While other designers concentrate on your body, Frank Olive is thinking about your eyebrows, your forehead, your cheekbones, your chin.
A hat designer since the 1950s, Olive is especially happy about the 1980s.
"Women's liberation is over, isn't it?" he cheers. "A woman can be an executive and still be feminine. And fashion is so diversified. It's not like the days of Jackie Kennedy and her pillbox. If you didn't like that style, there was nothing else to wear."
'They're Waiting for You'
The silver-haired, "playful Aquarius" says he wishes he were 23 again. "Not just 23, but 23 and creative, because they're waiting for you."
"They," he explains, are women eager for hats. And all because of the headline fashions seen on Princess Diana, Joan Collins and in the movie "Out of Africa."
For spring, using straws from Switzerland, Panama and China, the designer has created a decidedly romantic collection that mirrors the softer, rounder, less defiant look of fashion.
Taking inspiration from the turn of the century, he garnishes hats--in colors ranging from classic black or red to the newer greens, oranges and blues--with flowers, ribbons or lace. Other nostalgic pieces include a delicately beaded "Garbo slouch" and a charming Chanel-inspired beret in red-lacquered straw.
Much of Olive's millinery (shown during his personal appearances at a Les Dames de Champagne charity breakfast and at Neiman-Marcus) comes with built-in versatility. A picturesque Watteau, for example, can be worn brim up, brim down, turned around, "to the race track or hiding from your second husband.
"Men love hats," he claims, "and they make a woman feel slightly naughty."
And while skirt length doesn't limit the size of a hat, it does determine the attitude: "If a woman is wearing a flirty short skirt, her hat has to have a flirty feeling."
Olive says the newest way to wear hats "is with a very playful attitude--a little asymmetrical, showing the arch of one brow.
"Not every woman can wear every hat," he acknowledges, "but there is a hat for every woman. Larger women are inclined to have lovely complexions, so they should treat a hat as a cosmetic. They can wear any of the pretty colors to complement their skins. They can go into the parfait shades like shell pink and apricot, or go completely extreme with bright reds, chrome yellows, royal or cornflower blue."
Females who have angular features are able to wear more styles and more "drama" than women with rounder features, he says.
Olive, who planned to be a "millionaire, not a milliner," may just turn out to be both. With sales last year just under $2 million, he recently moved into new premises ("10,000 square feet in the middle of Manhattan"), where 400 to 600 hats are turned out a day.
To the customer about to buy her first hat, the designer advises looking through magazines and at the "soaps" to find hats worn by women with "her same facial symmetry, same hair style, same eyebrows, same chin. It's hard to go in a hat department and know where to begin. But this way, a woman is able to go into a store and try on styles she is familiar with. It will give her a foundation to base her decisions on."
His spring collection, available at Neiman-Marcus, is priced from $80 to $175.