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Friday, May 3, 2013

Countdown to Derby Day: The Hunt for Hats and Dresses

Hat before dress - that has been our mantra as we've outfitted ourselves for the Kentucky Derby. Short of the Fifth Avenue Easter Parade and the British Royal Wedding, there is perhaps no other event that places so much emphasis on what ladies perch atop their noggins. So, we resolved early on to dress head to toe, in that order, by settling matters of the hat first and foremost - Wide-brim or fascinator? Feathers or flowers? - and choose the color and style of our outfits accordingly. If we've faltered in practice - dazzled by the perfect print and drape of a frock we spotted before proper headgear could be acquired - we're unrepentant, but no less devoted in theory to the ideal order of things: hat before dress.

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  • Photo compliments of author
This dictum is - dare we say it? - old hat to Gizzelle James, who fitted Amy's ensemble. Couteriere to the stars - she fashioned the pants worn by Andre 3000 in the "Hey Ya!" video - Gizzelle has, on more than one occasion, designed a dress based on a hat that a Louisville-bound client brought in for inspiration. If only we'd known! We learned of the wonder that is Gizzelle just two weeks ago, when another, more pedestrian tailor told Amy that she didn't have the right machine for the job. In all fairness, it's a doozy of a dress, especially since it's not a dress at all, but an elaborately sequined romper. Desperate, Amy blasted a high-alert Facebook communiqué to seek recommendations, and within seconds was referred to Gizzelle. Crisis averted! Here's hoping we have that kind of fortune at the betting booths.

As a little girl in Trinidad and Tobago, Gizzelle assisted her mother, a lace maker, with intricate beadwork on wedding gowns, a job that's especially suited to tiny hands. She began a career in the corporate world, but in her spare time she fused her couture know-how with cultural touchstones like Annie Get Your Gun and "Rockstar Girlfriend" to restyle dresses to wear to art openings. Enough admirers inquired about her inventive attire that she opened up shop in 1991. These days, besides outfitting local hip-hop icons and performing last-minute surgery on Churchill Downs-worthy frocks, Gizzelle specializes in wedding dress alterations and has also just opened a ready-to-wear boutique downstairs from her Juniper Street atelier, which features, in addition to Gizzelle's designs, the work of other hand-picked local designers like Laura Brazil and the jewelry artisan Christa Burton.

In lieu of a bespoke frock (or romper, as it were) in her own run for the roses, Laura happened to already have a getup ready and raring to go for the Churchill Downs hanging patiently in her closet. It's not often that a lady has the perfect occasion to don a vintage tea-length basque halter dress, especially one decorated with large red roses. With a dress so suited for Derby day - what to do about the hat to match? After what felt like endless hours of research, Laura was happy to come across a straw boater hat of the same era on Etsy. The only thing standing between her and the perfect ensemble was a few days of shipping as the hat made its way from Austin, TX. It arrived safely and - voila! All of her garb qualms were calmed.

After the Derby, it may take awhile before Amy finds another occasion to wear a molé-colored sequined romper. Laura, meanwhile, will carry on the spirit of the Derby all summer long, as she's just placed an order for a seersucker bikini - another fortunate Etsy find!

You'll want the contact information for Gizzelle James Couturiere (Appointments strongly recommended):
814 Juniper St., Suite 301
(404) 872-1604

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