Story by Mariah Kline
Photos by Bobby Moser
Like many artists, Laura Moser didn’t discover her creative strength until later in life. Just in the last two years, she has made the craft of millinery her full-time job and established the brand Simply Laura. Though her path to making hats for the Kentucky Derby and other grand affairs was not a straight one, she’s now jumped in with both feet.
Moser was born but not raised in Louisville. However, much of her extended family lived nearby and she spent a great deal of time here growing up. Her grandmother, Katherine “Kitty” Jones, worked at the former Hytkens boutique in St. Matthews. The experience of visiting the store and watching her grandmother work in luxury fashion made a great impression on Moser. In fact, she named her 2018 couture collection “Miss Kitty’s” in honor of the woman who impacted her life so much.
Moser initially began making hats when she attended the Derby for the first time eight years ago. After finding her ideal outfit, she was not able to procure an affordable headpiece to match, so she tried her hand at creating one. She received so many compliments at the track that she continued making them for herself and a number of family members annually for the next several years.
In 2015, Moser’s life and career were abruptly interrupted. Her son Carlton, a chef who lived in the Turks and Caicos Islands, was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma and passed away within a matter of months. Moser had worked with American Airlines for 35 years, but after losing her son, retired earlier than she had planned. With her husband’s encouragement, she then began thinking more seriously about her gift for making hats and how she could pursue it as more than a hobby.
“My son was a real adventurer,” she says. “He never let anything stop him, so when he passed away, he kind of gave me the courage to do this and say, ‘There’s no reason why you can’t succeed at this.’”
Over the course of the next year, Moser networked, launched her website and expanded her social media presence. She was ready to take orders for Derby 143 in 2017 and before long, she had a major request on the books.
“I got a call from a stylist who was styling someone for the Derby,” she explains. “As it turned out, it was Kate Rose, who is the wife of Justin Rose – the English golfer.”
Inspired by Kate’s last name, Moser handsewed fresh roses onto the hat the morning of the race. The custom-creation made Forbes Best Dressed list that year, and shortly thereafter, Moser made Kate’s hat for the Royal Ascot race.
Moser traveled to London to observe the styles of headwear at Ascot and then made her way to Australia to study with world-renowned milliners and further her knowledge of the craft. Along with the milliners she learned from, she has also been influenced by nature and the many places she’s seen and lived.
“Having worked for an airline, I traveled a lot,” she says. “I like the deep reds of Beijing, China. A lot of my color palettes that I use come from the Caribbean – Turks and Caicos and Sint Maarten.”
As for her design process, Moser takes attention to detail quite seriously. Every piece of her couture hats is hand-done with needle and thread, and she takes the time to block the straw herself. However, she also takes cost and practicality into serious consideration, which is where her ready-to-wear collection comes in.
“I’m very passionate in the respect that I still want people to be able to afford a custom hat,” she affirms, “because that’s the whole reason I got into this. I couldn’t afford a hat, so I made my own.”
In the spirit of frugality, she offers two options to suit those who are looking to save money. First, her website features a resale shop, which allows current clients to recoup some of the money they initially invested in her hats. This also allows new clients to find pieces at lower prices. Second, Moser can rework any of her hats (depending on wear and tear, of course) for the following year’s race or event.
“I can remove old elements from a hat and make it look completely different,” she says. “We just take the base hat, which is the biggest expense, and replace feathers or flowers or veiling. I just charge a fee plus the cost of materials.”
Apart from the website, Simply Laura hats can be found at the downtown, Middletown and St. Matthews A Taste of Kentucky stores. Though the big race is almost upon us, Moser is still taking custom orders for Derby and typically only needs a few days notice to put something together.
With an eager spirit and her son’s fearlessness instilled in her, Moser looks forward to the years of creating ahead of her. While she may be somewhat new the hatmaking game, she is, without a doubt, one to watch. VT
Simply Laura Hats & Accessories