Photos by Norman Dillon.
Elegant is back again, ladies. That's the look-at-me aesthetic Denver milliner Susan Dillon cultivates at her new Kitty Mae Millinery & Accessories boutique in RiNo/Curtis Park. And she's eagerly waiting for you to stop by, so that she can dress you up. "I want people to come in and have fun," she says, "to explore things they're not used to. I just want to bring the fancy back, and for that, there's nothing better than something handmade."
Dillon, who comes from a background in fiber-art assemblage and more or less channels the fictional "Kitty Mae," has the handmade part down: She started making hats a couple of years ago when, as a would-be burlesque performer, she found that she needed a mini top hat. Brought up to make things the right way and not with a hot-glue gun, Dillon decided to learn the art of millinery. "I never did do the burlesque act after that," she recalls. "I loved it so much that I ended up making hats instead."
First, she was all about costuming and drag-queen gear, but before long, she moved on to doing bridal pieces (which today account for the bulk of her business) and sculptural couture hats that boldly defy the definition of everyday fashion. She was working out of a small studio at Wazee Union, but realized it was time to expand.
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Walk into Kitty Mae, and you'll immediately encounter a blingy but elegant vibe. The shop is all dressed up for fall, with fabulous lids in jewel and metallic tones, enhanced by iridescent feathers and out-of-this-world shapes.
But because Dillon felt hats were not enough, she opened her shop with an elite handful of other vendors offering enhancements to the headgear: jewelry by Andrea Li, Omar Garcia, Boutique de Bijoux, Chunkei Monkei, Lavishly Couture and Crystal Sharp; gowns and capelets by designers Francis Roces and Rae Marie; scarves by Ali Pate.
"They all have that sense of exuberance," Dillon says, "that will make you feel like you are so worth decorating." They also fit into her concept of making the store a one-stop for her bridal clientele, since they can not only choose headwear, but also elegant accessories to complete the look.
Does Dillon have a favorite hat? In a sense. "It's the last one that I made," she explains.
And who wears hats? "Some people come in who've never worn hats before," she responds. "Others might be looking for something for a black-tie gala." People are dressing up more these days, and Dillon gives partial credit to the well-appointed, hat-wearing Princess Kate: "Bless Kate's heart. She's made it okay to be fancy and to dress up again. People want to go back to wearing things that are not mass-produced, and they are able to develop own style by purchasing one-of-a-kind handmade things."
"I look at them as sculpture more than as fashion," she says of her chapeaus. "I'm really trying to cross the line between a gallery and a boutique."
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Kitty Mae is located at 3559 Larimer Street and is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, or by appointment.
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