Katy George: a woman of many hats

Originally published in The Taos News

Hats have a variety of functions—shielding the head from the cold weather, the sun or the rain, making short people look taller, masking a bad hair day and adding a personal, classy touch to the general appearance.

The hot, dry summers ofNew Mexicodefinitely call for their use to protect our hair, skin and eyes from damaging UV rays.

Throughout history, hats have been used not only for protection, but also as symbols of status and as wearable art. “Protection is still the biggest function,” said Katy George, a Taos-based hat designer. “And art, yes! And sense of style, of whimsy, of being bold and beautiful! In fact, all the hats I wear for protection are very much art and whimsy.”

George has been a fiber artist since she was in college, in 1968. In the late 70’s she made some handmade felt hats —“very crazy forms,” she said, “and quite over the top.” Then she moved to Paris and started making hats prompted by a desire to work in three dimensions. “My love of hats also had a lot to do with it,” she said. “I started doing hat shows in Parisian bars and became known as Madame Chapeau.”

“Madame Chapeau” first came to Taos in 1977. She went to Paris in 1985 and, when she was deported for being illegal in 1998, she decided to return here. “You can’t live in Dallas after Paris,” she said with a wink.
Her inspiration comes from fashion magazines, her own previous creation and dreams. Indeed, most of her silky cocktail hats have a surreal quality, a whimsical, otherworldly charm. They are fashionable, but they go beyond fashion, too.

And what does fashion mean for Katy George?

“It is something you wear because you love it and love how you look and feel in it,” she said. “For some people, fashion is what is ‘in.’ For me, it’s what feels right for my looks and self image.”

Following that principle, most of George’s hats are changeable, so they can be worn the way that feels right at the moment.

“Round faces are difficult with hats, but I have one model that works on everyone,” she said. “Sculpted faces are lucky… they can wear stunning hats stunningly! But more important than how you look in a hat is how you feel you look. If you feel good about a hat, you project good vibes and get them back, even if it’s not the best hat for you. There is a big emotional content to wearing a hat.”

George makes mostly women’s hats. “Men’s hats are so bound by tradition and I am not,” she said. “But I love it when a man wears one of my hats. That happens much more in Paris than in Taos… Women can get away with wearing anything, but men are prisoners of traditional expectations, poor babes.”

So, when to wear hats? And how to combine them? “A bad hair day begs for a fun hat,” said George. “I make many hats that work with both cocktail dresses and jeans. I have a series of caps that are very much not baseball dork, and they go dressy or casual. I have vinyls for rain days and feathered visors for convertibles or to take to Solarfest. And very chic and warm ones for snow days. And such lovely fun sun hats… some are topless so you can get air on the top of your head while you walk or drive around.”

There are so many treasures in George’s boxes… The best way to see and try them on is attending one of her shows. She has two upcoming ones. The first one will be on Saturday, July 9th from 2 to 6 p.m. at Greg Moon Art, located at 109-a Kit Carson Road.

“There will be sixty or more hats and everyone may try them on,” said George. “I will be showing my long curly scarves too.”

The other show is called Fashionwerks and will feature wearable art from about sixteen artists. George will be showing many one of a kind garments as well as hats. The show will take place on Saturday, September 24th at the Santa Fe Women’s Club from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

George wears many hats, both literally and figuratively. In addition to being a milliner, she makes wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses, one-of-a-kind garments and scarves. She is an expert in fine silks.
She is also a freelance florist. Her cut-flower delivery service offers a choice of two bouquets delivered every Thursday afternoon in and around Taos for $15, including tax.

To contact Katy George, email her at chapeau@laplaza.org or call 737-9174