Aniseh Fakhri of Studio Aniss won Oaks Day’s Myer Fashions on the Field Millinery Award with a graphic, lazercut marvel of gracefully swooped and twisted featherweight timber, aerodynamic as a bird in flight.
It was cocked elegantly over model Reine Vanwaelscappel‘s left eye, and rose half a metre from front to back, edge to edge, without awkwardness or disproportion.
“This was very slow,” Ms Fakhri said of the wet moulding process she used to laboriously soften and kink the paperthin plywood. “You can only do a little every day.”
Her patience was rewarded with tickets to Europe, among other prizes, and the most covetted award in millinery. “I really didn’t think I would win,” Ms. Fakhri confided.
But, I did. Long before the judges, including designer Charlie Brown, Herald Sun fashion writer Anna Byrne, and milliners Nerida Winter and Kim Fletcher gathered along the bench, I strongly suspected Ms. Fakhri’s striking little miracle, remarkable among the work of her peers, might enchant them enough to award her the prize.
The millinery award was one of four Fashions on the Field competitions, including the Oaks Day womenswear award, Victorian State final, and ultimately, the national final, judged by Canadian supermodel Coco Rocha and won by Victoria’s entrant, arts student Chloe Moo, 19, from Darwin.
Miss Moo’s short sleeved sheath dress by Darwin label Raw Cloth, featured a screen printed design by aboriginal designer Marita Sambono of Merrepen Arts. Her spectacular flora burst headpiece was by Melissa Cabot of Monsoon Millinery.
It was an intense, competitive day, especially for the record 81 milliners who began drifting into Fashions on the Field just as Flemington’s balmy 24 degrees crashed to bittercold and a vicious little wind set to whipping up frocks, exposing knickers and snatching hats.
Millinery is an exotic category of fashion, not to mention its most fickle. A proliferation of millinery classes has also recently complicated life for Melbourne’s small core of established and classically trained craftsmen, by driving a tsunami of new “hobby” practitioners into their already swollen industry.
Some newbies are extravagantly gifted. But, there are also a few things about millinery the average newbie can’t easily grasp. Some subtle millinery maths can take decades to master.
“It’s all about proportion, and distribution of weight,” says milliner Amanda Macor, of Cairns. “If the proportions aren’t right, and if (the hat) doesn’t compliment the outfit, it won’t feel right and you’ll be constantly touching it, fixing it.”
Ms Macor’s own design, a chic lozenge of Swiss braid and clear cellophane tinged blue and magenta at the back, orange and pink at the front, rose like a whimsical lollipop over her eyes, in perfect proportion to her face and massed, soft blonde hair.
In her home town of Cairns, Ms Macor is a beauty therapist in business as Brow Babes (“I’m the brown queen!”) but every year, makes the pilgrimage to Melbourne to indulge her obvious talent for composing attractive racewear outfits with her own millinery.
She has a pool room of awards from Fashions on the Field. “This is a sub-culture,” she muses, “The only place where you wouldn’t get laughed at for wearing this..”
Millinery is an art, says Natalie Bikicki and she is one who knows. The young milliner was a painter who switched to hats and, in a rare coup for one so fresh, found admirers for her work in Myer’s accessory department.
She supplied her first ready-to-wear collection to Myer this spring, and at Oaks Day, made it to the Millinery Award’s preliminary final with a small thicket of black plastic lattice lace set with two spiked rose-gold cuffs arranged on a lace-covered pillbox. “Milllinery is the ultimate creativity,” Miss Bikicki explains. “I think of it as wearable art.”
Her own design, she said, was a study in femininity achieved with “aggressive materials”.
Zorza Goodman, a full-time carer who discovered a talent for millinery after a course at Kangan Tafe, took out first runner-up prize with an extraordinary take on the classic, wide and down-dipped mushroom brim of the 1950s.
“I call this ‘Treasure Trove’,” she says. And, so it was; its spidery, wire and papier-mache brim resembled a network of dark pink coral studded with freshwater pearls and tiny shell fragments crusted around her model,
Nicole Everett‘s chic topknot, sprouted from the hat in place of a crown. “I respect millinery, as an old-school art,” Miss Goodman says. Her shock at winning first-runner-up, however, reduced her to charming, hiccupy, crowd-pleasing burst of tears that suggested creativity, however bold, is rarely expressed with absolute confidence.
There were other milliners milling on the lawns around Myer’s FOTF enclosure, who had also boldly indulged their creativity, with less success. Some hats sat weirdly, as if dropped by helicopter on a waiting head, little relativity to the complexion and proportions of face, ensemble and womanly body beneath. Some were as pretty as spring, but quite ridiculous.
Some, like Brett Morley‘s soft pink sinamay lozenge crown with intense red spray of star-feather flowers, elegant as swaying seaweed, should have scored a prize, but didn’t. “It’s an experiment with angles,” he says, cryptically.
Veteren milliner Liza Georgia, might also have been awarded a prize if the planets were in fairer alignment. Her soft, sculptured tick of blood parasisal straw with zebra striped feather spines and vintage mother-of-pearl brooch was a striking triumph of chic against her model, Meg Bauer‘s bulged chignon and sleek racewear ensemble.
“I was thinking of liquid – red liquid, and bellows, and the headlights on a 1950s car,” Ms Georgia confided. And, yes, there is a lilt of all those inspirations there, somehow, in the blood and curves and fine, tightly woven straw.
Millinery is like that: intriguing, though you’re not always quite sure why.
This article first appeared on Voxfrock. Janice Breen Burns, the former fashion editor for The Age, is the site’s editor and founder.
All photos courtesy of Monty Coles – visit his website for more images from the Spring Racing Carnival.