Brand building through storytelling

My cast-off hat finds the perfect home

One mad afternoon on 57th Street, a good half-dozen years ago, I wandered into one of those shrines to fashion where a silk-encased sachet will cost as much a silk shirt in a lesser establishment, and spent a dismaying sum on a hat for Christa. I didn’t know that I was buying a gift for Christa, who had not yet entered my life. I intended to wear the hat myself.

Rona  Christa Crop (3)A navy blue cloche trimmed with silver ribbon twirled into a rosette and accented by a faux feather, it came in two colours, navy and black. Oh, the agony of decision! For at least half an hour, I swiveled in front of the mirror, trying each option while shoppers milled about. No one paused to urge me on, as shoppers do in the secret language that bonds women everywhere. No one exclaimed, “I love the black on you!” or “The navy is perfect for your colouring!” There may even have been a raised eyebrow or two. Looking back, I wish some plainspoken soul had said, “Honey, it doesn’t do a thing for you.” That would have caught my attention. But I was determined to buy a hat that day—something whimsical and utterly distinctive. Price be damned! I deserved a reward for all those marathon meetings at the office.

And so I swept off with a discreetly elegant hatbox in the signature black and white stripes of Henri Bendel, a store where to contemplate prices is to prove yourself one of the style-deprived rabble. Inside the box, under a froth of tissue paper, sat the navy cloche, the most absurd fashion purchase of my life. Whimsical and distinctive it certainly was—for someone. But I could never be that person. Back home in Toronto, I realized too late that my head was too big for the navy cloche.

I like to think that for everything I do, there’s a reason that makes sense. The navy cloche destroyed that illusion. I bought it because I succumbed to shopper’s lust. I craved a jolt of newness in my over-scheduled life as editor-in-chief of a magazine. I longed for the insouciance that I detected, briefly, in the hat. The irony is that instead of living lighter, I weighed myself down with yet another possession that was useless to me. Strictly speaking, I could afford this kind of indulgence. In fact, shopping gave me a sense of power that I didn’t actually possess. I shopped because I wanted things, not because I needed them.

That ended when I left my job, but my home still overflows with relics from my free-spending days. As I pack for a move to a smaller home, I’m astounded by the stuff I bought. Whatever possessed me to buy a vest in black rubber mesh? Why did I need in an ice crusher and bar tools, when we never drink cocktails? And how did it escape my notice that we already owned a perfectly good wooden carving board, so we didn’t require a second? I’m giving away boxloads of stuff that used to seem important for one reason or another, and now have become excess baggage. I’m yielding to a rapture of relinquishment. Still, I intend to put all my cast-offs in just the right hands—or on the right head. Someone had to love the navy cloche. Someone with a small face, a sense of style and a passion for unusual clothes.

Early on the ordeal of this move, I wrote a post seeking takers for various possessions. Two of my favourite Toronto bloggers responded. Kerry, a bibliophile and baker, dropped by to collect my Sunbeam mixer (we met for the first time among my cardboard boxes). Christa, of Petite Fashionista, promised to find homes for all my clothes, and cabbed over on Friday night to pick up two big bags for charity, plus a few of my former treasures for her own closet. I don’t know Christa well; we’d met face-to-face only once, when she was working at a shoe store where I once bought a pair of red Mephisto sandals. But I had a hunch the navy cloche would suit her, even though she said she hardly ever wore hats. Down came the Henri Bendel hat box from my highest shelf. “Try this on,” I said.

Christa fiddled with the brim, as I remember doing the first time I wore a statement-making hat. Hats, unlike shoes or jackets, require a certain aplomb in the wearing. You need to find the right angle. For hat collectors like me, it’s second nature. This was Christa’s first hat, so we fiddled a bit while she studied her reflection in my mirror. She smiled. I practically clapped my hands. “It’s stunning on you! The perfect shape for your face!”

I was not the only one who noticed the match between woman and hat. In the elevator of my building, several strangers remarked on Christa’s navy cloche. She’s a hat person now, I’m pretty sure. I predict a hat collection in her future. But if her experience is anything like mine, there’s bound to be a special aura surrounding her first hat. May she wear it long and well.

Posted by Rona

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