Hats Off: The Merry Month of May!

2018 FLO Awards Luncheon
Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

In Pre-Covid times, May always lived up to its reputation as “The Merry Month”. The Met Gala was traditionally held on the first Monday in May, and the Frederick Law Olmsted Awards, aka the Central Park Hat Luncheon, took place on the first Wednesday in May. Both events were canceled in 2020, but they will proceed this year. The Met Gala is now scheduled for September 13. According to Paul Lerner, the FLO Awards Luncheon, hosted by the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy, will occur on May 18 and May 19 (May 20 and May 21 are rain dates) whose company, Optimist Consulting, handles press for the event.

2019 FLO Awards Luncheon
Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

The FLO Awards Luncheon, hosted by the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy, has raised over $195 million for Central Park since its inception in 1983. In keeping with Covid-19 guidelines, guests will be spread out over two days (1200 attended in 2019), and multiple locations will be used throughout the park.

Bill Cunningham “On the Street” column, Sunday, May 8, 2016
Photo: nytimes.com

This is not only one of the most successful fundraising luncheons in the country, it is also the most photogenic with hats taking center stage. Unsurprisingly, this event was a favorite of the late Bill Cunningham. The famed fashion historian, photojournalist, and former hat designer religiously featured it in his Sunday “On The Street” column.

“Bill would always come back from the luncheon like a kid with a big haul from the candy store. I would download his camera right away in anticipation of putting the page together”- John Kurdewan

The cover photograph of the newly released Rizzoli tome, “Bill Cunningham Was There: Spring Flings + Summer Soirees,” written by John Kurdewan and Steven Stolman, shows Bill joyfully aiming his camera at a hat clad subject at past FLO Awards luncheon. Chapter 5, filled with Bill’s pictures from this event, is titled “Does Anyone Still Wear a Hat?”. Indeed, attendees take their choice of hats very seriously, and many of the city’s most prominent social fixtures rely on renowned milliner KOKIN to provide the perfect chapeau to complement their outfits.

KOKIN “Dots For Me” fascinator in lacquered straw with silk organza bows $1595
Photo: kokinnewyork.com

KOKIN told me that he is currently working with about 10 women; several are members of the Central Park Conservancy Women’s Committee. He said the most popular styles are fascinators and cocktail hats, though some women want an “important” hat with a brim. He’s got them all. KOKIN’s retail price range is generally $395 – $1995; bespoke pieces will cost $995 and up. The most expensive hat KOKIN made ($6,000) was for a woman who attended the FLO Awards Luncheon in 2019. She wore a printed Libertine dress and jacket, and KOKIN made a silk top hat covered in flowers.

KOKIN “Belle Epoque” horsehair and tulle hat with silk roses worn by Jessica Chastain $3495
Photo: kokinnewyork.com

KOKIN launched his eponymous collection in 1982. His millinery mastery was instantly recognized and sought after by such industry giants as Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Pauline Trigere, Giorgio di Sant Angelo, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, and Zac Posen. KOKIN’s diverse, multi-generational clientele includes A-List style-setters like Jessica Chastain, Julia Roberts, Lady Gaga, Raquel Welch, Michelle Pfeiffer, Alicia Keyes, Sophia Lauren, Jennifer Lopez, Cher, Sarah Jessica Parker, Beyonce, and Bianca Jagger.

KOKIN “Chicken Coop” hat made of goose feathers $1895
Photo: kokinnewyork.com

KOKIN currently sells to Bergdorf Goodman and a few specialty stores in Brooklyn. KOKIN was always so busy at this time of the year, he would open his chic Upper East Side store early on the morning of the luncheon to accommodate those who waited until the last moment or changed their minds and wanted something else. FYI, the store closed two years ago.

Ruslan Baginskiy Chain Embellished Wool Baker Boy Cap
Photo: matchesfashion.com

If KOKIN represents the establishment, Ruslan Baginskiy is symbolic of a new breed of milliners. The 31-year-old Ukraine, a favorite of “It” girls and Instagram stars, launched his eponymous label in 2014 with a range of felt fedoras and the baker boy cap, which became his defining signature. It only took one post from Bella Hadid, showing off the designer’s baker boy cap to skyrocket Baginskiy’s label to viral status.

Ruslan Baginskiy Curb-Chain Straw Boater Hat
Photo: matchesfashion.com

Ruslan now offers a collection of over 20 styles crafted from locally sourced materials such as wool and suede. While his signature style has always been the baker boy cap, the hats with chain straps, like this beige straw boater with curb chain, can also compete.

Ruslan Baginskiy Piercing Boater Felted Hat
Photo: farfetch.com

Ruslan’s black felt “Piercing Boater Hat” features toggle fastening, a removable gold-tone safety pin, and a chain strap. It sells for $380 and is available at farfetch.com.

Japanese Crane Crown Headpiece
Photo: 1stdibs.com

Of course, you can’t beat 1stDibs for head-turning, one-of-a-kind vintage headwear. This whimsically designed headband from the 1940s features a large Manchurian Crane atop a wreath of silver and red embroidered flowers that sculpt elegantly atop the crown of the head. It is entirely constructed with kid leather and wire to allow the Crane (a symbol of good luck) to perfectly perch. Priced at $1200, it is for sale at 1stdibs.com,

Christian Dior by John Galliano Newsprint Hat
Photo: 1stdibs.com

This Christian Dior by John Galliano newsprint top hat is from the Fall/Winter 2000 collection. Created by famed milliner Stephen Jones, it is a rare and highly collectible piece. It may be the only one made. Priced at $42,000, it’s available at 1stdibs.com.

Bes-Ben Rooster Crown Hat with Veil
Photo: 1stdibs.com

The Bes-Ben company of Chicago was known for their outrageous hats and boasted celebrities, socialites, and artists as their clients. This hat was no exception to the rule at Bes-Ben: A coronet of red and black embroidered roosters sits atop a heavy veil with one rooster applique perched on the veiling itself! It is a conversation starter for sure!
Price upon request, it is for sale at 1stdibs.com,

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

1 Comment
  1. Thanks for the memories, Marilyn
    Ma chapeau off to you!!!
    Love by the brim-ful,

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