Sasha. Misha. Carmen. And Candida.
These are just a few of the given names of the much-celebrated hats in the Keeneland Gift Shop’s popular Kentucky Derby collection.
But it’s the name on the insides of these made-to-order “pieces of art” that garner the most attention: Christine. As in New York City hat designer Christine Moore.
Moore has brought her Derby hat collection to Keeneland once again this year, her sixth such trunk show at the historic race course in Lexington. And regardless of whether her admirers know her hats by name, there’s no shortage of descriptors for a Christine Moore hat.
“Elegant,” said one hat aficionado.
“Showstopping,” said another.
Jolene Dawkins, manager of the Keeneland Git Shop and the one who “discovered” Moore’s affinity for capturing the style and look Keeneland shoppers demand, is among her biggest fans. “Her hats are perfect,” Dawkins said. “They are of the highest quality and exude a sophistication of style.”
“I discovered Christine at the accessory trade show in New York,” Dawkins added. “Her high fashion and extraordinary design attracted me. I felt it was a good fit for Keeneland.”
Moore remembers the introduction to Dawkins a little differently. Yes, Dawkins ordered 25 of her hats to take home to the Keeneland Gift Shop, but Moore laughs when she remembers what led up to the chance encounter – and then what happened later.
“Earlier, I had gotten an invitation from a store in Louisville to do a trunk show,” Moore recalled. “I brought all my ‘city’ hats (small-brimmed hats) … and a couple of ‘church’ hats. I’m watching these women look over this pink, broad-brimmed hat, and the whole time they’re snubbing my city hats.”
So, soon after the Louisville “snubbing,” Moore decided to create a line of broad-brimmed hats. But when she took those hats to the accessory trade show in New York City where she would later meet Dawkins, no one paid them any attention at all.
“Everyone who came by the show snubbed me for having these broad-brimmed hats and went right to my small brims,” Moore said.
Everyone, that is, except for Dawkins.
“She says, ‘I want that one and that one and that one.’ She takes 25 pieces – 25 broad-brimmed hats,” Moore chuckled.
Moore admits to having never heard of Keeneland, and despite Dawkins’ no-nonsense, businesslike demeanor, she still wasn’t convinced Dawkins knew what she was doing.
“I thought, this won’t work. She’s buying 25 hats and she’s not going to sell them. And she sure won’t come back next year.”
Suffice it to say, Moore was wrong. Her hats were such a hit at Keeneland, Dawkins has been a repeat buyer ever since. And, now, they are so popular that Keeneland shoppers start asking for the hats long before the final piece of trim is placed on the 30 or so hats in each year’s new Derby line.
This year is no exception. Moore’s trunk show, with hats ranging from $175 to $850, is going on now through Sunday, during the biggest weekend of the Keeneland spring race meet and is keeping the celebrated hat designer in high demand. Her emphasis on personal service – specifically in finding the perfect hat for every woman – makes it so.
“Christine has built a customer base by proving that her designs fit each customer personally,” Dawkins said.
This year’s Derby collection, which represents about one-third of the 80 one-of-a-kind hats in Moore’s new spring line, is characterized by strong colors, feminine lines and the large, smooth brims that set it apart from other hats.
“I think, really, in a lot of ways, this is the most modern line I’ve ever had,” Moore said. “It’s probably because they have really strong lines … . The lines are clearly defined. Even if there’s a flower on a hat, there are strong lines to the flower.”
Still, this year’s Christine Moore hats retain the femininity that are the hallmark of a classic Derby hat, she said.
“I think what really makes a Derby hat is anything that is feminine. That brings out the fun and (a woman’s) beautiful features. It could be an understated hat, and when the person puts it on, depending on her personality, it could turn into a Derby hat. It’s really an interesting thing to see.”
With a background in theater and costume design, Moore is no stranger to the “artistry” required in creating a hat – or any fashion accessory. It’s “serious work,” she said, and the end product can become collector’s items.
Moore’s work begins with a hat design and then continues with buying the straw, dyeing, ironing, blocking, shaping, cutting and binding it, and, finally, adding the trim. She and her small staff, all of whom likewise have college degrees in costume design or the like, do all the work themselves in a small shop in New York City’s fashion district.
“I mostly make the shapes and bind the hats,” Moore said. “I have my staff do the trim. My little secret is that I hate cutting. I’ll get them (my staff) to cut anything.”
She also shares with her staff the task of naming each hat. The Marianna hat is named for a friend of Moore’s; Sasha got its name from a New York City stylist.
Many of Moore’s hats also have a story to tell – a story inherit within the initial design.
The Misha – a a purple and fuchsia teardrop-shaped hat with silk trim – is a story about a lilly pond waiting for a frog to jump through it. It “almost looks like a fairyland,” Moore said. A pink fascinator worn by Moore this day tells the story of a young, single girl out for a day at the Irish races.
“Not every hat has a story,” she added. “In some ways I look at a hat and say the story is with the person who is wearing the hat.”
Moore will be at Keeneland through April 15, but her hats will remain through the Kentucky Derby May 5. During the race meet, which ends April 27, the shops hours are: Tuesday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday 9 a.m. until 30 minutes after the last race; Sunday 11 a.m. until 30 minutes after the last race. The shop will be closed on Mondays. Following the race meet, the hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. To shop online, visit Keenelandshop.com.