In our ungilded age of convenient, casual, ironic dress sense, one is less apt to see men of employable age in suits on a work day than in t-shirts with rainbow-spouting unicorns. Formal hats disappeared shortly before the moon landing and have regained little ground since. Luckily, folks with vision keep the art of hat-making alive, hip, and happening as haute couture. Thanks, Paris!
Meanwhile, 4,479 miles from the French capital, nestled in the restful hamlet of Springfield, Nebraska (population 1,615), lies a sweet little emporium called Springfield Artworks. Full to bursting with decades of art, it is home to Margie Trembley Chapeaux.
Trembley designs hats you will find on the runways in high places. They are haute, haute, haute right now as couture goes. How haute? Haute couture enough for invitations to one of the best places an all-American hatmaker from Omaha via Arkansas can be: Louisville and the pageantry of the Kentucky Derby.
“The Kentucky Derby has a hat fashion contest every year the day before the Derby itself in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness,” says Trembley, who competed in 2014 against 200 other contestants in front of celebrity judges Carson Kressley of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Simon Baker of The Mentalist.
“Miss America introduced everybody,” Trembley says wistfully, but humorously, in her slight Arkansas drawl about that exhilarating day. “There were 200 of us…I didn’t win a thing.”
Undeterred and in true Omaha fashion, Trembley made a quick study of the scene and came up with a clever plan to outfox future competition.
“Since I didn’t win anything and the winners were all young, tall, skinny, gorgeous…I decided I needed ‘young, tall, skinny, gorgeous.’”
Enlisting the help of a young, tall, skinny, gorgeous model from Nashville, Trembley took a second shot at victory at the 2015 contest.
“So [the model] came from Nashville and she wore this hat,” Trembley says, building expectations. “And we still didn’t win. But we’re walking around the paddock area with the hat on and we get approached by this lady who asked if she could take a picture and so sure, I said, ‘Who are you?’ and she said, ‘I’m with Vogue.’”
Let that digest a moment.
The hat made the front page of vogue.com and has been used in advertising the coming Derby. Trembley was interviewed by ABC Sports and even caught the attention of the local bourgeoisie.
“I’ve been invited to have hats at a high-end store in Louisville called Rodes for Him and Her during Kentucky Derby Week,” says Trembley. That’s not bad for a very modern milliner who began working with hats only a few years ago.
“I’ve been making hats between four and five years. I was a felter prior to making hats, though, and I’ve been an artist for years,” says Trembley, whose secret is that she never stopped learning.
She followed her passions and interests where they led: felting, glass-etching, silk painting, metal-smithing, pottery, glass bead-making, and glass fusing, all of which contribute to her individual style. It all goes back into the hats.
“I learned some really, really good techniques and I’m sticking with it.”