NEW YORK — Frank Olive, 66, for decades a leading millinery designer, died Thursday at Mount Sinai Hospital here.
The cause of death was complications due to pneumonia, according to Winfield Huppuch, his companion of 20 years.
Olive, who became a familiar figure in upscale stores around the country with his frequent personal appearances and charity shows, continued to travel until this spring, when he took ill, Huppuch noted.
“It’s really a sad loss, especially in accessories, where creativity is so essential,” said Rose Marie Bravo, president of Saks Fifth Avenue. “He stood out for many, many years and really helped to elevate millinery into a fashion business.”
Sandra Wilson, accessories fashion director for Neiman Marcus, recalled Olive’s many appearances at Neiman Marcus, sometimes as often as three times a month, winning customers over with his charm and sincerity.
“He was certainly a legend in his field and an incredibly warm loving human being,” Wilson said. “He loved life and was so optimistic.”
Olive designed theatrical costumes while attending the Chicago Art Institute. He continued costume designing for two years in San Francisco before coming to New York in the early Fifties, hoping to become, as he once said, “the new Cecil Beaton.” His sketches were seen by Norman Norell, who was impressed with the hat designs and persuaded Olive to go into millinery. He apprenticed with Chanda, worked in the Tatiana custom hat department at Saks Fifth Avenue, and then for Emme Boutique.
Designer Adolfo remembered when he and Olive were milliners together at Emme for a brief time in the early Sixties. “He was very clever and had very good taste,” Adolfo said. “We were part of a group of hat designers in that period that included Halston. He became very well respected as a top designer in his field.”
Olive’s first boutique was in Greenwich Village on MacDougal Street where he designed hats and clothes. Even when the millinery business was in its nadir, he worked with Seventh Avenue designers on hats for their collections and sold to private customers.
“I think hats are an essential part of being a woman,” Olive said in an interview in 1968. “I design hats for a woman who feels this. I want to help her discover herself. Hats aren’t part of an etiquette now, but a well-groomed woman should wear a hat. She can be so many different people.”
In 1971, Olive and his partner David Stein opened Frank Olive’s World here. Stein serves a president of the company. In addition to creating the hat collections bearing his own label, Olive continued doing hats for designer ready-to-wear collections and serving a celebrity clientele.
“His hats,” noted millinery designer Eric Javits, “always had an enduring and recognizable style that corresponded easily with upscale hat customers’ needs.”
In addition to his companion, Olive is survived by a sister, Rose Mary Wachowiak. At Olive’s request, Huppuch said, a funeral service will not be conducted.

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