Lilly Daché: Building a Millinery Empire
March 11, 2022

Lilly Daché: Building a Millinery Empire

Lilly Daché (c.1904-1989) is one of America's most famous milliners. She lived out a wonderful, rags-to-riches immigrant story and was a shining example of a successful, professional career women in a time which offered much more limited work options for women.

Reportedly born in France around 1904, Daché left school at 14 to apprentice with her aunt, a hat maker in Bordeaux. She then went on to work under renowned milliners Suzanne Talbot and Caroline Reboux in Paris before moving to America in 1924.

By the 1920s high-end department stores were carrying or importing hats from a variety of hat designers. Daché began her career as a sales assistant at Macy’s in New York City. She later found work as a milliner in a small hat shop on Broadway. Eventually, she and a co-worker saved up enough money to buy the owner out and make the shop their own. 

The Daché brand was established in the 1930 and 1940s, when hats were worn daily. Big city millinery salons were known for being elaborate and extravagant spaces and, in 1937, she moved her shop to a nine story building. The Lilly Daché building, known as the ‘House of Hats,’ was on East 56th Street in New York. Emulating the glamour of Hollywood, it featured a circular salon lined with mirrors, silver and gold fitting rooms to complement different hair colours and a tufted pink satin padded buying room. 

As well as her fashionable atelier, Daché also ran a busy workroom and wholesale hat production from the building. In the 1950s, she launched two ready-to-wear hat lines - MMe Lilly and Dachette’s. At the height of her success, it is estimated that the milliner was producing as many as 30,000 hats a year. 

By 1949, Daché was also designing clothing accessories, perfume and costume jewellery and her designs often appeared in films and advertisements. In fact, she was such a well-known personality by this point that she was often asked to do product endorsements, both in print and on television.

One of the things that Lilly Daché is most famous for is her turbans. Although turbans had been around for centuries, Daché’s unique take on this style became the on-trend headwear choice of the 1930s. They replaced the cloche of the 1920s, which had been created by her mentor Caroline Reboux. 

Known for draping turbans directly on her clients’ heads, Daché's designs were worn by movie stars like Heady Lamar, Gloria Swanson and Carmen Miranda. She even created a deep green and purple silk jersey turban to be preserved for 5,000 years inside the 1939 World’s Fair Time Capsule!

Lilly Daché was the go-to designer for many of the celebrities of her time, including Carole Lombard, Joan Crawford, Marion Davies and Gertrude Lawrence. She worked closely with Marlene Dietrich (left) and made dozens of hats for her 1936 film Desire. She also discovered the fashion designer Halston, who began his career as her assistant.

Daché wrote two books, her autobiography Talking Through My Hats (1946) and Lilly Daché's Glamour Book (1956). When she retired in 1968, the actress Loretta Young bought her last 30 hats. Daché spent the remainder of her life with her husband, Coty Inc. cosmetics executive Jean Despres. The couple divided their final years between Florida and France.

One of the 'Big Three' New York milliners - along with John Fredericks (Mr John) and Sally Victor - Lilly Daché was a powerful fashion industry influencer, both commercially and creatively. Her work continues to inspire a new generation of hat lovers.