Over time, I found myself fixating on the Purple One’s artful accessory. It was more memorable to me than the song’s opening scene – when the sexy star emerges from a steamy bathtub – or the subsequent kaleidoscopic effects during the final dance sequence.
Add to this Prince obsession a second fascination with stylish headwear. I see chapeaus as sculptures, worn as a finishing touch on a fashion-forward look. Hats frame the face and turn any outfit into an occasion. Call me mad, but I believe no outfit is complete without one. Having a “Doves Cry” hat of my own would make my millennium.
The creation I had in mind couldn’t be found at the runway shows, though, or on shelves at local shops like Goorin Bros., Mrs. Dewson's, or Alternative Design Studio. I would need it custom-made. So I decided to put my design skills to the test and make my headwear – with some help from local milliner Tricia Roush of House of Nines Designs, whose design aesthetic has a definite sense of history.
Tricia pulls influence from eighteenth-century tricorns (three-cornered hats) and bicorns (two-cornered ones), nineteenth-century boaters, and the small, perchy hats of the 1930s and ’40s. She has designed hats for burlesque icon Dita Von Teese and supermodel Karen Elson, and her work will be featured as part of a DIY wedding craft book published by Chronicle Books this fall. With such notable experience to her name, I was thrilled when Tricia agreed to work with me on my Prince project.
For our first meeting, Tricia and I headed downtown to Britex Fabrics to purchase supplies. She showed up looking very ’50s, with her short, jet-black Audrey Hepburn haircut and vintage sweater and skirt set. She’s a regular at this overwhelming, four-floor fabric store, and knows it like the inside of her thimble.
Starting on the third floor, we searched for black sheer lace with a thick border. To save money, we settled on a narrow lace trim and then grabbed a yard of black tulle from the fourth floor. We also found a yard of pink silk for the scarf around the brim and matching pink poly thread. The hat itself would be molded from a rabbit-fur felt form that we’d order online.
Tricia told me she doesn’t spend a lot of time on sketches. Instead she plays with the materials to see how they perform, and designs around that. So fabric in hand, we headed over to her House of Nines studio in the Mission.
Tricia’s place was filled with her distinctive handmade creations and plenty of decorative extras. I noticed lots of antique ribbons, exotic peacock feathers, and antique veiling. Her collection of equipment included an extensive assortment of racked blocks, an ironing board, an industrial steamer, and an electronic sewing machine. For an expert, these are all tools of the trade, but for a novice like me, Tricia owned an imposing array of unfamiliar instruments. It felt like someone had dumped a bunch of puzzle pieces around the room, and I couldn’t foresee putting them all together. I hardly knew where to begin.
We sat around Tricia’s aluminum table – covered in plastic with number marks for cutting – and she measured my head for size. When I drew the fedora that I had in mind, the designer’s smile, outlined in bright-red lipstick, grew wider as she contemplated my proposed accessory. It turned out Tricia is a big Prince fan too.
I’ve never sewn before, but Tricia made it seem easy. She taught me a simple running stitch that I used for the lace trim. She also explained that sewing is all about controlling the material with your fingers as you dive in and out with a needle in a wave pattern. As I nervously followed her suggestions, Tricia seemed totally calm. Her music selection – a CD by local singer-songwriter Jill Tracy – further enhanced the sense of work-space serenity.
A week later, my special-order hat form arrived. Tricia and I donned aprons and worked on softening the stiff felt by spraying it with water and then steaming it. Next we blocked the hat from every angle, shaping the fabric over two pieces of wood on a lazy Susan. When we were done, I brushed the felt’s nap counterclockwise to transform it from fuzzy to silky smooth, and I left it to dry overnight.
As I made my way home that evening, I felt the excitement of Dr. Frankenstein after he built his monster. I was restless with the anticipation of bringing my beautiful creature to life.
When I returned to Tricia’s studio for the second time, I had the hardest time following her lead, despite the demo she gave me. Luckily she was a patient teacher.
Every time I felt frustrated, I simply reflected on Tricia’s words – that sewing is all about fabric control – and this would boost my sense of empowerment. It was a healthy reminder that I could dominate this hat if I just concentrated on it.
I’m generally a results-oriented person, conditioned to rush through the creative process for the sake of expediency. But when you hurry things, especially in fashion design, the product suffers. I had to force myself to remain in the moment. Tricia helped me focus by selecting Prince for our soundtrack this time.
I affixed a labeled band to the hat and smoothed the crown into a dimple. By the end of the afternoon, the felt was finally taking a hat shape. This project was coming along. I only had to pace myself through one more work day.
A few days later, I returned to Tricia’s studio for the final touches, which meant accessorizing the fedora. This might sound fun – like decorating a birthday cake – but let me tell you: It was a precise and detailed process. When you’re a sewing novice like me, it’s also extremely time-consuming.
Tricia knew that the work was wearing me out, so she suggested that we put on the “When Doves Cry” video for continued motivation. Watching the clip reminded me why I started this project in the first place. Prince looked so glorious in his hat. I wanted to feel equally regal. I was suddenly energized through the final stages of hat making.
As we sewed the pink silk scarf around the crown, Tricia confessed that this Prince project had actually inspired her too. She said she was going to create some new hat samples for an upcoming trip to Los Angeles boutiques. It was a little ironic – while I was feeling overwhelmed at the amount of work that goes into making a single hat, Tricia was motivated to get going on new design concepts.
Once we finished the final stitches, putting the scarf’s back bow in place, my gorgeous fedora finally materialized. As I carefully picked it up, I couldn’t help but regard it as a hat fit for a prince – or, for that matter, Prince.
This was more than a hat. It was a bit of wearable art that I'd helped created, which made it all the more precious. Unlike an off-the-rack find, I knew all the details of craftsmanship behind this purple creation. I wanted to bronze it and place it on a mantle, or hang it up like an objet d’art. Or better yet, I thought I’d pay it a truer honor and wear it home.
Placing the fedora on my head and letting down the veil, I became Prince in his landmark video. I felt arty, sexy, and cool. Cue the doves. It was time to cry.
Make an appointment to meet with Tricia Roush for your very own House of Nines original ($175–$450 per hat).
If you would rather create your own hat, classes are available at The Sewing Workshop ($50–$90), Apparel Arts ($198–$395), or from private instructors Wayne Wichern ($40–$475) and DeAnna Gibbons ($150–$375).
Once you get the hang of things, you can purchase equipment at Apparel City Sewing Machine Co. and materials at Britex Fabrics.
When you're ready for some princely portraits get in touch with Phillip Maisel.