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The Return of the Urban Sombrero

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NBC/Castle Rock Entertainment

While enormously popular, NBC’s Seinfeld was never the best sitcom from which to obtain fashion inspiration. Jerry Seinfeld favored sneakers and was once coerced into wearing a puffy shirt; George Costanza adopted a Michelin Man look with his GORE-TEX coat; Elaine Benes marketed an “urban sombrero” that was half Spanish siesta and half Canadian Mountie.

That fictional hat was never actually part of the J. Peterman catalog, the real-life exotic goods dealer that Elaine worked for in the series. Founder John Peterman thought the idea was too silly and resisted any attempt to de-fictionalize it. But as the company’s current Kickstarter campaign can attest, he has since had a change of heart. The sombrero can now be yours for a backing pledge of $275, and you have the fake J. Peterman—actor John O’Hurley—to thank.

“It was a bone of contention for him,” O’Hurley tells mental_floss. “He thought it would be embracing parody at the expense of the core values of the company. I thought it would be an extension for the people who knew the brand through the Seinfeld attachment.” After years of bickering, O'Hurley won. But why was Peterman listening in the first place?

In a very strange case of life imitating art, O’Hurley joined the real J. Peterman company in 2001 as an investor after Peterman saw his expanding fortune from the Seinfeld plugs dwindle: a misguided retail expansion effort killed profits. Forced to declare bankruptcy and reassert control over the brand, Peterman asked O’Hurley to jump in. The actor is now a part owner and sits on the board of directors, a fact he still finds astonishing—given that he essentially stole his partner's identity.

“He kind of lost it to me,” O’Hurley says. “We’ll be walking down Madison Avenue and a cop will roll his window down and scream, ‘Peterman!' He’s talking to me.”

As part of a $500,000 fundraising campaign to offer more unique items, J. Peterman is issuing a limited number of the 22-inch diameter sombreros for backers, with an eye toward eventually carrying them in their regular product catalog. While it will differ slightly from the screen-worn prop, O’Hurley guarantees the quality will be worthy of the brand’s reputation.

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“He found a sombrero designer in Mexico. This guy designed a sombrero for the Pope when he visited. It will resemble the one on the show but will be of a much better quality.”

The sombreros are expected to be available in November, with a special signed-and-numbered edition ($400) limited to 300 units. Those who pledge $8600 will have an opportunity to travel with Peterman on one of his famously quixotic journeys, though they should not expect to encounter anyone resembling Elaine’s bombastic onscreen employer.

“We are completely different people in reality," O'Hurley says. "That was a parody. He’s a very happy Kentuckian.”

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Pop Culture
How Jimmy Buffett Turned 'Margaritaville' Into a Way of Life
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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Few songs have proven as lucrative as “Margaritaville,” a modest 1977 hit by singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett that became an anthem for an entire life philosophy. The track was the springboard for Buffett’s business empire—restaurants, apparel, kitchen appliances, and more—marketing the taking-it-easy message of its tropical print lyrics.

After just a few years of expanding that notion into other ventures, the “Parrot Heads” of Buffett’s fandom began to account for $40 million in annual revenue—and that was before the vacation resorts began popping up.

Jimmy Buffett performs for a crowd
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“Margaritaville,” which turned 40 this year, was never intended to inspire this kind of devotion. It was written after Buffett, as an aspiring musician toiling in Nashville, found himself in Key West, Florida, following a cancelled booking in Miami and marveling at the sea of tourists clogging the beaches.

Like the other songs on his album, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, it didn’t receive a lot of radio play. Instead, Buffett began to develop his following by opening up for The Eagles. Even at 30, Buffett was something less than hip—a flip-flopped performer with a genial stage presence that seemed to invite an easygoing vibe among crowds. “Margaritaville,” an anthem to that kind of breezy attitude, peaked at number eight on the Billboard charts in 1977. While that’s impressive for any single, its legacy would quickly evolve beyond the music industry's method for gauging success.

