Brandon milliners craft a hat for Vice President Kamala Harris
BRANDON — Two local hat makers, and the little girls in their lives, have a gift for America’s new vice president. Now they just have to get it to her.
Samantha “Sam” Stone and Nora Swan of Swan and Stone Millinery in Brandon have seven children between them. Stone has two sons and a daughter, and her partner, Jed Byrom, has three daughters. Swan has a son.
On Nov. 7, when Vice President Kamala Harris came out on stage after she and President Joseph Biden won the election, Stone said all the girls were watching, and it made a big impression.
Harris, an American whose mother is from India and father from Jamaica, is not only the first woman to be elected vice president, she is also the first person of color to hold the office. The Brandon women wrote a letter to Harris, describing the moment the idea came about.
“As you strutted across that stage, one of our girls called from her bean bag, ‘She’s just like us!’ (half Asian), and after a few beats, another said, ‘She needs a hat!’” the women wrote.
And so the idea to make the Vice President a hat was born.
“People are always telling us to make a hat for this person or that person, like Elton John, or the Queen,” Stone said. “But this one really spoke to me and it came from the girls.”
The hat is finished, but with the unprecedented security for the Jan. 20 inauguration, getting the hat to Harris has proved to be very difficult, and plans to follow through on a few leads were put on hold until after Harris’ historic swearing in.
The ladies cast a wide net with their business email list, asking if anyone knew anyone who might know Harris. At least two people had old friends who know Harris well, and plans to work with them to get the Vice President the hat were in motion up until Jan. 6. After the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol it became clear that nothing was going to happen with the high level of security for the inauguration.
“Even Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office said they couldn’t advise us,” Stone said. “They said they’ve never seen security like this in their life.”
BUSINESS OF HAT MAKING
Swan & Stone started making hats in a Brandon studio a decade ago. Word started to build and the women made a name for themselves in the boutique fashion world with their high-end line of handmade hats. They have been a fixture at the annual Christmas bazaar in New York City’s Grand Central Holiday Fair for several years, and they enjoy a healthy online following.
But a hat for the vice president may be Swan and Stone’s finest hour. However, the two women want it known that it was a group effort. Stone’s daughter, Clara Cifone, and her partner’s daughters, Priya, Amara and Zora Byrom, all had ideas about what Harris’s hat should look like. They shared the process in the letter to Harris.
“Our girls — who had spent time reading about you and your professional and personal background — led the design process,” they wrote.
They chose a band of dark chocolate dupioni silk made in India. They wanted feathers, too, and ultimately it was eight-year-old Amara who suggested a cluster of mini peacock eyes.
“They also learned that ‘Kamala’ means ‘lotus flower,’ which is significant in Indian culture because, ‘A lotus flower grows underwater, its flowers rising above the surface while its roots are firmly planted on the river bottom,’” they wrote to Harris. And “Kamala” is another name for Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, fortune, power, luxury, beauty, fertility and auspiciousness, the girls learned.
“The peacock is often Lakshmi’s symbol,” Swan and Stone wrote to Harris. “A cluster of peacock eyes couldn’t finish your hat more perfectly!”
Everything about the hat was a deliberate choice.
“They chose the perfect shade of blue — bold, Democrat and easily coordinated with a variety of power suits!” the women wrote to Harris, “and a variation on a diamond-crown fedora, with a sassy swoop that reveals the whole face, so that no matter the camera angle, we see your full expression as you calmly say such phrases as, ‘I’m speaking.’”
As for the trim, the group drew on symbolism.
“We don’t presume to know you, but there are a few public things combined with universal experiences that we drew on,” they explained to Harris in the letter. “You are the daughter of highly-educated, dynamic immigrant parents. You are both Jamaican and Indian and raised in the Bay Area of California. You are a woman of color who excelled in professional and political arenas dominated by white men. We know that requires exceptional wit, outward compromise, and dogged determination to advance while holding true to your identity.
“This hat that we have made for you is full of grace and strength, rich and timeless beauty and, like the lotus plant, it unapologetically shares its beauty with the world, while its roots and strength are firmly planted beneath the surface.”
Swan & Stone also want to include the following note with the hat:
“We offer this hat, because our hats are the best of ourselves, our work, our creativity, our passion. This hat was born as a gift of gratitude, but the events that transpired later (the insurrection) cemented some other feelings that we as women and citizens of this country need to show you our full support.
“Here’s what we know:
“As a Democrat in the White House, you need us to have your back;
“As a woman in the White House, you need us to have your back;
“As a woman of Color in the White House, you need us to have your back…
“Our gift to you, Vice President Kamala Harris, may be small, but it is a symbol that these two hat makers and their small but fierce children Have Your Back.”
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