Evetta Petty’s, Harlem’s Heaven Hat Boutique located at 2538 Adam Clayton Blvd. in New York City, has been a neighborhood fixture for over 28 years and is the oldest millinery establishment in the area. Folks in the community love the fact that they can stop by and find a hat amongst her hundreds of handmade confections to suit their every occasion. Evetta is especially popular with churchgoers, who adore her one-of-a-kind crowning glories that make them definite standouts amongst their congregation members.
Evetta, 60, swears she was born to make art because she sees it in absolutely everything she creates. The Alabama-born hat maker toyed with design even as a young child, always decorating, coiffing her dolls until they were bald, and making clothing and hats even before her little feet could reach the Singer sewing machine pedal.
Now Evetta’s stunning one-of-a-kind hat designs have made their way around the globe. They have adorned the covers and pages of such crème de la crème fashion magazines as Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and Glamour. Evetta’s hats have also graced the heads of such notables as Patti LaBelle, Star Jones, celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson and cast members from The Real Housewives of Atlanta. The world-traveler, who receives her inspiration from rich fabrics purchased from places like Asia, Italy, and India, even had her works of art exhibited at The Museum of Arts and Design in New York City.
Evetta chatted with 50BOLD about the loves that keep fueling her every single day—her beautiful hats.
50BOLD: How did you become interested in the millinery arts?
Evetta: I’ve always loved hats and making them was a kind of hobby. I used to wear really cute hats and people would stop me to ask about them. When they found out I actually made the hats, they would ask me to create one for them too. At the time, my aunt had a little shop, so I would create a few hats and display them in her shop. They sold immediately! The demand was intense but here we are nearly 30 years later; I am a full-time milliner and owner of my own hat boutique.
50BOLD: Did you come from a family where the women wore Sunday best hats?
Evetta: Well, of course, the women in my family never went to church without a hat on their heads. As a matter of fact, my family members really never left the house without their head covered.
50BOLD: Do you design, and then create, all of your hats?
Evetta: I design all of the women’s hats and they are handmade by an assistant and myself. I do design and make a small selection of men’s hats but I also carry Stetson and Dobbs Hats. I make a few of my hats in the shop and the others are created at a workshop in my home.
50BOLD: What is the process involved in creating a hat?
Evetta: I don’t do a lot of sketching. I get inspired by the fabrics I buy as a result of my world travels when I visit their marketplaces. Everywhere I go in the world while folks are relaxing at a resort, you can find me at a marketplace scouring for not only fabrics but trimming like ribbons and ornaments.
50BOLD: Is there a particular fabric that you prefer to work with?
Evetta: I love working with brocades that have patterns or hints of gold thread. I use a lot of wool and love it when I stumble upon vintage straw. This type of straw is really stunning and is actually from Eastern Europe and a few other countries as well. It is a rare material nowadays and definitely, not readily available anymore.
50BOLD: When is your busiest season?
Evetta: The hatter’s rites of spring or the high season for sporting hats is from March to June. I am working nonstop to meet the demands of the Easter and Mother’s Day holidays. The Kentucky Derby is also held in May and this is a huge event for hat wearers. In addition, I have to meet all of the demands from those who want head attire in order to attend the polo matches in the UK.
50BOLD: What’s on the horizon for hats this summer?
Evetta: A straw fedora and a basic Panama is the summer hat staple; they are neutral and can be paired with many outfits. A fascinator is also a summer must-have for all of your summer affairs. Fascinators are mini headpieces that are typically made with feathers, flowers or beads. They need to be attached to the hair by a comb, headband or clip. They are really popular in England.
50BOLD: What is the price range of your hats?
Evetta: My hats range in price from $59 to about $1,200.
50BOLD: Is there a rule of thumb for wearing hats and accessories?
Evetta: Well, if a woman is wearing a voluminous hat then she can certainly do without fussy earrings. If she still wants to wear earrings with a huge hat, then they need to be small because the hat should really be the true focal point.
50BOLD: You also have hatpins at your boutique.
Evetta: Yes! I make each hatpin by hand and some of the beadings I use is vintage.
Hatpins just really add such a nice pop and are a kind of finishing touch for a hat. They’ve been around for eons and are a lovely hat accessory.
50BOLD: What should women never do when sporting a hat?
Evetta: Women should make sure they are wearing the right hat for their particular hairstyle. For example, I even have hats that I’ve made for people who wear their hair in locks. The hats are designed with an open crown where the locks can be pulled up and through the opening. I create hats that can accommodate various head sizes, types of hairstyles and even wigs too.
* Evetta also sells her hats online and ships worldwide. For pricing info contact Evetta Petty at Harlem’s Heaven Hat Boutique, (212) 491-7706 or www.harlemsheaven.com