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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim, Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Precious cargo: Who does the Hawk’s dry cleaning?

The Hawk stands among members of the St. Joe’s men’s basketball team after a win over Bradley University. PHOTO: MITCHELL SHIELDS ’22/THE HAWK

Seventy yards of feathers make up the Hawk mascot’s costume, and one shop is tasked with inspecting and cleaning each feather individually. Pierre’s Costumes, a store in downtown Philadelphia that created the current version of the Hawk costume in 1997 has made two modifications since then, and receives the costume once a year for a cleaning.

“The Hawk suit is prized cargo,”Alec Kerr ’20, who puts on the suit for every St. Joe’s men’s basketball game, said. “It is not your everyday dry cleaning material.”

That may be a bit of an understatement. It takes weeks for Pierre’s to complete a standard cleaning on the costume.

“When he comes in, the first thing we have to do is actually label every strip of feathers that’s on him and match them to which version of the costume we’re looking at,” Jennifer Zumpf-Valosen, a manager at Pierre’s, said. “There are three versions that we’ve had over the years. Before we actually put those strips of feathers back on, we have to go through individually each feather and clean them, deodorize them, and do any repairs to them that’s needed. Per inch you have about 30 to 40 feathers.”

The relationship between St. Joe’s and Pierre’s almost never happened. When the athletic department was looking for a company to make the costume, they originally contracted the same company that made the Phillie Phanatic. It turns out that the company made a Hawk costume that looked a little bit too much like its famous client.

“The costume that they created was a little cartoonish Hawk, there weren’t any feathers,” former associate director of athletics Jim Brown said. “It wasn’t a fierce Hawk. That was rolled out for a game or two and really people didn’t like it very much.”

Brown and the rest of the athletic department followed a tip from someone who worked at Bluett Theatre who had experience working with Pierre’s and ordering costumes for various plays that were put on at St. Joe’s. The athletic department met with the owner of Pierre’s and placed a $10,000 order for the new Hawk costume.

While the feathered version of the Hawk may look better, it’s difficult to overstate the work that goes into maintaining it. There’s a special process that Pierre’s goes through in order to match the color of the feathers to the St. Joe’s crimson.

“Every time we needed refurbishing we’d go back to Pierre’s,” Brown said. “The feathers, they dye them that red color, the St. Joe’s color.”

Pierre’s Costumes has been open since 1943. PHOTO: JOEY TOCZYLOWSKI ’20/THE HAWK

Because of hundreds of thousands of flaps the Hawk performs each year, there are certain specifications that are applied for the Hawk.

“We triple reinforce him so he’s not like some of my standard costumes where you do one seam per arm,” Zumpf-Valosen said. “He’s had stitching and a line of velcro as well as stitching from where the wing is attached to the body. So we do try to make sure that the shorter feathers go into the arm flaps so if they get crushed or damaged they’re not as noticeable and the longer feathers going on the outer part of the wing.”

It is no small task to create and maintain a costume that Sports Illustrated’s Mascot of the 20th Century dons every basketball game. Although the Hawk is a feature in nearly every national broadcast of a St. Joe’s game, Zumpf-Valosen said the Hawk is treated like any other costume at Pierre’s. However, the process for cleaning the mascot is special, and the work that goes into it is unmistakable.

“It is [difficult] but it’s well worth it,” Zumpf-Valosen said. “We’ve been doing the St. Joe’s Hawk mascot for over 20 years now so we have a longstanding relationship that we enjoy very much.”

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