Benjamin Benedict Green Field

B. 1897

D. December 13, 1988 Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois

Benjamin Green-Field was born in Chicago, Illinois. The death of GreenField's father, when Benjamin was three, necessitated his mother, Ida Helen Green-Field, to open a hat shop to support her four children. Green-Field dropped out of high school to apprentice in the millinery trade, and soon after he opened his own business, Bes-Ben, a partnership with his sister, Bessie Green-Field, in the late 1920s.

Green-Field's early work was typical of late 1920s and early 1930s head-wear, and his shop on fashionable Michigan Avenue was relatively un known. However, in 1941, Green-Field accidentally developed a design concept that created a worldwide following for his work. As legend recounts, Green-Field saw a woman walking her Dalmatians down Michigan Avenue. On a whim, he made a hat topped with miniature Dalmatians and placed it in his store window for sale. Soon, he was flooded with requests to create hats for patrons featuring the likenesses of their pets and other whimsical creatures.

Over the next three decades, Green-Field became known as the "Mad Hatter" for his conversation-piece designs. His whimsical designs featured leather lobsters, dice, jeweled bees, clocks, and other objects he collected on his travels to Cuba, Paris, Hong Kong, and other exotic locations. During the World War II rationing restrictions, he incorporated nonrationed materials, such as kitchen utensils, scrub clothes, feather dusters, napkin rings, tea strainers, and clothespins, into his designs. Green-Field was also commissioned for a number of special headwear pieces including a hat for the 1944 Democratic National Convention, a hat adorned with razor blades for Hedda Hopper to wear to the opening of her film The Razor's Edge in 1946, and a headpiece for the queen of Belgium for the Brussels 1958 World's Fair. As hat popularity declined in the 1960s, Green-Field added decorative pillows to his business, but he elected to close his shop and retire in 1978.

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