Luke Song didn't know what hit him when Aretha Franklin donned his now-famous hat design to sing the national anthem at the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama.
"Wow, it was an amazing moment in history," Song said. "And, topping it off with our hat was even more amazing." Franklin has been a customer of Mr. Song Millinery, a ladies' custom hat design and manufacturing boutique, for more than 20 years. Franklin's hat, a gray bow-tied design adorned with Swarovski-crystal, was the result of several concepts. "We typically customize based on elements from various styles," Song said. "On the Inaugural hat, it was completed by combining and redesigning of four different designs."
While Song was honored to design for the august occasion, he did not realize the impact the event would have upon his life. "My sister said it would generate a buzz and I didn't believe her," Song said. "She was right."
Since that January day, the swell in business has been undeniable, with Song receiving hundreds of thousands of requests for a duplicate hat. "We haven't sold the exact same design, but we have variations that we produce for the market."
Song, a Birmingham resident and graduate of Birmingham Seaholm High School, didn't always envision himself as a designer and milliner. A native of South Korea, he emigrated here with his family as a child. "I was good at science, but my passion was in the arts," he said. "So, just shy of finishing my degree in biochemistry, I switched." Song went on to study design at Parsons the New School for Design in New York. Although he didn't plan on joining the family business, Song eventually realized his place was beside them at the Southfield millinery shop.
"I think most children of family businesses pull away from continuing (the business), but you know at least one of the children gets pulled in," Song said. "Two of my sisters are in the business, too. Truthfully, we were always a part of the business."
Headwear has made a big comeback over the past year, and Song is designing for women from their 30s all the way into their 90s, he said. "We are seeing younger and younger (women) coming in to purchase hats and headbands," he said. "(We are designing for) church-going women, religious women, Red Hats, bridal groups, teas and funerals, just to name a few." When women look to revamp their closets, Song is finding that many are doing so by adding headwear rather than acquiring new clothing, and the trend has been a positive one for the Song family....continued on page 2