As a child, Karen Morris knew she was destined to be a fashion designer. She loved clothes and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
But fate intervened, cruelly. “I can’t draw,” says Morris of one of the most essential skills required for a clothing designer. “Being a fashion designer was not for me.” So she packed up her pencils and pursued a career in marketing. Several years later she met her now-husband, Jeff Morris, and — in those early, heady falling-in-love days — told him about her first true passion for fashion.
Her story inspired him to re-inspire her. He whisked her away to the Royal Ascot, the famous English horse race that doubles as a fashion-watcher’s fantasy. One look at the women’s hats and Morris had found her new calling. She might not have had the 2-D drawing skills to bring clothes to life, but she knew she had the 3-D crafting skills to design hats.
Morris, a Hong Kong native, and her husband moved to Minnesota in 2009 and she started training with different hat-making mentors in 2010. “When I first got to Minnesota, I was depressed,” Morris says. “Once I found the hats, it healed me.”
Morris draws inspiration from classic designers like Coco Chanel and her simple, clean lines. Her big push is to get Americans to think of hats the way the British do — more as objects of art and style and less as mere head-protection tools. “People here think a hat is a hat,” says Morris, who has a studio and display in Minneapolis.
But some customers have seen the light. “They’ve been to a wedding with hats and they think ‘Ooh, they’re cute!’ ” says Morris. She saw an uptick in business after Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding in 2011; another rush followed Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s spring nuptials.
Today about 70 percent of her business is custom design, and about 60 percent of her sales are local. She hopes those numbers inch up, not solely because it would be good for business. She considers hats a delight for the eyes. You see a beautiful hat on the street, says Morris, “and it’s just happy.”
Karen Morris Millinery, kmhats.com