Aretha Franklin's now-famous bow-tied, gift-wrapped, jewel-studded, $179 inaugural hat was designed, produced and sold to the Queen of Soul by Mr. Song Millinery, a family-owned business in Detroit.
Starting minutes after Franklin finished her distinctive rendition of “My County 'Tis of Thee” on Jan. 20, the store's phones started ringing.
By the next afternoon, they had sold hundreds of hats. A store they work with in Dallas had sold 500 more, and the material was running out.
“People are calling from England, asking for the hat,” said Luke Song, who designed Franklin's chapeau. “I'm shocked. I had no idea. We did not expect this.”
The hat has gone crazy in the media and cyberspace. Everyone from Jon Stewart on the “Daily Show” to the women on “The View” were talking about it. (Stewart poked fun at it; the women seemed more appreciative.)
On the “Ellen DeGeneres Show,” Ellen wore an exaggerated hat similar to Franklin's.
On the Internet, people have created dozens of sites devoted to the hat and, using software, have placed it on mug shots of Dick Cheney, assorted dogs and the heads of Mount Rushmore, among others.
Song said Franklin, a longtime customer, came to him and wanted something to go with a coat she had picked out for the inauguration of President Obama.
“She had in mind what she wanted,” Song said. “She said, ‘I want it altered this way.' That's what we do most of the time with the client. We meet them halfway.”
The heather-gray hat was done in wool felt. The sparkly things are Swarovski crystals.
The hat Song is selling to avid customers now is not the precise customized hat Franklin wore, but it's very close.
Song, 36, of Southfield chatted last week and took calls from around the globe, surrounded by about 1,000 vibrant-colored hats in the store, which sits in a stretch of Woodward that has evolved into a funky avenue of fashion. Next door on one side is an abandoned store. On the other side is the Praise Him Beauty, Barber and Nail Salon.
The hat store was started by Song's mother, Jin, an immigrant from South Korea, in 1982. Luke Song, who graduated from Birmingham Seaholm High School and the Parsons The New School for Design in New York, does the designing.
“It's an art form for me,” Song said. “For me, hats define a culture.”
Mr. Song Millinery's clientele is 90 percent African American, church-going women, Song said. His wholesale business supplies hats to shops in other cities with large African American communities, and the merchandise sells especially well in California, Houston and Dallas