Hats Off to Lotusland

By Richard Mineards   |   October 31, 2023
Front: Cynthia McClelland, Lily Hahn, and Sue Thorton; Back: Kate Spilker, Belle Hahn, Sophia Taylor, Natalie Sanderson, and Erin Graffy (photo by Priscilla)

Millinery madness took root at Montecito’s 37-acre botanical Eden Lotusland when it launched a new exhibition Madame’s Millinery Masterpieces: Hats Through History focusing on the wardrobe of the late owner, Polish opera singer Ganna Walska, who died in 1984 aged 96.

Lynn Kirst, Lotusland Executive Director Rebecca Anderson, speaker Kate Spilker, and Archives Manager Natalie Sanderson (photo by Priscilla)

The six-times-married diva was acquisitive with an impressive jewelry collection, a large selection of tony tête toppers by major designers like Balenciaga, Lilly Daché, and New York milliner Mr. John, who designed headwear for actress Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind.

The show was accompanied by a fascinating lecture from Kaye Spilker, former curator of Costumes and Textiles at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, who also noted more recent hat designers like the late Halston, who rose to fame as the designer of the pillbox hat worn by Jackie Kennedy at her husband John’s presidential inauguration, and Philip Treacy, a favorite of the British Royal Family.

Spilker, sporting an Issey Miyake jacket, also noted famed designers who worked on Walska’s extensive wardrobe, including the Russian artist Erté, known as the Father of Art Deco, who died in Paris aged 98 in 1990.

I last saw him at his 92nd birthday party at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel in 1984 when an editor at New York Magazine. Diminutively dapper, he wore a gold lamé tux jacket with peacock feathered lapels!

The event, which was followed by canapés and champagne in the rose garden, is part of Lotusland’s “30 For 30” celebrating 30 years of the beautiful gardens, voted one of the top 10 in the world being open to the public.

The target is to raise $30 million to improve the estate and enhance the century-old buildings.


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