show of Frank Olive hats last year, and the experience helped persuade Amar to give the Oxmoor shop a try.

        It's a temporary arrangement. Amar has no plans for a permanent retail presence in Louisville or anywhere else, though he isn't ruling it out.

        “I have to try this one first, to see how it's going to respond,” said Amar, a native Moroccan who got his start designing wedding headdresses in Israel. “I can't say yes or no. It's the first store; it's far from home; I have to see how it's going to respond. It's a great area for hats.”

        Retail prices for Frank Olive hats range from $150 to about $600, a premium price even in the world of high-fashion hats, but not unheard of in Louisville at Derby time.

        At Glasscock Women's Apparel, hats range from $25 to $1,000, said owner Mary F. Glasscock. “We used to buy Frank Olive hats, but we're not carrying them this year,” Glasscock said.

        But the prize for top-priced Derby topper might go to a Louisville man this year. Rodes Men's and Women's Clothing in the Starks Building downtown has what buyer Jim Fricke calls the finest collection of Montecristi Fino hats in the world.

        The Montecristi Panamas, handmade in Ecuador by a dying breed of artisans, retail from about $800 to $6,100, Fricke said, though some collectibles have sold for as much as $25,000.

        “This is the first time we've had them. We're trying to offer the finest in men's hats,” Fricke said. “We wanted to offer that to the people of Louisville.”

        There are two women's styles among the Montecristi selections, selling for $790 and $1,150, but most of the store's selections are more modest.

        “When you look at the different prices of seats at the Kentucky Derby, the Frank Olive seats are on Millionaire's Row,” Fricke said. “The Rodes seats would probably be third-floor clubhouse. But that's not too bad.”


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