January 24, 2018 by Burgundy Woods
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Early Monday morning, Jan. 22, 2018, Rita Crosby, a premier San Antonio milliner passed away in a local hospital after a courageous ongoing battle with cancer. Local fashion journalist, Michael Quintanilla submitted the following regarding his beloved friend and the memories he will carry about this talented artist:
“Q the death of our dear, dear Rita Crosby, one of San Antonio’s premier milliners, Hats! By Rita — a craft, skill and art form among a rare, few local designing hat makers.
Rita passed away Monday morning, Jan. 22, 2018 in a local hospital after battling cancer for several years.
She was a friend to many and a beloved member of the Woman’s Club of San Antonio. She was my dear amiga and, like others, am devastated by her death. I’ll never again hear of her shopping trips around the world to buy the most exquisite fabrics, ribbons and adornments, hear of her museum visits for inspiration, hear stories of millinery history, of Old World culture intersecting with New World technology. We’d talk about creating — the organic process of couture experimentation, the love of making something with our hands, needle pressed between fingers.
Photo Submitted by Michael Quintanilla
We’d talk about hats from films, especially Old Hollywood and how World War II really created a hat and turban frenzy because dressmaking was impossible without manufacturers, so many in Europe (in particular, Italy) shutdown or destroyed by war. Women wore hats for a fashion fix.
Oh how I wish our city’s young designers could one day gather to hear about our older generations’ design community, the fiber artists like Rita, and others who have paved the way for us. We could learn so much.
A visit to Rita’s home was remarkable because that was where she created the most luscious hats, each a confection for a hidden coif.
And they were everywhere, displayed on tables like sculpture, like home decor. Indeed, each artful, bold, plumed, boxed, circular, raised, flat, tilted, straw, upholstered, buttoned, tulled, netted, sexy. A house of hats.
A few years ago I had this crazy idea for the tallest Abe Lincoln Fiesta hat: a towering cylindrical masterpiece that only Rita could construct. I commissioned her to create the structured head piece that I later would embellish, hiding Rita’s architectural genius of felt-covered construction — strong enough to hold my exterior work and withstand staying in place as I danced and sashayed on stage. We came up with a brilliant trick that remains our secret to this day.
Photo Submitted by Michael Quintanilla
We had so much fun that day. We explored several ideas — and the hat was a challenge Rita took on because she said it would involve math and balance, weight and physics. After she built it I came in for another fitting: to test it while walking around in her house, all the while the two of us (mostly me!) sipping Champagne and laughing, laughing, laughing as we each strutted that monstrous creation reaching for the ceiling.
She gave me feathers and faux butterflies and shiny stuff and this and that she pulled from boxes and beautiful silk flowers and more, more, more of this and that from her sewing room, strewn with the tricks of her trade, an artist in the midst of making magic.
She sat me down and suggested how I could and should make my vision for my hat happen, how we were, indeed, creative soulmates.
I called my hat “Viva Fiesta, Viva Las Vegas” because of the feathers and fluff — and hell, I wanted to be a show boy that Fiesta! Ha!
Underneath it all was Rita’s custom-made very tall stovepipe hat — for an elongated, skinny silhouette that as a team we created together. I wanted it to be effective. I loaded it with color and mostly peacock and dozens and dozens of exotic feathers, Rita’s suggestion. (It’s 90% feathers.) She loved it.
I’ve reworked this hat since and I have to tell you it is even more fabulous than ever and taller, too, (yes! Go big always!) with more feathers at the top because, well, mas es mas!
Rita, I am so heartbroken you are gone. Your hat — our hat — will always have Fiesta!
And our secret remains!”
– Michael Quintanilla
Rita was an intricately important part of our San Antonio culture and heritage. Her beauty and inspired talent will be missed among her family, friends, clients, peers and the Fiesta culture she helped pioneer. Her legacy will live on.