Millinery seems like a brilliant career choice, right? Everybody's got a head.
But for Luke Song, the owner of Mr. Song Millinery outside Detroit, it happened by accident. "I wanted to be an artist, but I went the route of biochemistry. A typical route," he told Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg. He quit overnight and went to art school, but still never considered hat design, the chosen profession of his South Korean immigrant parents.
"I needed to make money, so I went to my mom's boutique and I made some hats the only way I knew how." They flew off the shelves, and in six months he had paid off his student loans.
Song had discovered his niche. And then, in 2009, with one famous hat at one big moment in history, his became a household name. "I went from zero to sixty in like, two days," said Song.
Since he clearly knows his way around hats, an Ask Me Another Challenge tasked Song with trying to get a fellow contestant to guess real and fictional characters based on a description of their signature chapeaux.
This segment originally aired on September 4, 2014.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Now please welcome our next special guest - milliner Luke Song.
EISENBERG: Now, many of us know your work from one famous hat in particular. It is a gray hat with a large front bow that had some rhinestones along the bow, yes? Was that a fair description?
LUKE SONG: I think so. I vaguely remember.
EISENBERG: It was on Aretha Franklin's head that she wore to President Obama's 2009 inauguration.
EISENBERG: So how did that affect your career as a hat designer?
SONG: Gosh. I went from zero to 60 in, like, two days.
EISENBERG: Did you get orders for that hat? Did people want that exact hat?
SONG: Yeah, I think we sold something around 6,000 of them...
SONG: ...like replica. Yeah, we sold a lot.
EISENBERG: Was there any sort of, like, no there'll only be one kind of this hat, or were you just like oh, yeah...
SONG: Well, the original was in felt.
EISENBERG: Oh, OK.
SONG: So there's only two that are like it. One's at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame right now...
SONG: ...And the other one is with Aretha Franklin.
EISENBERG: Oh yeah.
SONG: And it will be at Obama's presidential library in the end.
EISENBERG: She has to give it up?
SONG: That's what she said.
EISENBERG: That's what she said. But who knows, who knows. I get it.
JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: You know Aretha.
EISENBERG: I have to tell you that one of my first jobs after college was actually at a hat store. I learned how to block hats and - but it was mostly - it was in Vancouver, British Columbia, so it was mostly cowboys. It was a lot of Stetson's and Akubras, the Australian hats...
EISENBERG: ...And, of course, the woman who ran it designed hats. She was a milliner. But it was, I mean, the only milliner I've ever met. How many of you are there? Is it a pretty rare job?
SONG: I would say that I know a handful.
EISENBERG: In Michigan?
EISENBERG: All across the country.
SONG: All over the world.
EISENBERG: All over the world, OK.
EISENBERG: So it is - it's pretty rare. You didn't grow up going I want to be a hat designer?
SONG: Not at all. Well, I wanted to be an artist. But I went the route of biochemistry.
EISENBERG: Oh yes, natural.
SONG: Of course. (Laughing) It's a typical route.
EISENBERG: OK, so how did that - how did you make the transition?
SONG: I quit overnight, went to art school and still I never wanted to be a hat designer. I needed to make money and I went to my mom's boutique and I made some hat's the only way I knew how. And it just flew off the shelves and in six months, I paid off all my student loans.
SONG: Yeah, I thought I found my niche.
EISENBERG: Yeah, absolutely. Well, we've established that you know your way around celebrity haberdashery.
SONG: I think that's for a guy.
EISENBERG: It is?
EISENBERG: OK, we've established that you know your way around celebrity...
SONG: Yeah, yeah, I think so.
EISENBERG: You're the expert.
EISENBERG: OK, so we're going to play a little game that's called Hats Entertainment.
EISENBERG: And we have someone that you're going to be playing with - let's meet Katie Groves.
EISENBERG: And Katie, you are part of a family business. Is that correct?
KATIE GROVES: I am. I come from a long line of Sicilians, and my great-grandparents immigrated here and started a bakery.
EISENBERG: Very cool. OK, so here's what's going to happen. Luke, we're going to give you a list of famous people and fictional characters who are known for their headwear.
EISENBERG: Your job is to get Katie to guess who they are based on describing their hats. If she really needs a hint, Luke, you can give her their profession as well. So John Chaneski, give us an example.
JOHN CHANESKI: Yes. If I said this guy wears a floppy red hat, trimmed with white fur around the edge and a little white ball at the top, that would be a hint to Katie to guess Santa Claus.
SONG: Oh, OK.
EISENBERG: Yep, you feel good about it?
SONG: Easy enough.
EISENBERG: Easy enough. You'll see - I mean, yes. And if you get stuck, move onto the next clue. And of course, if you get enough right, you will both win an ASK ME ANOTHER prize. Luke, Katie, ready?
GROVES: Yes ma'am.
EISENBERG: Luke, your time starts now.
(SOUNDBITE OF TICKING CLOCK)
SONG: Beard, top that.
GROVES: Abraham Lincoln
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SONG: Pill box.
GROVES: The Queen? Not the Queen?
SONG: President's wife - deceased president's wife, 1950's.
GROVES: Oh, Jackie Kennedy?
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SONG: Yes. Like a triangle hat - pirate hat?
GROVES: Johnny Depp.
SONG: A cartoon character. Oh no.
GROVES: Yosemite Sam?
SONG: Cereal box.
GROVES: Captain Crunch.
SONG: Yes. Weird hat.
SONG: Hip-hopper? Hip-hop singer?
COULTON: MC Weird Hat.
SONG: Weird hat, yes, it's like a kind of a Mounties hat, but...
GROVES: Oh, Pharell.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
EISENBERG: 15 seconds.
SONG: Kind of a cowboy hat, a movie character, Rolling Stones.
(SOUNDBITE OF CUCKOO CLOCK)
EISENBERG: I'm sorry that is time, but you did great.
SONG: That was harder than I thought.
EISENBERG: It was hard, I know, I know. But you did fantastic.
EISENBERG: And you both have won a limited edition ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's cube.
EISENBERG: I know. Let's hear it for Katie Groves and Luke Song.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAT AND FEET")
WINTERS: (Singing) I'm just a hat and feet. That's all that's left of me. A spot on the sidewalk, a mark in the street. I'm just a hat and feet. You dropped a bomb on me. I didn't even see like a falling piano from out of a window, I'm just a hat and feet. I'm just a sitting duck that ran out of luck, I'm the unhappy guy that didn't look up high. I started running when I saw it coming. It got faster and louder until I took a powder now. I'm just a hat and feet, that's what's become of me. Flat on the sidewalk, stuck to the street. I'm just a hat and feet. I'm just a hat and feet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.