This article was first published in The Art of Living Beautifully Magazine, Italian Edition
It was in April of 2015 when I first attended the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party that takes place at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden each spring. The tea party – hosted by the Dallas Women’s Council – benefits A Woman’s Garden and invites the ladies of North Texas to attend in style, donning hats that are anything but understated.
The event begins with bubbles and mingling in Ginsburg Plaza where people-watching is the past-time of choice, and hat judges peruse the crowd for the best in outrageous toppers. The hautest in spring couture stomps down a Jan Strimple runway for a fashion show in the Arboretum’s Rosine Hall. After a live auction that often raises tens of thousands of dollars, luncheon is served beneath soft white tents with the colorful flora of the arboretum brightening the background. Each and every year I’ve attended has been a delightful afternoon of style and glamour which, in my opinion, every lady needs now and then. The Mad Hatter’s chairperson and her committee begin prepping for the event months in advance, and this year for the first time ever, so did I.
Join me on my road to Mad Hatter’s and the talented designers who took me there in my most favorite look yet!
Last fall at a charity fashion show and silent auction, I found myself bidding on a “Designer Experience with Khanh Nguyen”, the namesake and designer of Nha Khanh. Her fall assortment had stolen the runway that day, and I became intrigued by the Dallas-based fashion house known for producing garments that bring a masculine sensibility to feminine softness. To my great excitement, I won the Designer Experience, and would soon spend the day at the Nha Khanh design studios in Dallas. I would have the opportunity to shadow Khanh, learn about her operation, her inspiration, and I would even get to take home a dress of my own.
A month later, I meet Khanh in person at her Dallas atelier. She is small, beautifully dressed in her own collection, and has an welcoming presence. Her desk sits in front of a colossal inspiration board fully appointed with photographs, textures, botanicals, fabric swatches, drawings…anything she can use to inspire her pencil as it translates the fashion ballet from her imagination into one cohesive collection. Original watercolor paintings sat in piles on her desk. As we spoke, I learned these would become the fabric used in the 2018 Spring Collection.
Here are a few pictures from the beautiful Nha Khanh Showroom located in Dallas near the Galleria.
As we studied the assortment – which was inspired by sea life – I remembered the Mad Hatter’s theme this year was Garden by the Sea. I decided the Nha Khanh dress I would take home would be my Mad Hatter’s dress come spring. The Nerissa dress – inspired by a betta fish – was trimmed in layers of silk fringe and hand-dyed in various shades of blue. The sheath-style bodice of silk satin was accented with a front yoke – also lined in fringe – giving the dress an additional boost of couture. Nerissa was ordered, and I went to work finding a hat to complement my look for this year’s tea party festivities.
McKinney milliner, Jenny Mathison-Foster of Bay Willow Designs, began working her bespoke magic once the dress was secured and the style of hat was decided upon. Because the dress made such a statement itself, we decided the hat should complement it well in color and style without detracting. A simple “plate style” hatinator was chosen, one Jenny now calls ‘the Lauren’ after the success she had with it this season. The hat was made of parasisal straw and dyed by hand to match the fringe of my dress. Jenny used a crown block to block the dome of the hat and free-formed the rim by hand. The style is both retro and modern, and was accented with two white biot feather flowers.
*The original hat was aqua blue with a translucent brim. Jenny ended up remaking it and dying it a few times before we got the finished product
On April 12th at 10:30 in the morning, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party commenced with bubbles and people-watching in Ginsberg Plaza as it does every year. I air-kissed the cheeks of darling friends as we passed each other in the gardens and posed for photographs amongst the gaiety. We spied hats adorned with feathers, seashells, netting, fish bowls with live fish, Legos, buttons, Barbies, live flowers, bird nests…literally anything you can imagine. The fashion show displayed gorgeous spring styles from TOOTSIES, and the live auction raised upwards of $45K. At the following luncheon, guests were served savory crepes and French Rosé with strawberry cake for a sweet ending.
Photo credit: Chris Waite Photography
photo credit: Thomas Garza Photography
photo credit: Thomas Garza Photography
Another Mad Hatter’s Tea Party came to an end and, as tradition dictated, our group headed to The Mansion on Turtle Creek not only for one last drink but also for the opportunity to wear our beautiful hats a bit longer. As I undressed that night and returned my blue hat to the white square hatbox indicative of Bay Willow Designs, I reflected on two concepts that had been swirling in my mind like the lovely silk ribbon embellishments on so many hats that afternoon: beautiful living and appreciation for each other.
The first thought – enjoying beautiful living – prompted me to promise myself to always take advantage of the opportunities to dress up and come together with other women for an afternoon of beautiful living. Are these not the moments in life that add color and joy to our memories? Are friendships, gardens, and hats not worthy reasons to celebrate!? The second thought – appreciation for each other – brought deeper reflection: can we vow to live our lives in appreciation of each other and the multiple, beautiful, sometimes painful hats we as women must wear each day? Let us wear them proudly, with strength, rejoicing in their brightness and complexity; and should the burden of their weight feel too heavy at times, let us never judge each other’s need for a break from the heaviness, or the impending hat hair.
To learn more about The Dallas Women’s Council and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, please visit their website.