By Claudie Benjamin
Les beaux chapeaux, les bandeaux en soie, chapéus de feltro, British royal-style fascinators, chapel caps and mantillas — every culture has its hats and head ornaments. Some are particularly special. At Jeannie’s Dream, at 60 West 75th Street, a gorgeous variety of hats and headwear have been carefully curated to appeal to New York City creative and stylish customers who appreciate an understated, classy statement that enhances their looks.
Shop owner Jeannie Gesthalter has blue, blue eyes. She wears her straight platinum hair long and never leaves the house without an interesting hat. On very cold days, it may be a fur-lined leather hat with cozy earflaps. For a brisk walk in the park, it might be a dapper tailored look by Philip Treacy, hatmaker for many British royals.
She does not wear a hat at work in her shop because it would get in the way of lifting, arranging and the work of creating certain pieces like the hair clips ornamented with Swarovski crystals. “We also decorate the veilings and hats with these sparkling crystals when customers request them,” she says. “We also do feather work and all kinds of trimming.”
The history of Jeannie’s Dream is threaded not only with strong silk but also with friendships. Thirty-five years ago, at the very beginning of her career in the world of hats, Jeannie met and became friends with a young, very talented Argentinian hat designer. When he died of AIDS, she inherited his hat forms.
About the same time, she began working with Claudia Graham, a hat designer and hatmaker. “I’m from Sant’Ana do Livramento, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil,” says Claudia. “My mother taught me to make clothes and soft hats. I learned how to make straw hats, felt hats and bridal pieces at FIT and Parsons School of Design. I made the hats at home. Luckily I have a large home with a big basement where I did all my work. Jeannie was my best customer when I started my business and it helped me a lot with my confidence as a new hat designer and I will never forget that.”
Over time, Claudia became allergic “to the felt and the lacquer spray used to keep the felt firm as well as the color dyes used to make the different color straws.” She could no longer make hats.
Years after opening her first store in Cedarhurst, LI, Jeannie opened her first store in Manhattan at 245 West 72nd Street. Two months ago, when she moved to her current location on 75th Street, she asked her friend to become the manager. Happily, for both women, Claudia accepted. “She’s a great friend. She is an amazing person, kind, thoughtful, generous and a lot of fun” says Claudia.
The shop offers beautiful headwear for customers of all ages. For babies there are hairbands with elegantly colored flowers with delicate petals. For children, there are very modestly priced scrunchies and other hair ornaments. The French silk and beaded headbands can make any woman feel like a princess. And, for those who like to wear all black, there are many wonderful options in black, including a small chic fascinator, that combines sophistication, grace and charm. Hats are arranged by color in the shop, so your eye moves from black to beige to cranberry…”making it easier to choose,” says Jeannie.
Of course, for many people, wearing a hat is not casual and may be part of a larger occasion. Preparation for Kentucky Derby time has already started. Yet-to-be revealed styles remain stashed for now in large, round silver hatboxes in the back room. But, Jeannie says colors usually lean toward the pastels and hats are decorated with manipulated pieces of felt and straws, feathers and stones.
Fittings are essential at Jeannie’s Dream. “No one leaves here without a hat that fits perfectly.” Too big or too small, it’s fitted to the customers head and the sizing is adjusted if they want it tweaked. Some customers leave with more than a hat as the shop also has statement artistic earrings and necklaces, a luxe selection of fur shrugs and leather jackets.
“We’re the Largest, Better Goods Hats Store in the US,” notes Jeannie.