Suzanne Couture Millinery
Suzanne Newman, who originally hails from South Africa, works with four assistants in her Upper East Side store. Having spent the first part of her life in a London boutique, Suzanne began making hats as a single mother under the tutelage of Josephine Trippoli in 1985. Two years later, she opened up her own store on Madison Avenue. For fifteen years, she developed her creative instincts and gained an enviable list of followers. In 2002, she moved to her current 61st Street location, bringing her regular customers with her and acquiring a host of new ones as well.
On the day that we stopped by to take some photos of the boutique, we had the pleasure of speaking to Rosael and McKenzie about their experience working with the talented Suzanne. One of the first things that they shared with us was that Suzanne has her hand in every project. If one of them is feeling creatively challenged, not sure if something is working properly, or simply looking for feedback, they turn to Suzanne. The result of their collaboration is whimsical, vibrant and breathtaking: with materials sourced from around the world and colors often produced by hand-dying, the array of head pieces is nothing short of perfection.
The two young women displayed pride in the personal experience that they are able to offer their clients. The designers create custom hats for bridal parties, and they can very easily design headwear based on a swatch of a dress a client plans to wear. With remarkable attention to detail, there are casual hats for simple occasions and then some extraordinary and extravagant ones for the Kentucky Derby or even England’s grand millinery event of the year, The Royal Ascot.
When we asked about their average clientele, Rosael told us that there is a specific demographic of “Ladies who Lunch” who come for accessories for charity events and horse races, but there is also a younger crew that frequents the shop – especially since William and Kate’s Royal Wedding made hats and fascinators (decorative headpieces) the talk of the town. On a subsequent visit, I was able to witness Suzanne in action as she and her team go out of their way to be certain that every customer leaves the shop elated, and thus forming a long term relationship. Rosael shared a touching story that had happened only a few days prior to our visit, when a woman brought in a black hat to be repaired – she had bought it from Suzanne in the 1980s.
A special moment was when we were invited to step into the back of the boutique and observed a milliner’s workshop. We found it to be piled high with all sorts of materials. There was a box labeled “exotic feathers” containing turkey, duck, goose, peacock, and ostrich feathers. We witnessed some of the works in progress, including a fascinator in the shape and colors of a coy fish, a shiny blue Spanish-style hat, and a helmet-like pink hat that could have come right out of the 1960s. The designers have even been experimenting with printing 3D hats. We marveled at the hat blocks, which are put together like puzzle pieces by selecting crowns and brims. Lastly, we took note of the bases for the sun hats that are being made for the summertime, shipped in from France to the Philippines.
As we were stepping out the door, McKenzie shared one last story telling us that whenever the milliners go out together, they wear samples of their work. Not only do they make a statement, but it allows them to determine if they need to reinforce parts of a hat to combat the wind, or tell clients to duck low when exiting cars to spare long feathers. There is something beautiful about imagining that scene – these exquisite pieces of art being worn by the people who can best appreciate them.