Thursday, January 22, 2009

Aretha Franklin's Hat, Detroit-Made, Wins Global Acclaim

Aretha Franklin's hat, Detroit-made, wins global acclaim

January 22, 2009

Paris? No. Milan? No. New York? No. New Center? Yes!

Aretha Franklin's bow-tied, gift-wrapped, jewel-studded, $179 inaugural hat was designed, produced and sold to the Queen of Soul by Mr. Song Millinery, a family-owned business on Woodward Avenue just south of West Grand Boulevard.

Starting minutes after Franklin finished her distinctive rendition of "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" on Tuesday, the store's phones started ringing.

By Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Song had sold hundreds of hats. A store in Dallas had sold 500 more, and the material was running out.

"People are calling from England, asking for the hat," said Luke Song, who designed Franklin's chapeau. "I'm shocked. I had no idea. We did not expect this."

The hat has gone crazy in the media and cyberspace. Everyone from Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" to the women on "The View" talked about it Tuesday and Wednesday. Stewart poked fun at it; the women seemed more appreciative. On Wednesday's "The Ellen Show," host Ellen DeGeneres wore an exaggerated hat similar to Franklin's.

People have created dozens of Web sites devoted to the hat and have placed it on mug shots of Dick Cheney, assorted dogs and the heads of Mt. Rushmore, among many others.

On the Los Angeles Times blog page Wednesday, a poster named Sarah Hart wrote: "Loved that hat! She is the Queen and she rocked that hat and made that old staid anthem new and powerful!"

Song said Franklin, a longtime customer, came to him and wanted something to go with a coat she had picked out for the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

"She had in mind what she wanted," Song said. "She said, 'I want it altered this way.' That's what we do most of the time with the client. We meet them halfway."

The heather-gray hat was done in wool felt. The sparkly things are Swarovski crystals.

The hat Song was selling to customers Wednesday is not the custom hat Franklin wore, but it's very close.

Song, 36, of Southfield chatted Wednesday and took calls from around the globe, surrounded by about 1,000 vibrantly colored hats in the store, which sits on a stretch of Woodward that has evolved into a funky avenue of fashion. Next door on one side is an abandoned store. On the other side is the Praise Him Beauty, Barber and Nail Salon.

The hat store was started in 1982 by Song's mother, Jin, an immigrant from South Korea. Luke Song, who graduated from Birmingham Seaholm High School and Parsons the New School for Design in New York, is the designer.

"It's an art form for me," Song said. "For me, hats define a culture."

Mr. Song Millinery's clientele is 90% African-American, churchgoing women, Song said. His wholesale business supplies hats to shops in other cities with large African-American communities, and the merchandise sells especially well in California, Houston and Dallas. He designs 100 hat styles every six months.

Business was good before the hat appeared on one of the most-watched spectacles in recent years. But now, Franklin's flamboyant headpiece has "taken on a life of its own."

Contact BILL McGRAW at

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Aretha's hat generates buzz on blogs

Susan R. Pollack / The Detroit News

No matter what you thought of her singing, you sure couldn't miss Aretha Franklin's big gray "Church Lady" hat Tuesday at President Obama's inauguration.

In fact, the dramatic felt topper, distinguished by a giant crystal-studded bow, has been the talk of the planet -- or at least the buzz of the blogosphere -- since Detroit's Queen of Soul sang during the opening ceremonies.

And whether you liked it or not -- and some definitely did not, calling it everything from a "wind turbine" to a "train wreck" -- the hat is a real head-turner.

It was made right here in Detroit by designer Luke Song of Moza Inc., who says his company has been designing hats for Franklin, under the Mr. Song Millinery label, for 15 years. The family business has been in Detroit's New Center at 6513 Woodward for 25 years and manufactures hats for 500 boutiques across the nation, the Caribbean and Great Britain, he says.

Song, 36, became an instant celebrity himself Wednesday, posing for TV cameras and fielding hundreds of calls from media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times and Glamour magazine, and from fans as far away as Spain, Latin America and Korea who wanted to buy "the Aretha hat."

Versions are available in 15 colors for $179.99, though the original is "exclusive" to Franklin.

Describing it as a "structured beret with large bow" and embellished with 10 dozen Swarovski crystals, Song says with obvious pride that the hat "was just right for the occasion, and framed her face so well." It was one of three designs he created after Franklin requested a new hat for the inaugural ceremony earlier this month.

Song admits to being "shocked" at the outpouring of negative reaction online, but says those who are bashing the look don't understand the black church culture from whence it comes.

"This is a black culture that is a mystery for 90 percent of the population," he says. "But it's such a familiar thing for the black church culture, so comforting to them. It's what their mothers and grandmothers and great grandmothers have done for centuries."

And, Song adds, his Aretha hat is part of the education process -- "just another chapter of the whole story" -- under way since the election of Barack Obama. But it may be hard for the Aretha hat to get the R-E-S-P-E-C-T Song believes it deserves, judging from the blogs.

BuzzFeed, for example, is showcasing Photoshopped images (more than 80 had been submitted by Wednesday afternoon) of the Aretha hat atop such heads as former vice president Dick Cheney in the wheelchair, two tattooed guys in a tub, the "Jaws" shark (poster), "Mona (Lisa) Aretha," O.J. Simpson's mugshot, William (S)Hatner, babies, and various animals including a pug and a squirrel.

On the blogspot Joe.My.God, one blogger opined that he "thought it was the Statue of Liberty walking out!," while another said he's "thankful someone gift-wrapped Aretha."

You can reach Susan R. Pollack at (313) 222-23665 or

1 comment:

PrissyPatriot said...

Now that's a HAT. Love it and Aretha too:)