June Gumbel throws her designs in the ring with upcoming show

Hat trick

Ever since she was a little girl, June Baranco Gumbel has had a thing for hats. Now she has turned that affinity into a budding career, Geaux Chapeaux.

The Baton Rouge native is returning home Feb. 15 to showcase some of her latest creations for “Tea, Fashion & Fancies” at the LSU Rural Life Museum. The event is co-sponsored by the Friends of the LSU Textile & Costume Museum and benefits both museums.

Very apropos considering Gumbel, ex-wife of TV broadcaster Bryant Gumbel, is a graduate of LSU. She finished in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in fine art.

That creativity easily translated into custom millinery when she became frustrated by what she found when shopping for daughter Jillian’s 2011 wedding.

“I couldn’t believe the prices of these headpieces! ” exclaimed Gumbel in a phone interview as she was working on several Mardi Gras hats to bring to the tea party. “I knew I could make something equally as beautiful, if not more so, for a lot less money.

“When I was small, we wore hats all the time,” she continues. “I’ve always liked some sort of adornment in my hair, and over the years, I’ve assembled quite a collection of vintage hats. So, I started taking them apart, studying how they were made.”

Figuring it out wasn’t too hard, she says.

Bryant says her Aunt Eura was a seamstress and taught her to sew by hand when she was only 8 or 9 years old. For her 10th birthday, her parents, Jeannie Baranco and the late Joseph Baranco, gave her a sewing machine. “I still have it,” she says proudly.

Once Gumbel figured out how the hats were made, she began collecting vintage millinery supplies — fabrics, hat blocks, lace, ribbons and more.

“I became the eBay queen,” she says, laughing. “You may have velvet ribbon, but do you have velvet ribbon in every color? In every size? And grosgrain ribbon. Not any grosgrain ribbon will do. It has to be Petersham grosgrain ribbon.”

Year No. 2 had Gumbel buying many vintage hats and making hats full time.

“It’s fun,” she says. “This is my calling. I’ve found out what I’m supposed to do.”

She still paints, primarily in pastels but also in oil, but hats and making a success of Geaux Chapeax is where Gumbel is focusing all her time these days.

And, she’s looking forward to coming home to Baton Rouge to show off her latest creations.

“New York feels like home,” she says, “but I have to have a steady dose of Baton Rouge … my culture.

“Making hats is another creative outlet that inspires me … makes me happy.”