Photo: James Merrell
To create a summer idyll, you need: smiling women, a garden, sunshine, lots of flowers, fluttering skirts, a bare shoulder or two, heaps of strawberries, small cunningly shaped cakes, lots more flowers, bare toes, grass, pink Champagne, and big beautiful hats. Men are optional; the hats are not.
"I've always wanted to have a hat party," says Oprah from beneath the brim of an aqua straw confection. "I wanted more than a garden party, I wanted a fantasy, a scene from a Merchant Ivory film."
At the Montecito home of friend Genevieve Robert Reitman, she got what she wanted. There, beneath a benevolently blue California sky, nine of Oprah's girlfriends gather for a late luncheon. Genevieve and her daughter Catherine, a student at U.S.C., are already on the scene. O magazine editor at large Gayle King, Harpo Films president Kate Forte, NBC news correspondent Maria Shriver, and The Oprah Winfrey Show executive producer Dianne Atkinson Hudson and supervising senior producers Dana Newton Utigard, Ellen Rakieten, and Katy Murphy Davis arrive within minutes of one another, resplendent in summer frocks and a bouquet of fancy hats.
It looks like Paris and Ascot and Audrey Hepburn and a Baptist church on Easter Sunday. Like birthday cakes and wedding presents and high tea at Harrods. Women wearing hats turn even the most gorgeous garden into backdrop scenery, a small luncheon into a party. Women wearing hats are different from women without hats. "Is this my little girl?" asks Genevieve's husband, Ivan, catching sight of 21-year-old Catherine in a wide straw covered with silk roses and orchids. "My little girl who I don't even recognize?"
"I've always loved hats," says Oprah, and it's easy to see why. Women wearing hats are at once sophisticated and whimsical. Surrounded by dappled shade and color, their faces are younger, softer. They carry themselves differently, daintily, like deer. Their voices flutter a bit, as do their hemlines, even when they're talking about things like money and power and work, even when it's clear that they're very much in charge of their lives.