Melbourne is like no other when it comes to millinery; because the people of Melbourne take dressing up for the races as seriously as the bets placed on the horses, the women invest heavily in hats and headpieces in order to impress at the race course, particularly on Derby Day. (One lady in the audience had over one hundred of Jill & Jack’s pieces!)
Being at the Melbourne Fashion Festival, it would have been a sin not to find out more about the city’s millinery, and so we headed to part three of Melbourne Fashion Festival’s State of Fashion series.
We started with Richard Nylon, a successful milliner who works primarily with feathers. He said of the city’s fascination with millinery: “Melbourne is blessed by fact we have public holiday for a race day. Melbourne goes mad for hats! To fully experience the Melbourne cup season and spring racing, you really need to be here – it’s amazing. Photos aren’t enough – it’s sensory, an experience, there’s a feeling in Melbourne when it happens. When the flowers bloom and the shops are selling spring collections and the milliners are making their hats. It’s magic.”
Richard started out as a fashion designer in the 80s, but he would make hats too, which he’d wear out clubbing with friends. People would ask where he got his hats and, once they discovered that he made them himself, would ask him to make them one. Later, he joined the then Fashion Design Council which helped to get him off ground, soon becoming known for catwalk millinery, which led to race wear and bridal and couture bridal millinery. Now he creates hats using mostly feathers, exploring how he can mould and use them – and new techniques – to create hats for his label. His work is visionary, innovative and spectacular.
Next was Jill Humphries, the designer behind her label Jill & Jack, who fell into millinery when she was pregnant with her second child. Her business has been built around her family; after her second child, she decided not to return to her career in marketing and, instead, decided to make hats. Now she has a studio at home and her work really fits in with family life; an average day will see her get up, sort out the kids, gets a coffee from her favourite spot in Melbourne and set to work in her studio until 3.20pm when she picks the kids up.
What she loves about her work as a millinery is that it’s engrained in her life as a mother and wife. She said, “During race season, my dining table is covered with fabrics and hats! My kids love it, they even know the names of my clients. It’s something that I really love to do but it’s not like going to work because it’s such a massive part of my family life. I just do what I love, and I do it every day with my family around me.”
Jill works with leather, but her designs are feminine, so she creates an interesting contrast of hard and soft using the tough fabric but delicate designs in a neutral palette. I found myself most drawn to her designs, which are subtle with an interesting twist, and elegant. She wore hers beautifully during the event.
Jill’s first ever piece was made using a vintage ostrich skin found at Melbourne’s Camberwell Market, and Jill explained that because she is a tactile person she sources all her leather in Melbourne. By using leather so fine it’s like silk, she says it’s easy to work with, and she’s started using leather backed with jersey for her new collection.
Kim Fletcher was the final milliner at the seminar, which was again hosted by the engaging and witty Philip Boon. Kim explained her background to us.
“I can’t draw! I was born in country Victoria, so being from country area my grandmothers taught me to knit and crochet. I was always brought up to use my hands and my imagination. I moved to Melbourne when I was 11 and went on to have an academic background doing science.
“My husband is a gambler, and we owned a lot of (slow) horses! I’d always gone to the racing. Like a lot of women I struggled with the work-life balance after my daughter born in 1990. I suddenly found that I was lost: there was no Kim. I saw an ad in local newspaper advertising a millinery class one night a week. That was 1993 and I was hooked.”
Kim’s personality shone through her chat with Philip, and despite having only been introduced to her designs for the first time that day, I could sense her character within her work: creative, bold, and just a little bit mad! My particular favourite was the red foam flowers with visor, while the top hat was certainly not for the camera shy. In all, I found her and her work fascinating.
The millinery scene in Melbourne really does surpass that of anywhere else I’ve been, and the intimate and insightful seminar left me determined to return one day for Derby Day and the race season.
Kim summed up the event perfectly when she said: “It’s a celebration of our culture, of racing. That’s why Melbourne is the mecca for millinery design.”
From top: the panel; Richard Nylon; Jill & Jack; Kim Fletcher.
Images: Kris Miller