Most of us, I think it’s reasonable to assume, don’t know any milliners (that’s a hat maker to you). Unless, of course, you know Tanya Benzaquen, who is busy bringing this moribund art back to life with her unique designs and creations that are must-haves for the hat-wearing set.
“I always wanted to design,” Tanya told me recently. She was back in Seattle after a trip to New York for Fashion Week. “I heard about millinery classes at FIT [Fashion Institute of Technology]. I tried it and loved it, and continued for three years until I got my certificate in millinery.” (She also has a regular degree from the school.)
Tanya says there are a lot of hat designers out there, but that few make their hats from beginning to end, as she does.
The daughter of Rabbi Simon and Cecilia Benzaquen, Tanya grew up in a hat-wearing household.
“My mother wore hats a lot and I liked to try them on,” she says. However, she continues, “I was born an artist. I was always sketching, loved to doodle, loved to adorn things. If there was an outfit I had, I would cut it, or add a bow or flower.” And she’s the go-to gift wrapper in the family.
Although she has a large Orthodox clientele, particularly in Seattle, she says that there are quite a few people in New York (where she also has a substantial client base) who wear hats as a fashion accessory, having nothing to do with religion.
Tanya grew up in Seattle from age 10, arriving from Venezuela when her father became rabbi at Sephardic Bikur Holim. She attended Seattle Hebrew Academy and Northwest Yeshiva High School. Having a British mum and a Moroccan dad has given her an international outlook, though.
“I owe lots of my inspiration to where I was born and to traveling,” she says.
She is equally inspired by the bright colors of Morocco and the plaids and wools of the English countryside.
Tanya travels often to England, Israel and L.A. to see friends and family. She keeps up with both fiction and fashion magazines, and enjoys shopping for unique items to put on hats.
“I’m always looking for trims,” she says. “I go to flea markets, small stores.”
Vintage trims are a particular passion. She’ll buy clothes and pull the trim off.
“I’m ruthless,” she laughs.
Her hats are in three stores in Manhattan, The Hat Shop in Soho; and La Di Da and Medici on the Upper West Side, otherwise she sells hats by appointment and trunk shows. You can also see her hats on her Web site, www.hatsbytanya.com, or contact her by e-mail at email@example.com.
I caught up with long-time homelessness activist Bill Block as he was on his way to Olympia early last month. He was going to attend a panel on the subject of homelessness and then a reception with the governor. Later that week, it would be his turn to be a panelist at the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference on family homelessness in Seattle.
Block is the director of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County (www.cehkc.org). He left a 30-plus year career in law to take the job, shepherding the county through its ten year plan to halt homelessness.
“A lot of the programs out here are…national models,” says Block, such as the Downtown Emergency Service Center’s recent Maxwell award for low-income housing at 1811 Eastlake (housing is the key to ending homelessness).
There are four populations of homeless folk in our area: youth, the mentally ill (who are often also drug- or alcohol-addicted), families and the working poor. “When you have to make $18 an hour to afford housing in King County, it’s pretty tough,” Block says.
Block was at Buck & Gordon before taking his current position. He moved to the Seattle area over 30 years ago after clerking at the Supreme Court. He considered staying in Washington, D.C., but wanted to be someplace big enough to be interesting, but small enough to make a difference.
“I was raised with the idea that you had to contribute something to make your community better,” he says.
He and his wife, Sue Leavitt, have been long-time members of Temple B’nai Torah, “since it was the little temple in the woods.”
CEHKC is figuring out how to involve faith communities in their plans.
“It’s easy to do a clothing drive or a food drive, but how do you do a housing drive?” he asks.
One success story is Temple Beth Am and Congregation Beth Shalom’s Homeless to Renter (H2R) program which raises money to provide first and last-month deposits that allow homeless families to complete the rental process.
“It’s nice to see this issue rising in prominence in the Jewish community,” says Bill, adding that the “Jewish Family Service [which administers H2R] is a great organization.”