Designer Frank Olive says the country's most important hat cities are Dallas, Houston and Fort Worth, and he's not talking about the 10-gallon variety. He means women's fashion hats, which in his opinion are "the most private statement a woman can make in her wardrobe."
In Olive's hat poll, Beverly Hills lags behind the Texas cities somewhere in fifth place. Los Angeles isn't even on the chart yet, although he says he is pleased with the progress women are making here.
What makes for a good hat city? The women in Texas know how to "flaunt," he says. They're "terribly community-minded, very social. A good hat customer has a diversified personality. She wears a fedora sometimes, a cocktail hat other times, a hat to sell real estate in, a hat to find her third husband in, hats to hide under and hats to flirt under."
Olive, whose designs have literally topped off the collections of leading Seventh Avenue designers, including Anne Klein, Oscar de la Renta and Kasper, stands for romance in an industry that once was all but taken for dead.
The New York milliner went into hats 20 years ago when people were taking them off.
"At that time," he says, "a hat was almost an embarrassment. But I think what took hats off women's heads was that so many women wore the wrong ones. Unless a hat garnishes you and makes you feel wonderful, you shouldn't wear it."
With his annual sales volume now at an all-time high of $2 million, Olive takes his hat off to Princess Diana and, more recently, to "Dynasty's" Joan Collins for helping put life back into the ailing women's hat business.
Olive's spring collection, which he presented recently at Neiman-Marcus, ranges from the restrained, ladylike look of a pale pink straw beret to a flirty wide-brimmed purple saucer, which, as Olive puts it, is "kissed with a surprise bouquet of violets" underneath the brim. Olive describes his designs as combining the "mood of yesterday" with the look of today. He says he borrowed from 18th-Century French painter Jean Antoine Watteau for his favorite hat in the collection. His "Watteau" is made of white-and-navy lacquered straw and features a large brim that is turned up on one side and secured with a bow. It can be worn forward or backward. It's what Olive calls a "large glamour hat."
"It's for a special moment once in a while," he says.
Even in Los Angeles.
There's another person who knows about special moments.
An obstetrician's wife from a Philadelphia suburb, Barbara Ellick knew her days as an interior decorator were numbered when she ordered a sofa for a "very expensive room," and it arrived upholstered in the wrong fabric.
"I think I said at that particular moment: 'Let's go on to jewelry,' " Ellick recounts three years later.
Ellick's hobby now has mushroomed into a "seven-day-a-week obsession." Her jewelry--sold in 25 stores across the country, including Bullocks Wilshire--is made of all semiprecious materials, including beads that she and her husband Bertram pick up on their travels around the world.
"You start out and you're not sure of yourself," the mother of three says of her first efforts as a jeweler. "There are plenty of mistakes in a drawer back home."
Yet, beyond the mistakes, Ellick is finding that her one-of-a-kind pieces, priced from $100 to $3,700, have great appeal to women like herself who appreciate both quality and originality.
"Maybe it's my background," Ellick smiles. "I despise it when two ladies are wearing the same thing. That's why I've always bought artsy antique pieces. Even my watch--I could never wear a Rolex. I'd rather wear a nice antique."
Ellick incorporates some of her antique finds like carved Victorian ivory with other exotica such as Israeli pottery, Moroccan amber and Indian teak. She also uses carved agate, rose quartz and blister pearls.
On a trip to Cairo, she bought 40 turquoise scarabs from a vendor in front of the Egyptian National Museum.
"My husband thought I was insane. He said: 'We came all the way from Philadelphia for you to buy these? ' "
The scarabs, however, once mounted into necklaces, are typical Ellick.
"I like heavy, chunky pieces," she explains. "Yet they're not junky."
She thinks that most of her necklaces--be they carved rock-crystal beads or a sterling silver collar--go as well with sportswear as with a cocktail dress.
"People are nervous about wearing expensive gold jewelry today," she adds. "Nobody wants to run to the vault unless they're going to a ball."