Over three years ago I posted photos of a hat I’d found that I at first thought was made by Madame Suzy, a Parisian milliner. I pretty quickly came to the realization that I was not correct, but until now I did not know who the Suzy who made my hat was. The problem is there was not just one Suzy hatmaker in the mid twentieth century, there were actually quite a few. Besides Madame Suzy, I’ve found Suzy Lee of California, Suzy Michelle, Suzi of California, Suzy et Paulette, and Suzy B.
Last week I had the good fortune of hearing from a woman named Suzy. She is the daughter of the milliner who designed my hat, Sylvia Whitman Seigenfeld, who sometimes went by Midge. It was she who formed Suzy hats sometime in the 1930s. I’ve had several emails from Suzy in which she has told me about the hats that were designed by her mother.
Sylvia was born in 1909 in New Jersey. When she was sixteen she went to work in the millinery business of her father, Nat Whitman. When she was twenty she married Nathan Seigenfeld whose family was in the clothing business. In fact, Nathan’s mother was a sister to Anna Miller and Maurice Rentner who owned the companies that gave Bill Blass his start in the 1950s, and of which he became owner in the 1960s.
Sylvia and Nathan’s daughter Suzy was born in 1938, and around the same time, they began the millinery, which was also named Suzy. Suzy really didn’t know which came first, the daughter or the millinery, but she suspects that the business was born first. The showroom was located at 417 Fifth Avenue, right across the street from Lord & Taylor. There Sylvia gave showings of her hats to buyers from major department stores from across the country. The workrooms and shipping departments were in the back of her showroom.