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What began as a 9-5 job in the shipping department of a hat maker quickly became a life’s vocation for “milliner to the stars” Arturo Rios.

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Arturo Rios
Arturo Rios

Arturo Rios is a world-famous milliner who has created custom headwear for such celebrities as Cardi B, Tyra Banks, Lady Gaga, Juliette Lewis, Jennifer Lopez, Katy Perry, Rihanna, and Princess Theodora of Greece.

Born in Mexico, Rios was living in Los Angeles when he met Italian hat designer Karen Indreland. After working in the shipping department of her hat-making company, Rios began to design his own headwear, founding his own studio in 2005.

A fixture at the Kentucky Derby and on international runways, his avant-garde sculptural headpieces have been featured in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, and other fashion magazines.


This is a hat. But this is a fascinator. Though they’ve been around since the 1960s, the term for these wild headpieces was only coined in the 1990s. And, since then, women all over the world have been using them to stand out in some very elegant crowds. And though the British royal wedding in 2011 led to a spike in their popularity, the quintessential showcase for fascinators is still the races: Dubai, Melbourne, Royal Ascot, Kentucky. And if these women remind you a little of peacocks, it’s because they are competing. Each race offers a grand prize for the best hat. But, win or lose, for milliner to the stars Arturo Rios, it’s all about feel.

Arturo Rios: I want some of my customers to find their personality, because, with the personality, the hat will shine.

And Rios knows a thing or two about completing a look. Since 2005, his pieces have been featured in magazines, music videos, and on red carpets.

Rios: I think everybody has a talent, but we need to find it. Particularly, myself, I think I found it.

Growing up, Arturo Rios never guessed that his destiny would be to make fancy headgear for the rich and famous. He was introduced to high-end hats while working in the shipping department of a Los Angeles hat designer. But he didn’t seriously consider it as a career until he was asked to help with production.

Rios: Cutting feathers, or blocking bases, or things like that, and then, eventually, I noticed that I was good. I mean, I felt like I was doing a really good job. I felt like I need to go express more myself because I was making hats for her, but they were more classy hats. They were beautiful but simple. After I started making hats, I envision myself to go something more fashion-forward. I always see myself having my hats in magazines, people wearing them, but I was insecure because I wasn’t sure that that will happen. But at the same time, something was telling me, “Okay, you gotta do it, you wanna make it.”

And he was right. His own avant-garde sculptural headpieces would soon be worn by some of the music business’s most adventurous stars.

Rios: Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Katy Perry, several other ones.

AJC: But, I mean, Lady Gaga is somebody who can wear a hat.

Rios: Yes, when I start making hats, you know, when I make the huge pieces, I was always thinking, “Oh, I wish Lady Gaga would wear those pieces.” But in my mind—or, or my hair, I don’t know—I always had been thinking that she will wear them one day. But I didn’t know when. One day, I got the email, and it say, “Oh, we’re styling Lady Gaga for this music video.” And then I say, “Well, this is it.”

Rios: And then, I sent the hats, and she didn’t wear them. So, it was…I was a little bit disappointed. But, at the same time, it gave me a little bit of strength. I said, “Well, maybe next time.” You know? Months later, I got another email again, and that’s when I say,  “Well, I’m gonna send a bunch of designs or samples to her, and then, just, let’s wear them and see what happens.” And in the end, she wore one of my hats on one of her videos. And then, eventually, years later, I’ve been making hats for her.

And though the high fashion world that these creations occupy seems far removed from his rural upbringing, Rios says his roots are there in every piece.

Rios: I love birds. I love trees. Everything, it’s related with nature. Everything that I have designed so far, through all these years, is been nature. I’m from the small town in Mexico, and we have nature in the backyard. I mean, it’s always fresh, the smells, the sounds, everything—it’s nature. And that’s my number one source of inspiration.

Ultimately, Arturo Rios is driven by the satisfaction of proving, over and over again, that sometimes, the right fascinator is all it takes to make somebody a little more fascinating.

Rios: When they are trying a hat on, they are like, “Oh, no, I don’t like it. Oh, no, that’s too big. Oh, no.” And when you just put it on, and you can tell a customer’s right away, the way that they stand with their backs, their heads out, their smile. So, that’s what I do, I mean, I wanna see them. You can see the posture right away. Once they have the hat on, they kinda lean up, and they are like, you know, and they smile. So, that’s what I see all the time, and then I love it.