Southfield Designer Went from Backstage to Spotlight on 1/20/09 –  Deadline Detroit

If you immediately recognize the headline date, you deserve — yes, we must — respect.

It’s when Barack Obama took his first presidential oath, and right now is an apt time to revisit the occasion. NPR correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates did so earlier in a profile of a Southfield fashion designer whose life also changed that ultra-brisk January afternoon nine years ago: 

After the first Obama inauguration, everybody talked about three things: the historic moment, the Arctic weather — and Aretha Franklin’s hat.

If it is possible for a piece of millinery to steal the thunder of one of the most-watched moments in recent memory, the Queen of Soul’s hat managed to do it. Her gray felt cloche was topped with a giant, matching bow, outlined in rhinestones that flashed in the chill sunlight as she sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”  

This new oil painting of Aretha in Luke Song’s hat sold oline this week for $120. Dan Lacey of Minnesota, the artist, lets us share it.

The attention-grabbing headwear (right) was created by Luke Song of Mr. Song Millinery, an online store (“derby and church hats”). The 45-year-old Metro Detroit couture stylist, who does client consultations by appointment, is traveling in Arizona this week and reacts from there to Thursday morning’s death of his longtime client.

“Aretha Franklin was one of a kind and her songs are forever etched in history. It was a privilege to be her milliner,” he tells Deadline Detroit in the first of two social media messages.

“I have known [her] for the past 20-odd years and it was always a great pleasure,” Song adds in a follow-up. “She had an unique style, just like her voice. My deepest condolences and love to her family. She is forever Detroit and her voice will live on.”

Song, who was born in South Korea’s capital and came to suburban Detroit with his hat-making parents at age 10, gained global attention a month after turning 36 when his inaugural chapeau drew international notice.

“The hat got, if you’ll pardon us, crazy R-E-S-P-E-C-T. And worldwide admiration,” Grigsby says in her 2013 radio profile of the milliner, who she says became “globally famous.”

The hat went on to enjoy a life of its own. . . . It’s now in the Smithsonian, and will ultimately rest in the Obama presidential library, whenever that’s built.

As for its creator, he gained cachet, clients and commissions.

Luke Song at The Belt alley in downtown Detroit. (Facebook photo)

Song’s business site says his “signature, high fashion headwear . . . is currently sold in over 500 boutiques around the world.” The “about us” page adds:

Considered by some as works of art, Mr. Song Millinery is on display at the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, African-American museums and The Smithsonian.

Mr. Song Millinery’s innovation and unmatched craftsmanship has contributed to modernizing the wear-ability of headwear and its design by creating the lightweight all-season fabric which revolutionized the art of hat making.

This milliner to stars, church ladies and high-end shoppers graduated from Seaholm High in Birmingham and Parsons School of Design in New York City. He worked in Paris before starting his Oakland County enterprise in 1997. 

About the painting above:

Dan Lacey, an artist in Elko New Market, Minn., displayed his new oil portrait Aug. 14 on Twitter and offered it for $200 on Etsy — where it sold this week.

Prints on canvas are available for $40 (12 by 16 inches) and $20 (8.5 by 11).  

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