Making a Statement with Luxury Hats

For Miami-based fashion designer Regine Chevallier, hats are cross-cultural fashion statements that signify confidence and individuality. Perhaps her perspective stems from childhood in multi-cultural Haiti, where she eventually owned a textile factory and kids shoe store. Miami Fashion Network recently interviewed the magnanimous designer to gain insight into the challenges and inspirations of startup fashion design.

Like most Miami stories, Chevallier’s begins outside of the United States. She was immersed in Haiti’s cultural tapestry of African, French, and Italian strands. Where others saw solely differences, Chevallier saw “beauty in diversity” and developed a keen eye for noticing the commonalities woven throughout. Hats were an example of a common strand. One could observe business leaders wearing hats to high stakes business meetings and then see a working-class mother wearing a colorful hat to Sunday church service. In both instances the hat signified respect for the situation and served as a statement of self-confidence and elegance.

Hats as a common fashion accessory ride popularity waves up and down. Their history begins as a utilitarian means of protection against the elements. As cars and working inside offices took people out of the weather, hats evolved primarily as fashion statements. At the turn of the 20th century important business men wore tall top hats, while during the 1920’s “Gatsby” era woman adorned themselves with brightly colored hats and turbans. As Chevallier observed, hats cut across the “multiplicity” of social classes, religious beliefs, and ethnicities. Working class Irish in Boston wore the Poor Boy, middle class Anglo accountants sported the Derby, African Americans enjoyed Jazz in a Fedora, and Mexican immigrants endured Southwest heat in Cowboy hats.

In the 1960’s Hollywood rekindled hats as a must-have fashion accessory through movies such as Breathless, The Misfits, A Very Private Affair, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Ms. Chevallier’s brand rekindles the glamour, as she sees a hat as an “essential accessory to any outfit.” Her line rejects the notion of the hat as a seasonal or event-specific accessory. Correspondingly her focus is to demonstrate “the elegance of this accessory and how it can be worn in our modern world.”

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While glamour and personal style are of course integral to the success of her brand, Chevallier’s underlying inspirations are her Haitian experience and philosophical outlook. Haitians she says, “are more sharing and quite respectful” and the culture presents a “mosaic of color décor, and rhythm.” This experience guides her branding and marketing as she recognizes that each market segment wears hats for different reasons, “some for reverence, some for style, and others for tradition.”

One finds a hint of existentialism in her brand promise of Fall in Love with Yourself. The concept behind it is that Chevallier wants people to love themselves by looking and feeling great. A hat gives the wearer confidence, it sends the message “I dare to be.” And in this era of image bombardment and personal branding, customers need to dare more than ever. For “every day you are selling yourself and appearance is a big part of selling.”

No stranger to selling, Chevallier is building her fashion brand with savvy creativity, hustle, and discipline. Her team combines these in the form of events, social media, and trunk shows. She leverages the physical world of events and photoshoots to build a following in the digital world of social media. Every detail of a photoshoot is planned, always focusing on portraying the lifestyle of the customer, not simply the hats themselves. Trunk shows and events allow her to interact with the market and receive ideas and feedback from customers.

And what about social media? Social media is “an amazing tool to reach broader audiences.” Chevallier appreciates the ability to reach an audience around the world via Instagram. Of course message discipline becomes more important in an era of quick-click image posting. She considers it “a big responsibility to send the right message to the audience. You need to send the right message to people.”

Chevallier’s message of Fall in Love with Yourself is definitely the right message. Thankfully, each of us can wear a hat for a situation, occasion or tradition, providing us the opportunity to resoundingly proclaim “Here I am. I exist. I know my value.”

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