Top Hats

By Erin Glass

(Published in July 2010 Issue)

It's hard to tell when fashion is joking these days, especially when it comes to the hats trotted out along with the horses at opening day of the races at Del Mar. Every year it seems like a game of one-upmanship, with ladies building towers of Babel or community gardens on their noggins in an effort to win an invitation into the exclusive paddock.

Local artist Katy Stockinger managed to do just that in the summer of 2008. Hats available at retail stores failed to cause her to fling open her wallet and commit, so she made her own headpiece out of feathers, fake birds and other knick-knacks. What she created was a winning hat that defied all common sense. Sure, it was gaudy, but is was also artful and frustratingly beautiful to the other women who looked on in jealousy.

Stockinger, a smiley blonde who creates and sells pet portraits, surrealist paintings and surfboard mosaics that earn her enough to quit her day job, had just stumbled upon yet another business.

"Lots of people started asking me if I could do a hat for them," she says from her cottage in Ocean Beach. "I thought, 'wait a minute, I should just do a bunch of them.'"

That she did. Slaving away in her studio late into the night, she forgot to eat enough and ended up losing weight, but the work paid off. Last year, she sold 29 hats ranging from $50 to $395, and this year she's making 40 that will be sold online and at the Hillcrest farmers market on the Sunday before the races (July 18) for $20 to $100. She's dropped the prices because she wants to sell things she could afford herself, and also to allow herself the freedom to be as crazy or elegant as each creation inspires her to be. Though some of her hats take up to 10 hours to make, for Stockinger, the reward-seeing her customers get in touch with their eccentric side-is worth the effort.

"It's a labor of love," she says. "I don't worry about the return so much, or my hourly wage."

While she admits that the hat she's concocted for herself for this year's Del Mar Thoroughbred Club affair is a bit obnoxious, she's also quick to point out that that's sort of the point. Look for Stockinger opening day in a giant floral explosion structured out of three Chinese lanterns and a lampshade. And try not to stare.

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