Henrietta “Kate” Malnati Ferretti (1891–1987) was an early twentieth-century entrepreneur who established a successful millinery business in Denver. A first-generation Italian American, Ferretti founded her business in Denver’s Little Italy and catered to some of the city’s most elite clientele. Her work for Margaret Brown, in particular, brought her national recognition as an elite hatmaker. Ferretti’s successful career spanned more than fifty years until her retirement in 1973.
Henrietta “Kate” Malnati was born on January 3, 1891, in Denver, one of eight children of Italian immigrants Henry and Louisa Malnati. Her father was a granite cutter who worked on famous Denver structures such as the City Park gates, Colorado State Capitol, and Denver Mint. The Malnatis lived in the Villa Park neighborhood southwest of downtown, and the Malnati children attended Villa Park Elementary School. While attending school there, Henrietta got the nickname “Kate” from an older brother, and it stuck through the rest of her life.
Malnati left school at age fourteen to enter the workforce. Her first job was at the Golden Eagle Dry Goods Store on Sixteenth and Lawrence Streets. The Golden Eagle was Denver’s elite store at the time, and she made two dollars a week for her work. She was fascinated by the millinery department and spent her spare time watching the store’s milliner, Madame Lily. Eventually, Madame Lily offered to mentor her, and she eagerly accepted. She worked for Madame Lily for three years before going to work for Madame Rossi at the Denver Dry Goods Company, where her salary was doubled to four dollars per week.
By 1911 Malnati worked for Miss M. E. Mulroy at the Villa de Paris millinery shop on Sixteenth Street. Villa de Paris was well known locally and catered to Denver elites. During a decade of work at Villa de Paris, Malnati designed and made hats for many of Denver’s most influential women of the time, including Margaret Brown, Louise Bethel Sneed Hill, and Genevieve Phipps. She was also tasked at times with making and delivering hats for women working in Denver’s red-light district.
During her time at Villa de Paris, Malnati met Giacomo Ferretti, also called Jacob or Jack. The couple wed on April 10, 1917. Kate Ferretti took a break from her millinery work after her marriage to birth and raise her children. In 1918 the couple had their first child, a daughter, Anne Louise. In 1925 the couple had their second child, another daughter, Virginia, who passed away shortly after her birth. In 1926 Ferretti gave birth to Denver’s first recorded triplets: Jack, Joan, and Joseph. In 1932 tragedy again struck the family when one of the triplets, Joan, died of pneumonia.
Although Ferretti left Villa de Paris after her marriage, she found that her customers still desired her designs. Seeing an opportunity to establish herself as the leading milliner for Denver’s high society, she seized her chance. She spent years designing hats at home before officially establishing a storefront in the Little Italy neighborhood of northwest Denver. In 1938 she operated her business at 3736 Tejon Street, a half mile from her house. Later, she relocated her business to the carriage house behind her family’s home at 4240 Tejon Street.
The Kate Ferretti Millinery Shop became notable for its chic contemporary hats. Ferretti’s designs ranged from custom pieces featuring real leopard fur and ostrich feathers to simpler pieces with cloth, silk, and flowers. Her affluent patrons often sent chauffeured cars across town from their Capitol Hill residences to pick up their purchases. At one point during prohibition, there were so many limousines coming and going that police believed Ferretti was a bootlegger.
Despite Ferretti’s quick success, she did not become complacent. To improve her products, she began traveling to New York, Italy, France, and Switzerland to find new materials for her innovative designs. She also decided to expand her business to include designer clothing, which she bought abroad and brought back to her Denver shop. Many of the couture pieces were not otherwise available in the Mile High City, setting her shop apart from the competition.
Ferretti’s business continued to thrive over the following decades. Each season, articles detailed her impressive work and publicized her in-demand headwear; descriptions of her work were carried in newspapers across the country. As her children grew older, they joined the business. Ferretti’s daughter, Anne Louise, worked in the millinery shop with her mother. After World War II, Ferretti’s sons, Joseph and Jack, became involved in the finances and management of the overall enterprise. As the family grew to include the younger generation’s spouses and children, they also became involved. Jack’s wife, Maria Ferretti, started working in the shop in the 1960s.
By the 1970s, Kate Ferretti had turned her small millinery shop into a full-blown corporation, Kate Ferretti, Inc. Ferretti served as president, with Joseph as vice-president and Jack as secretary-treasurer. She retired in 1973, after working more than fifty years in the millinery trade. Jack, Joseph, and Anne Louise Ferretti continued to run Kate Ferretti, Inc., for a few years before they, too, retired.
Kate Ferretti died on May 3, 1987, at age ninety-six. She continues to be remembered in Denver for her long, successful career as one of the city’s most accomplished female entrepreneurs. Coming from humble origins, she was a self-made businessperson who established an impressive national reputation in the millinery world. She spent more than half a century shaping Denver’s fashion trends, and her hats were treasured by some of the city’s most famous and influential women.