Open top hats are the newest trend for summer (39966)

On any given Saturday, when you’re walking along Frederick Douglass Boulevard, between West 117th and 118th streets, you’ll notice a women’s fashion hat stand with a display of mighty fine hats. It’s just a few steps away from the new flea market on the corner of West 117th Street. This area of Harlem has become a lively hot spot. The hats are extremely well-crafted in haute designs. Amazingly, these high-fashioned hats are also affordably priced.

“The newest hats have open tops,” said senior hat designer Rochelle Cook. The beret cap is the biggest seller. As a milliner, Cook creates lovely, ladylike headgear, and she is known for her curling brim technique. She utilizes straw, burlap and prints and uses embellishments like buttons, jewels, beads, pins, ribbons and flowers. Colors are also important.

“I used to work in accounting for Oscar de la Renta, Louis Vuitton and other top international fashion designers in New York’s fashion district,” she proudly boasted.

Her mother, a seamstress, taught her how to sew. However, she was never interested in sewing clothes. One day, while she was sewing pouch-style purses with drawstrings for her mother’s fashion collection, she turned the pouch upside down and discovered her first granny hat shape.

Her career as a milliner bloomed. For years, she designed hats at Theresa Fashions, a boutique that was located across from the Apollo Theater, on West 125th Street. Due to the rise in rent on West 125th Street, many local merchants were forced to move or simply went out of business. Cook continued creating her headwear for various boutiques across the country and continues to do so even today, but she never uses her name. She also talked about how she loved designing children’s hats some 25 years ago.

You will see many of her hats in boutiques like the Brownstone. She also creates a collection for Rosewood.

Born in Raleigh, N.C., Cook came to New York in 1957. She is now retired from the U.S. Postal Service. Cook’s hat stand is usually open on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m., provided that it’s a nice day. Last Saturday, she closed early due to rain.

Cook’s hats are priced from $5 and up. “Folks walking by just don’t have cash in their pockets,” she said. “These are all the hats I have [left over from my last collection], and I just want to get rid of them.” Sitting in a chair modeling Cook’s hats was her friend Juanita Morgan. Morgan is a gospel singer with McDonald’s Gospelfest choir and the Rev. Al Sharpton’s Change Choir. Morgan looked fashionable in every hat she tried on. Many folks stopped to try on hats. When you are purchasing a hat, you should always try it on and look in the mirror.

Cook’s love for designing hats lingers on. Hopefully, she will design another line. Stop by and tell her you read about her hats in AmNews.

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