What Buffett realized as he continued to perform and tour throughout the early 1980s is that “Margaritaville” had the ability to sedate audiences. Like a hypnotist, the singer could immediately conjure a specific time and place that listeners wanted to revisit. The lyrics painted a scene of serenity that became a kind of existential vacation for Buffett's fans:

Nibblin' on sponge cake,
Watchin' the sun bake;
All of those tourists covered with oil.
Strummin' my six string on my front porch swing.
Smell those shrimp —
They're beginnin' to boil.

By 1985, Buffett was ready to capitalize on that goodwill. In Key West, he opened a Margaritaville store, which sold hats, shirts, and other ephemera to residents and tourists looking to broadcast their allegiance to his sand-in-toes fantasy. (A portion of the proceeds went to Save the Manatees, a nonprofit organization devoted to animal conservation.) The store also sold the Coconut Telegraph, a kind of propaganda newsletter about all things Buffett and his chill perspective.

When Buffett realized patrons were coming in expecting a bar or food—the song was named after a mixed drink, after all—he opened a cafe adjacent to the store in late 1987. The configuration was ideal, and through the 1990s, Buffett and business partner John Cohlan began erecting Margaritaville locations in Florida, New Orleans, and eventually Las Vegas and New York. All told, more than 21 million people visit a Buffett-inspired hospitality destination every year.

A parrot at Margaritaville welcomes guests
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Margaritaville-branded tequila followed. So, too, did a line of retail foods like hummus, a book of short stories, massive resorts, a Sirius radio channel, and drink blenders. Buffett even wrote a 242-page script for a Margaritaville movie that he had hoped to film in the 1980s. It’s one of the very few Margaritaville projects that has yet to have come to fruition, but it might be hard for Buffett to complain much. In 2015, his entire empire took in $1.5 billion in sales.

As of late, Buffett has signed off on an Orlando resort due to open in 2018, offering “casual luxury” near the boundaries of Walt Disney World. (One in Hollywood, Florida, is already a hit, boasting a 93 percent occupancy rate.) Even for guests that aren’t particularly familiar with his music, “Jimmy Buffett” has become synonymous with comfort and relaxation just as surely as Walt Disney has with family entertainment. The association bodes well for a business that will eventually have to move beyond Buffett’s concert-going loyalists.

Not that he's looking to leave them behind. The 70-year-old Buffett is planning on a series of Margaritaville-themed retirement communities, with the first due to open in Daytona Beach in 2018. More than 10,000 Parrot Heads have already registered, eager to watch the sun set while idling in a frame of mind that Buffett has slowly but surely turned into a reality.

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Design
The Secret to the World's Most Comfortable Bed Might Be Yak Hair
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Tengi

Savoir Beds laughs at your unspooling mail-order mattresses and their promises of ultimate comfort. The UK-based company has teamed with London's Savoy Hotel to offer what they’ve declared is one of the most luxurious nights of sleep you’ll ever experience. 

What do they have that everyone else lacks? About eight pounds of Mongolian yak hair.

The elegantly-named Savoir No. 1 Khangai Limited Edition is part of the hotel’s elite Royal Suite accommodations. For $1845 a night, guests can sink into the mattress with a topper stuffed full of yak hair from Khangai, Mongolia. Hand-combed and with heat-dispensing properties, it takes 40 yaks to make one topper. In a press release, collaborator and yarn specialist Tengri claims it “transcends all levels of comfort currently available.”

Visitors opting for such deluxe amenities also have access to a hair stylist, butler, chef, and a Rolls-Royce with a driver.

Savoir Beds has entered into a fair-share partnership with the farmers, who receive an equitable wage in exchange for the fibers, which are said to be softer than cashmere. If you’d prefer to luxuriate like that every night, the purchase price for the bed is $93,000. Purchased separately, the topper is $17,400. Act soon, as only 50 of the beds will be made available each year. 

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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