May 5, 2009 at 1:00 am

Laura Berman

Hat maker brushes off Aretha's diva style

Aretha Franklin, wearing a Luke Song hat at the inauguration, says she should get royalties for sporting Song's designs. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

"If Aretha gets a discount, then I'm tellin' you, I should too, given all the hats I've bought here, mmm hmmm."

Bonnie Colson was trying to purchase a new hat at Mr. Song Millinery, the West Grand Boulevard hat shop made internationally famous in January, after Aretha Franklin wore a gray felt cloche with a grand, bejeweled bow designed by Luke Song.

The occasion then was the inauguration of President Barack Obama. The occasion this week, which may be even bigger in Mr. Song Millinery terms, is Mother's Day. And even on Monday, when most stores in the Metro area are in the doldrums, customers were bursting through the doors as if there was a hat giveaway, instead of price tags of $300 and more.

Husbands dutifully tagged along, carrying garment bags. "I have six St. John suits and I like to buy a hat to go with every one," said Colson of Detroit, who was seeking a sharp hat to match the white chiffon dress she brought along.

No one in the store had heard a WWJ radio report Monday that the sometimes mercurial Queen of Soul was now playing hat diva. "I think that I should be getting big time royalties from him. That's what I think.," Franklin told the station.

Luke Song, a graduate of Parsons the New School for Design who designs all of the hats -- about 200 a year -- was busy suggesting custom changes to a few of the hundreds of hats on the walls.

"You'll never get me to say anything bad about Aretha Franklin," said Song, who was dressed in a black blazer and black-rimmed glasses.

Customers are loyal to the talented Song, including Fred Colson, Bonnie's husband.

"Aretha should know that you don't get in an argument with the person who makes your hats," he said. "Not with the person who makes your food. It's the same thing."

And yes, the singer has boosted the Song store, but hats are big business right now. Hat parties -- showers, tea parties, Kentucky Derby parties -- are a phenomenon.

"We had more Kentucky Derby parties last week than ever before," said Song, who grew up in the hat shop, which is owned by his parents.

The family has found a new location on Southfield Road in Southfield, but may keep the Woodward Avenue store open, depending on negotiations with the landlord.

Song said 90 percent of his customers live in northwest Detroit, Southfield or other suburbs that are within 10 minutes of the new location. Parking and security -- "our customers want better parking and longer hours" -- have made finding a new Detroit location difficult.

Was Aretha Franklin peeved about her hat connection? She couldn't be reached for comment, but Song remains upbeat about their relationship.

He credits her appearance at the inauguration with encouraging the hat-shy to boldly wear hats -- big ones and small ones -- in different venues.

And he says that her remarks, whatever spirit they seemed to be delivered in, might have been misunderstood.

He'd designed and made a few hats for her to wear at the Kentucky Derby, he said, but she didn't pick them up. "Obviously she didn't go to the Derby," Song said. "But we weren't going to charge her for them. Of course not."

And that pink hat she wore Sunday at the NAACP Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner? The one she told WWJ she bought elsewhere.

"It was my hat," Song said.

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