From her millinery studio in Bulimba, Alison Clark works her magic to make sure no race-day outfit is ever incomplete. From classic romantic pieces to the eccentric, Alison has defined a unique brand which is emerging as one of the most sought after millinery labels amongst the Queensland celebrity racing scene.
We caught up with Alison to find out the dos and don’ts of race-wear ahead of next week’s Melbourne Cup.
When and how were you introduced to millinery?
I used to work in finance in London before I came back to Australia. I was thinking of a career change. Shortly after, I was heading to the races with some friends. One said, “I bought this hat yesterday, it was on sale, only $450”. My mathematical head decided, I can make that…..I’m going to make hats. I started studying in 2001 and ended up with a Certificate IV in millinery.
Are there any rules that should be adhered to for choosing the perfect hat/fascinator?
We all have different face shapes so you need to choose a hat to suit your shape. For example, a long face should have a hat with more width than height and be worn at an angle (as should most). Going to a milliner and trying on different hats can help to guide you in what style suits your face. I set a client’s hat on their partline as the other side of your hair is usually what is styled. It is also a great way to cover regrowth!
What comes first, the hat or the outfit?
I’d like to say the hat, but it’s a bit of a mixture. A lot of my regular clients will come and see what styles I have in the studio and then go shopping for an outfit to suit the hats they fancy. Or they fall in love with a particular hat and then go off to buy a dress to suit.
A statement hat can be teamed with a plain dress and still look amazing.
Many also bring their outfit and I’ll make something to suit. The benefit of your own milliner is we can colour match and create a one off piece, tailor made just for you.
What are the biggest “no-nos” in putting together a look for the races?
To the young girls…..dresses should be of a respectable length. Heels should be on at the end of the day, so make sure they aren’t ridiculously high. If you are doing Fashions on the Field, dresses should come at least to the knee and shoulders and midriff should be covered. Hats/headpieces should be secure. You don’t want to be chasing it across the track!
What styles and trends can we expect to see trackside at this year’s races?
Halos, crowns and birdcage veils are popular this season for the younger race-goer. Guipure Lace is definitely on trend. Whether it’s a covered hat or brim or a sculptured headpiece.
Where do you draw inspiration from in creating new pieces?
I’m always looking at my surroundings, whether I’m outdoors or in a homewares store. I’m inspired by sculpture and unusual materials.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I love seeing a client’s face when I reveal their hat. I always have it boxed ready for the unveiling. A happy client is very rewarding. You put so much into each hat, you just want it to be loved.
What’s involved in a typical day for a milliner?
I’m sure most are sleep deprived this time of year – I know I am. I head down to the studio around 10am, once the house and everyone is sorted. I’m not a morning person. First thing I do is put on my IPod. I have to have music on. I have it on in most rooms of the house, partly for the songs but partly for the company. A milliner’s life can be lonely sometimes. The day is spent blocking and working on orders. I like to pull out lots of materials in one or two compatible colours to be inspired. I will work until about 4pm then break for the kids. I usually start back around 8pm and work until midnight. If it’s my busy time, like now, I’ll keep working until one or two in the morning. I never go to bed before midnight. I’ve always survived on little sleep.
Do you notice a difference in race-day fashions from your time spent in Melbourne and Brisbane?
I moved to Brisbane from Melbourne nine years ago. At first race fashion was a little more casual but now it is big business. Whether it’s at the track doing Fashions on the Field or with friends or at a Melbourne Cup luncheon. Every decent restaurant in Brisbane is doing a Melbourne Cup lunch package and there are some great prizes to be won. Last year I had seven happy clients send me their photos with their prizes. It’s a great feeling.