Granville Davies is an English sock designer living in London. But his true love is making hats. High-fashion hats for women. In fact he went to design school in Paris to become a hatmaker; but despite his talent, he hasn’t had the good luck needed to forge a career designing fashions for the head, only for the foot.
Until now. After winning a place in the International Festival Of The Hat, he travels to this year’s host city of Beijing to vie for top spot in the Festival’s competition. The world’s most gifted hatmakers have gathered in China to present their work to hat lovers and hat buyers from around the globe—and to the Festival judges. The Grand Prize winner will walk off with a hundred thousand pounds sterling, the acclaim of the hatmaking community, and enough publicity to launch himself (or herself) into a truly brilliant hatmaking career.
Granville’s main competition for the Grand Prize is his former girlfriend, Marcelline de Bedel, a Parisian beauty and the toast of the French millinery world. Granville’s main danger: a posse of Australian jewel thieves scheming to steal the hat that he’s prepared for the competition’s final round: a diamond-studded masterpiece called “The Cosmic Blossom.”
Also complicating matters is the presence of Marcelline’s new boyfriend: Junjie Yun, a handsome Chinese billionaire and Granville’s instant nemesis. Junjie blocks Granville’s path to success in Beijing both personally and professionally--and the stage is set for a showdown between the two men.
Meanwhile, Granville has brought his fifteen-year-old next-door neighbor and part-time assistant with him to Beijing as his support staff: George West. And George has enlisted his best mate, Oscar Chang (born in Shanghai, raised in London), to come along as translator and right-hand man. All this is happening over the objections of George’s sister and guardian, Lizzie West, who’s also Granville’s accountant, and reality check. She’d rather see Granville stick to socks and pay his bills on time than spend his cash2 chasing stardom on a faraway hat fantasy. But Granville is determined to head off to China anyway …
Waiting to meet them at the Beijing airport is Mei-Xing, a gorgeous, college-age Chinese girl volunteering as their official Festival guide. The boys instantly begin competing to impress her with their flirting techniques, but the sophisticated Mei-Xing laughs off their advances. Then we realize that Mei-Xing is playing the boys—and she nicks the diamond hat right out from under them. (For virtuous reasons, not criminal ones—a plot twist that shifts the story into high gear.)
To track down the missing hat, the boys travel from the city to Mei-Xing’s weekend house in the mountains. Along the way, they join up with a variety of colorful characters (most notably an English diamond merchant by the name of Kipling Joffrey-James—with a personality to match) as well as a surprising band of heroes: the China National Football Team.
The boys are racing the clock to retrieve the Cosmic Blossom before the final round of the competition, when the precious diamond-studded hat will either come down the runway atop a model’s head (and win out over Marcelline’s “Golden Swirl” atop her model’s head) or else Granville’s dreams for a new life will come crashing down around him: he’ll lose the competition, lose Marcelline for good to Junjie, and have to return to the drudgery of sockmaking in London.
A story popping with romance, twists, and the spectacular vistas of modern-day China, Year Of The Hat will also be packed with the visual delights of high-fashion models strutting the catwalk wearing the world’s zaniest, zingiest, wildest, and winningest hats. But through it all, the story remains grounded in Granville’s quest to course-correct his off-track life, rise to the top of a cutthroat profession, and finally prove his true worth to the woman he loves.