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Hats Off to Kokin

Mira Dayal

The master milliner is on top of the world.

EVEN AS A CHILD growing up in Bufalo, NY, Kokin was drawn to the dramatic. While he imagined a career on the stage, little did he know that the spotlight would fnd him not on Broadway, but on top of the world of millinery masters.

Kokin counts among his devoted clientele the likes of Julia Roberts, Hilary Duf, Michelle Pfeifer, Cindy Lauper, Alicia Keys, Britney Spears, Sophia Loren, Mischa Barton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cher, Queen Latifah, Beyonce, Bianca Jagger, Jennifer Lopez and Susan Sarandon.

“I really appreciate designers who make a woman look beautiful,” says Kokin, who rose to the top of his feld with the unveiling of his fall, 1983 collection. “Great design is memorable; bad design is forgettable.”

He would know. Kokin is responsible for creating some of the most memorable pop culture fashion moments. Alicia Silverstone wore Kokin in the 1993 movie Clueless, as did Andie McDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) sported a Kokin topper in the television show Gossip Girl and Sofa Vergara seductively tips a Kokin hat while sipping Diet Pepsi in a recent ad campaign.

In a period when grunge and “heroin chic” became the rage with oversized plaid shirts and ripped jeans, Kokin focused on refned feminine designs. 

A stickler for top quality, Kokin works with fne materials like cashmere jersey, duchess satin, python leather and wool ottoman. “People will always pay for something beautiful,” says Kokin. “If something was beautiful in 1950, it is still beautiful today. In every collection you will see Audrey Hepburn peeking through from somewhere.”

Kokin explains that running a millinery shop is still like running an old world business. Many of his machines date back to 1890, and when a part malfunctions, it can be difcult to fnd someone to make the repair. “It’s a hard business,’’ he admits. “It’s a business that not everyone understands.”

Kokin has adapted to changes in the industry. “Stores don’t really have hat departments anymore,” he laments. “However, I’m selling more hats without a hat department than ever before.”

He now has a fagship store on 1028 Lexington Avenue in New York City, and his designs are also sold in Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales, as well as stores in Rome, Paris, Dubai, Tokyo, and Beijing.

Kokin’s craft is also getting a royal boost from Kate Middleton. Like Princess Diana before her, the Duchess of Cambridge’s appearances in exquisite hats have sparked an increase in sales. “Thanks to Kate Middleton people now come in requesting fascinators,” he says, adding that many customers come in requesting “fasteners” or “fashinators.”

Kokin believes that a woman should dress “for the theater of her life.” He claims that “women buy things in my store that they wouldn’t buy anywhere else,” noting that many customers have “always wanted to wear a veil, or a fedora like a man, or even a cocktail hat.”

The master does not think that a beautiful hat, which he regards as “one of the greatest cosmetics,” should be reserved for special events, adding that superstars Barbra Streisand wears her Kokin originals when gardening, and Bette Midler opts for a topper when having a “bad hair day.”

Not only does Kokin create one-of-a-kind masterpieces, but he sells everyday hats as well. In fact, his best selling hats are black berets.

“There’s nothing like all black,” opines Kokin, suggesting that women should always wear the colors in which they feel the most comfortable. “There’s nothing like a blonde wearing the color of champagne or a redhead wearing green,” Kokin says. “I really like it when a shoe matches a bag. I think it’s chic.”

He recommends protecting your investment by storing hats in hatboxes and not in plastic bags or hanging on the wall, where they collect dust.

Kokin hopes to open stores in Beverly Hills and Paris. “I’m re-entering to do ready-to-wear and accessories.”

To Kokin, no woman should ever look frumpy in a hat. “I always say spend the money on your face. No one is going to take photos of your feet.”