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Men's Spring Fashion Issue | Metropolis / So SoCal

The Interfaith Appeal of a Fine Hat

April 07, 2002|LESLEE KOMAIKO

Seven years ago, chatting with an Orthodox Jewish friend, Sal Rovero mentioned that his father was in the hat business. His friend, tired of ordering from New York, suggested that Rovero start selling the black, wide-brimmed Old World-style hats favored by Orthodox men. Rovero ordered three dozen on credit from the Italian maker Borsalino and rented a small second-floor space on La Brea Avenue near Beverly Boulevard. "I had two things going for me there. Downstairs was a kosher pizza place and next door was a shaatnez lab [for inspecting Orthodox men's suits; biblical law prohibits mixing linen and wool in one garment]," says Rovero, who comes from a Mexican Jewish family and grew up in East L.A. and the San Fernando Valley.

Two years later, Rovero moved Hollywood Hatters into a nearby suit store catering to the Orthodox community. By then, he also carried cashmere baseball caps, cowboy hats, fedoras, Panamas and newsboy hats. His clientele diversified as well. Along with the Orthodox shoppers came "Hispanics, gypsies, black gentlemen, women. Black gentlemen and Jewish rabbis would be complimenting each other because of a mutual love of hats in both communities."

The store recently moved to a Melrose Avenue storefront not far from a Jewish day school, an advantage since bar mitzvahs are Rovero's "bread and butter." He also gets Melrose hipsters and stylists; his hats have been worn by names such as Eminem, Dr. Dre and Sean "Puffy" Combs (red derby, red derby, black fedora respectively).

"It used to be you were half naked if you walked out without wearing a hat," muses Rovero, who says hatters trace a postwar trade decline to JFK, who was sworn in bareheaded. But things are, er, looking up. Not only is the Orthodox community booming, "I think what's bringing hats back is celebrity, especially in music. I've been in business seven years, my father and uncle 20-some years. Right now they're more popular than ever."

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