Preakness may be a horse racing-centric gathering, but for Baltimore native Lacey Johansson, who has been attending the festivities for decades, the hats steal the show.
“I just liked the hats, and it’s a special day for Baltimore, and it’s the best day to be in Baltimore,” said Johansson, 42, who attended the pre-Preakness black eyed susan toddler and grew up going to horse races almost every year. “It’s just a lot of fun getting dressed up and taking the time to think about what you’re going to wear.”
What to put on is key, because Preakness, slated for May 21, isn’t just about being fashionable, it’s about standing out.
“I want to have a hat that nobody else has,” Johansson said. “I like to be different and [Preakness is] kind of where I’m very forward thinking. I like to make a statement.
Social media influencer and Baltimore native Morgan Moses-Allen, who attended Preakness and also rated the trend setters, said the event prioritizes head-turning hats.
“There’s something Baltimore-specific about having a certain type of hat, something that stands out, something different,” Moses-Allen, 35, said. “Every time I went or someone invited me, it was always a question about your hat, like, ‘What kind of hat do you wear?'”
And that’s where Ashley Clark comes to the rescue. Clark is the founder, designer and CEO of Neat luxury accessoriesheadquartered in Fells Point.
“Most of the time I make hats that I can’t find there,” said the 34-year-old entrepreneur. “I always say I design for the extraordinary, not the ordinary. There are no simple bagels on my client list.”
Groomed started as a living dream that seemed so real that it led Clark to drop out of law school. She traveled to France to study the craft, took millinery courses from Academy Hatand started making hats for friends around 2016.
In 2018, Clark officially launched Groomed and began the company’s transformation from a dream to a brand that has loyal customers and a reputation for breathtaking designs.
For last year’s Preakness, she created a hat for Moses-Allen that featured remote-controlled feather butterflies. The design made headlines.
“Morgan’s hat was on the cover of USA today“, said Clark, describing how she painted feathers by hand to make the hat and the butterflies. “They were floating on her head.
The pandemic has forced Clark to explore other accessories such as headbands, earmuffs, jewelry and more.
“Honestly, hats are the love of my life,” she said. “All the other products came about because of COVID. I didn’t want to fire my staff and we had a bunch of fabrics and stuff lying around, and we just pivoted. It was like, ‘how can you look good from the neck down in your pajamas on a Zoom call during COVID?’ “
Clark opened a brick and mortar in Boston in November 2020, but she quickly “outgrew” that location. Previously, she lived in Baltimore for nine years, where she competed in pageants, worked as an NFL cheerleader, and attended graduate school. At the time of the expansion, the CEO knew the area would be an affordable option to grow her business.
“Baltimore is such a huge part of this trip because of its affordability, and then there’s horse racing and that niche market,” Clark said. “But people don’t realize that Baltimore has a fashion kaleidoscope that also inspires me on a daily basis.”
A long battle for local aesthetics in Baltimore also influences Clark’s designs.
“There’s this preppy aspect of Baltimore, where there are women in the county, and it’s very Brooks Brothers and J. Crew,” she said. “Then you have this sensational street fashion that has so much attitude and flair.”
“And when you combine those two things together, you get this beautiful fashion niche that is the city. And for me, that brings me to life and propels me forward,” the designer said.
After gutting the building, Clark opened his Fells Point store on Thames Street last August.
“I was lucky because where I am was once a retail store, so it had good bones,” she said.
These bones have expanded into a body of work that includes an annual collection of 55 hats as well as one-on-one consultations, Lifetime Customer Hat Blocks (molds of customer head shapes and sizes), and custom designs. Soigne’s 2022 hat collection is inspired by billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk who have recently explored the space and regularly trending conversations about cryptocurrency.
“The new collection is called Sexual Space Odyssey – it’s derby on the moon. So think lots of lace, lots of leather, lots of faux flowers, lots of taxidermy,” Clark said. that move, we have space helmets, we have planes where the cockpit lights up on a hat that’s wrapped in this sumptuous, humpbacked leather. It’s a bit wild.
Pieces from his new collection and custom creations will be on display at Preakness.
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“Morgan’s hat this year is three feet wide,” Clark said, spilling some of the tea on Moses-Allen’s hot pink Preakness look ahead of Saturday’s big event.
“I’m going to have to turn to go through the doors,” laughed Moses-Allen. “It won’t be your traditional hat on your head either. It’s more like a structure.
Clark is also designing Johansson’s Preakness 2022 look, crafting the hat around a jungle theme.
“It’s going to be one of those where it’s above one eye, kind of angled down with black and white and red colors all over it,” said Johansson, who has been buying Clark’s custom designs since 2018. .
The designer also creates complementary accessories to match her hat creations. For example, she’ll come up with ideas for a partner’s look, like a coordinating bow tie, lapel pin, and handkerchief, all on the same theme.
Johansson said Clark provides “the whole nine yards,” but that’s not the only reason Neat hats are great for Earliness.
“It’s a long day, so I think the most important part is that she adapts,” Johansson said. “It doesn’t move, it stays on your head, you don’t have to worry about it flying off.”