Carol Bader's Del Mar Hat Co Melds Horse Racing and Fashion

Beautiful Worlds Collide

Carol Bader and the Del Mar Hat Co

Couture fashion and fast-paced sports are two worlds that rarely collide - unless you happen to be attending the world famous Kentucky Derby, Ascot, Breeder’s Cup or any other major racing venue. Spring fashion and magnificent millinery reign supreme here, second only to the winner of the race. In fact, if it wasn’t a horse race, it could practically be a runway.

Hats are the crowning point at our own Del Mar racetrack, especially with opening day coming up. It’s time to begin thinking about those race day fashions, especially from the head up! Headquartered here in Del Mar, just minutes from the home of the races, is the Del Mar Hat Company - a small boutique that houses the big business studio of internationally renowned designer Carol Bader. She specializes in the high- fashion millinery that’s typically seen at all the right races venues and beyond. She truly creates art.

“Everything is three-dimensional in my head,” Bader explains. “I don’t really sketch. I hand-sculpt each hat and the important details. Everyone who’s worked with me refers to it as my ‘magic hands’ because I can pick up material and sculpt the hat or headpiece together in my hands. I create the shaping and the movement with purpose, especially if it’s for a specific client. That’s not really something that I draw, but intuitively feel.

Bader’s free-form style of design leads to entirely individual creations. She not only shapes the material organically but also creates her own custom-blended dyes; Bader dyes her materials by hand, as well. Additionally, the fabric and embellishments are hand-stitched to each hat. Bader’s work is meticulously built from a vision in her head, but ultimately becomes a custom, unique piece for her clients.

Carol Bader and the Del Mar Hat Co

Bader is perhaps most proud of her distinctive dyes. “I’m a chemist with my colors,” she says. “The colors that I use
are not in a bottle. I mix them all myself.” Much of her designs are custom pieces, which require specific colors to match other garments. She uses fabric swatches, product images or sometimes the physical dress itself to diligently blend and build a dye to match perfectly. Every piece she creates is entirely individual, and Bader assures that no two hats in her repertoire are the same. That’s why customers flock to the Del Mar Hat Company from around the world to see her designs, and it’s why her most prestigious clients return year after year.

Bader’s studio stocks more than millinery. As a designer, Bader is always eager to keep busy with new patterns and products. She makes quite a few options for men, including pocket squares and ties that feature fun, modern prints and incorporate equestrian themes. Bader says she sold out of every design this year during Derby, as did every shop that carried her custom pieces in Kentucky. In fact, Bader sells her pieces in select boutiques all over the country, including large retailers like Brooks Brothers and J. Peterman. From casual to couture, Bader pours herself into every project.

“This is an art form,” Bader says. “I can’t cookie-cutter [designs] out. That’s the antithesis to art.” Bader’s unrivaled passion for her work and her unbridled, global success in the industry proves that her art and her vision have not gone unnoticed. More than two decades of expertise in design and millinery make her pieces highly sought after across the country and beyond. Bader is widely recognized in the equestrian community and is known to create custom pieces for many of racing’s royalty. Her dedication to excellence and artistry has frequently put her work in the Winner’s Circle at all of the nation’s most distinguished racing events, year after year.

Custom designs for Opening Day Del Mar and Breeder’s Cup are available by appointment, booked well in advance. See Bader’s work come to life at Del Mar Hat Co. in the Del Mar Plaza. 

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