One look at her hats and it’s instantly clear why Mary Rea McDonald started out as an actress. Where a single cabbage rose could do for a brim, she puts on a whole garden. Where a veil could simply tickle a nose, she trails it past the shoulders. “I have a tendency to dive into drama,” she explains. “If there’s a chance to cry, I’m home, crying.” No need for tears over her first collection of 20 bold-scale styles from boaters to sombreros, heaped with flowers, draped in yards of fabric, because no ribbon hatbands on earth are wide enough for her flamboyant taste. She says her hats end up looking like Easter bonnets no matter what time of year she designs them. And all she really likes to do is decorate them, so she orders the basic, untrimmed shapes from a contractor in New York, rather than make her own. She started about a year ago, turning classic shapes into showstoppers with her elaborate trims, selling them at specialty stores. Then the Bloomingdale’s buyers called, which forced her to make a decision. “I was working on my acting, losing my mind, and I decided I’d stop and try hats,” she says. It sounds like a scene from a campy urban novel. That particular chapter ends on an upbeat note. Bloomingdale’s and Nordstom now stock her collection. And she still makes special designs for Madeleine Gallay, Maxfield and Ron Ross in Tarzana. McDonald has one basic rule of hat wearing: “Assume that people are looking because they like it.” She suggests removing large-brim hats while driving, the way you remove your high-heel shoes, and at dinner, as you would your gloves. For all her grand-scale designs, her production is comparatively small--she shipped about 100 hats for spring--and somewhat expensive--prices start at $125 because all the trimmings are applied by hand. But McDonald is a classic example of how the Los Angeles fashion industry works. There always seems to be room for an unconventional entrepreneur.
Times Staff Writer