Derby hat designers
a hit with the horse crowd in spring
Swansey design of the Derby Museum
Helen E. McKinney
BUCKNER, Ky. (April 2007) Springtime in Kentucky
means foaling mares, greening meadows and, of course, a fashionable
Derby hat. When it comes to selecting the perfect accents to adorn a
hat, CK Nobles has just the right touch.
Nobles (left) and Kevin Swansey
(right) are partners in CK Nobles,
popular for its Derby hat designs.
CK Nobles is a partnership between Sheila Nobles and Kevin
Swansey. For the last six years, this pair has been crafting unique
Derby hats in Nobels home studio in their spare time.
Nobles and Swansey first met in high school years ago, but both went
on to separate careers. Nobles now works for BB&T Bank and has worked
in other artistic mediums in the past. Swansey is a special events coordinator
for Hospice with a background in theatre and merchandising.
They became re-acquainted 20 years later and decided to forge a partnership
when they learned the Kentucky Derby Museum was looking for hat designers.
For the last six years, Nobles and Swansey have been the only Derby
hat designers for the museum. They make many custom designed hats as
well, with Nobles often holding trunk shows at her home.
The Derby Museum has opened many doors for us, said Nobles.
They have participated in many special functions, such as the Kentucky
Derby Festivals Fillies Fashion Show, and were even judges in
last years Derby Museum hat contest.
The pair will share their expertise from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on
April 28 at the eighth annual Whats Your Style Scholarship
Fundraiser presented by the Business and Professional Women of Oldham
County. Held at the Kavanaugh Life Enrichment Center in Crestwood, fashions
will range from casual to up-scale, with many Oldham County businesses
CK Nobles will provide a fashion show and talk on wearing the proper
hat. They are a big draw for our show, said BPW scholarship chair Amy
Armitage. They really step it up.
There are many designers who work in only one genre, said Armitage.
CK Nobles is very original. They cover a wide variety of colors
and styles. They can make anything for any woman.
Nobles' hats come in all
shapes, sizes and colors.
Most people can wear a hat, said Nobles, but
they dont pick the right hat. Many times before the Kentucky
Derby, clientele will come to them with the outfit they plan to wear
to the Derby, and Nobles and Swansey will coordinate a hat for just
the right look.
The pair will often design hats together, complementing each others
style. We will look at the same hat with two totally different
ideas, said Nobles.
I love hats, said Nobles, 50. She grew up in Louisville,
where her uncle was a trainer at Churchill Downs. Nobles has lived in
Oldham County for more than 20 years.
When considering what inspires the pair, Swansey said, It could
be anything. Shape and color are big influences, but a flaw in
the brim of a hat once inspired Swansey.
Knowing that he had to disguise the flaw, he added a big bow and feathers,
creating the distinctive look they have become known for. This hat was
later modeled in Todays Woman magazine.
CK Nobles embellishes its hats with different materials that may include
beads, florals, expensive fabrics like satin and silk, or feathers.
Its always exciting to Nobles to see a woman walk down the
track in your hat, she said.
CK Nobles often contributes to charities, such as Hats for Hope, which
collects money for breast cancer. At last years event, Vice President
Dick Cheneys wife, Lynn, signed a hat that was auctioned for charity.
For Swansey, designing Derby hats is my therapy. The thing
that he most enjoys about his creations is watching someones
reaction to the hats.
Supply and demand for this seasonal commodity dictates how many hours
a week Nobles and Swansey put into their craft. Its more of a
hobby for Swansey, 50, who majored in theatre at the University of Louisville.
He also earned an associate degree in retail merchandising from Watterson
Prior to teaming with Nobles, Swansey had a long career making hats
for theatre groups in the Louisville area. Eighteen years ago, while
performing for the Music Theatre of Louisville, Swansey would often
find himself with an hour and a half on his hands after leaving work
at 5:30 and before beginning theater rehearsals at 7 p.m.
To pass time, he hung out in the costume room (the only room with air
conditioning). He learned how to make hats and head pieces, once creating
more than 50 hats for a production of Hello, Dolly.
Nothing can compare to the Kentucky Derby, which is the premier
hat event, said Nobles. Creating Derby hats has provided Nobles
and Swansey with the opportunity to work with people in Louisville,
and work with people all over the world, she said.
CK Nobles will be featured in the upcoming official
Derby Magazine, which will be on stands April 9. To contact Nobles,
call (502) 797-0003. For more information on the BPWs Style Show
contact Armitage at (502) 254-0522 or visit: www.bpwoldhamco.org.
Back to April 2007 Articles.