Dara Kent-Cobb produces heirloom millinery which combines her rich family heritage in Louisiana and the modern hustle of her adopted home in the Big Apple. Her company, Preston & Olivia, offers beautifully designed hats for men and women.
When she was 14, Dara Kent-Cobb went on the trip of a lifetime – a national dance competition in New York. Walking around Manhattan, listening to the city hum, Dara knew then and there she was home. But for a girl from northeastern Louisiana, getting back “home” to New York would take some doing.
Like many youngsters in her generation, she appreciated Louisiana and everything the Bayou State offered, but it didn’t feel like home. Though she loved Debbie’s School of Dance and the Twin City Ballet, tiny little Fluker, Louisiana, had never felt like home. One day, she knew, she would leave. And with that single visit to the Big Apple, she knew where she’d be going.
“I had no idea what would ultimately bring me back, but I knew one day I’d call New York home,” she says.
Today, Dara is the creative director for Preston & Olivia, a purveyor of fine hats for men and women based in Manhattan. Dara and the team at the company modeled this modern design house on a traditional millinery. For her designs, Dara strives to mix equal parts of her Louisiana upbringing, a rich family heritage stretching back generations, and all of the modern hustle of her adopted home.
“I take pride in designing and creating made-to-order hats that are fashionable, yet classic enough to wear for seasons,” she says. Quality and timelessness breed longevity in fashion. “It’s my goal to remain as sustainable as possible. All of my pieces are made in New York, and because they are each made to order, we don’t have excess inventory we have to push each season.”
Instead, Preston & Olivia produces amazing hats for him and for her which are heirloom pieces the likes of which few milliners produce today. That quality and the attention to detail are the result of almost a decade of work and effort that began at LSU.
When Dara arrived at LSU, she hadn’t a clue what she wanted to study. She knew college was an important first step, but beyond that, a step towards…what, exactly? She perused the catalog of majors, but nothing grabbed her attention. That’s when a friend changed her life.
“I honestly had no idea what I wanted to major in at LSU – until a friend mentioned apparel design was an actual degree,” she says. At first, she was incredulous, because she hadn’t seen it listed. There was a reason, though. “It was listed under the college of Agriculture, and so I never stumbled across it while looking through the course catalog.”
She declared her major and began classes. From that moment on, she says “everything just fell into place.”
“I was learning and doing what I loved, and I knew that it was the right path to get me to New York,” she says.
After graduating with a bachelor’s in Textiles, Apparel and Merchandising, or TAM, her talent for pairing materials caught the eye of employers and, before she knew it, she was employed and working in New York. While working on that first apparel gig, she discovered millinery and decided to further her education.
She pursued accessory design classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she was also afforded the opportunity to take a course in operating a small business. During that course, she says, she developed the concept, brand and designs that would become Preston & Olivia.
“I started with an Etsy shop, making bridal veils and headpieces for women, and neckware for men,” she says. “From there, I slowly expanded to creating ready-to-wear/made-to-order fall and spring hat collections.”
Preston & Olivia proved a popular brand, and it’s grown ever since. Today, she operates the business with her husband, Trent Bailey Cobb, who handles the business, partnership and photography aspects of the company. For her part, Dara still designs hats and oversees the creative direction of the brand.
The hat designs she creates are indeed classics, ranging in shapes and sizes from petite newsboy designs to large-brimmed fedoras built to block as much sun from a woman’s face as possible. Colors are as varied as the material combinations she chooses. Each hat, a unique classic.
“Hats are never going anywhere,” she says. People care too much about sun coverage, so summer hats will always be a necessity. As for fall, felt-style hats, the colors and silhouettes are always changing. But I do not ever see a moment when a hat isn’t chic and fashionable.”
She draws influence from photos of her grandmother – their signature hat is the Olivia, which is also one of the best-sellers. This classic, medium-brimmed fedora is offered in six colors, from ivory to pink, and sports a classic, black knit band. Other influences find their way into the Evelyn, a medium-brimmed Boater with a strong, squared dome and handsome, moderately stiff brim – also offered in a selection of colors. The Evelyn is finished with a pair of tassels, tucked smartly behind a Boucle band.
For a more fashion forward look, there’s the Jenna, a Mod Fedora finished with a textured, braided yarn hatband. And if it’s a healthy dose of fun flashback, consider the Cindy, inspired by the famous Peter Lindbergh/Cindy Crawford shoot. Hand blocked in flat fur felt, the Cindy is finished with a hip brass chain from temple to temple.
Though Preston & Olivia hats are made-to-order and are definitely a luxury spend, the price points aren’t prohibitive, ranging from $175 to the low-$300s. Take a moment to browse their sample sale page, and chances are you’ll find a Preston & Olivia to fit any budget.
Like the hats she so carefully designs, Preston & Olivia is ever-evolving. For three years, the company focused on fall-spring collections, but that’s beginning to change as Dara’s interests – and the market – shift.
“We’ve decided to step back from the season collections to rededicate ourselves to the passion that inspires us – creating timeless, heirloom-quality pieces by hand, each one beautifully and purposefully designed,” she says. “Going forward, we will be releasing small capsule collections and focusing on collaborations with likeminded brands.”
While there are partnerships in the works, Dara says customers will have to wait and see what lies in store for their favorite Manhattan millinery. Meanwhile, she notes it’s an interesting time in hat fashion.
Over the long history of hat design, each generation has produced unique looks. Hats become a political statement as much as a fashion piece. Who can forget Magritte’s Son of Man, a faceless professional in a stern coat and perfectly positioned bowler? Lincoln is as identified with the stiff, formal Stove Pipe hats as he is with his beard. Today is no different, Dara says.
“You cannot deny the current political environment and the resistance movement is impacting everything,” she observes. “Fashion is no exception. Because of this, the Fall 2017 shows included smaller, cadet caps, newsboy caps and berets, and other styles to evoke that military-meets-activist style.”
We can hardly wait to see what Preston & Oliver brings to this new paradigm in fashion.
Preston & Olivia is based in Manhattan and distributes its creations worldwide via its web store, which you can visit at www.prestonandolivia.com.
Article by Michael Devault and photography by Trent Bailey Cobb