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Darwin Cup Carnival the time for Territory milliners to shine

Maria Koko. Picture: GLENN CAMPBELL

Crazy as it might sound, some Territory milliners start work on their clients’ race-day looks as soon as the carnival of the year before wraps up. This year, milliners and headwear makers are crafting colourful, unique pieces that will be worn by both first-time racegoers and seasoned ‘sashionistas’ — the Fashions on the Field competitors who are regulars on the podium, with their eyes on the prized winner’s sash.

From feather art to crowns, cascading silk flowers on headbands, fresh botanicals and leather, here are seven Territory creatives whose headwear will adorn racegoers throughout this year’s Darwin Cup Carnival.

1. Helen Wilkinson of Helen Rose Millinery

Five years after starting her millinery label, Helen attended a millinery workshop in the South of France and has continued her studies ever since, attending courses and workshops across Australia for the past 11 years.

Helen Wilkinson. Source:News Corp Australia

She travelled to Japan to study the art of Japanese somebana flowers, putting her own twist on the craft to create unique fantasy, high-glossed, glass-look flowers, and she completed another course this week just before the horses bolted out of the gates for the Darwin carnival.

Helen’s intricate signature style is using flowers for hat trims and headbands. She experiments with different fabrics and dying techniques to create a unique look for her clientele, season after season. Her millinery competition pieces stop racegoers in their tracks and her hats have a trademark architectural elegance to them.

“Continually learning new art forms and techniques allows me to keep my millinery ideas fresh and innovative for clients,” said Helen. “It encourages me to think outside the box and when I’m designing for a client’s race day look

Belinda Osborne. Picture: HELEN ORR Source:News Corp Australia

2. Belinda Osborne of Peacock Millinery

Award-winning milliner Belinda placed third in the coveted invite-only national millinery competition held on Oaks Day at Flemington in 2015, and her designs have graced the heads of Fashions on the Field and millinery competition winners across Australia.

Belinda was booked out for custom orders months in advance of this year’s Darwin carnival. She spends an average 10 to 12 hours on every piece she creates, but some take much longer.

She estimates 90 per cent of her pieces are custom made, the best option she says, for the lady who likes to stand out from the crowd. “I’m very lucky to have produced so many pieces that have been seen in Fashions on the Field over the years,” she said. “But the credit really goes to my clients, who put so much time and thought into their outfits and whole look.”

3. Gina Cassimatis of Gina Marie Millinery

In Brisbane during her university years Gina started going to the races, which fuelled her love of millinery and racing fashion. Her millinery hobby started by making pieces for friends and family, and when she moved to Darwin seven years ago, she dedicated more time to working on her craft.

Showcasing some of her new range this week, Gina said she loves making headpieces for women and helping style their outfit so they look their best, which makes them feel special and beautiful. “If you feel fabulous you’re certainly on your way to having a wonderful day at the track,” she said.

Gina Cassimatis. Picture: JUSTIN KENNEDY Source:News Corp Australia

For this year’s colourful theme, Gina is looking forward to seeing the way colour use will be interpreted by individuals stepping out of their colour comfort zone, be it through embracing unusual clashes, feminine pastels, rich jewel tones or elegant neutrals.

“I have loved creating leather flower headpieces in headbands for this year’s carnival, they are a modern twist on the traditional headpiece,” she said. This year Gina’s range also includes, turbans, crowns and halo-style headpieces in summery straws trimmed with feathers, and luxe designer-inspired embellishments, which are popular for the races at the moment.

Race horse Worthington with Ally Pettifor. Picture: ELISE DERWIN

4. Ally Pettifor of Alea Headwear

Ally’s headwear designs were her creative outlet when she took time off work to have her first child. “Last year I was seeing a lot of lace crowns at race days, so I decided they were something I wanted to try and create myself,” she said.

“I then found a love for leather, as the raw material could be manipulated in more ways than lace material.” Alea Headwear pieces have been worn across Australia, and in the USA, UK and New Zealand. She has experimented with techniques and honed her skills to a style she describes as minimalistic, structural and uniquely modern.

To best showcase an Alea headpiece, Ally recommends a slicked-back hair do and a headband style to suit the wearer’s face shape and hairline. Ally is almost completely booked out with orders.

5. Leonie Kariotis of Fascinators by LeonieK

Leonie’s skills in arts and crafts led to a love of millinery after she attended race day events many years ago. “I decided to give millinery a go and taught myself,” she said.

“I have a passion, almost an obsession, for creating beautiful fascinators and headpieces.” For this year’s carnival of colour theming, Leonie has tipped magenta and red as being a popular combination, but says the “anything goes” attitude of Darwin is great.

Leonie Kariotis. Source:Supplied

She loves thinking outside the box when customising a piece for a client’s outfit, coming up with new ideas and different designs. When choosing your headpiece, Leonie recommends racegoers consider comfort. Choosing those that have headbands and slide combs are a winner — if your piece of choice doesn’t have something to secure it to your head (so it lasts the day), ask your milliner to attach one for you. Leonie’s pieces are priced from $80

6. Jessie Pink of Darwin Flower Crowns

The Darwin Cup was the inspiration for Jessie’s flower crown business. She’d previously worn her own headpiece designs to the races, but a couple of years ago started making flower crowns with fresh flowers from the garden.

She casually posted some photos of her botanical creations to Facebook, and soon had requests from friends to make crowns for them too. Darwin Flower Crowns was born. Fresh flower crowns start from $80, and silk from $100. This year Jessie is taking inspiration from Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and planning her own race-day crown to be crafted from a mix of magenta sweet williams, bright blue sea holly, hot pink carnations and red roses, complemented by an up-do of braids.

Jessie recommends her clients be creative, embracing different headband styles. “I’m loving crowns that sit up on a headband with a fun spiky tropical theme, taking advantage of local favourites like heliconias and orchids,” she said. “It’s a great theme you can really make your own.”

7. Maria Koko of Maria Koko Headwear

By her own admission, Maria is “revving up” the use of colour in her millinery for this year’s carnival. Known for her multicoloured creations, she includes trims such as flowers and feathers to adorn her rainbow-coloured hats.

Appropriately Territorian flavoured, and Maria’s favourite material to work with, is crocodile skin, which she began using five years ago. Crocodile leather is gaining more attention each year, and Maria is crafting it into headbands, as the showpiece on a hat and in trimming to complement the rest of the design. She thinks the carnival of colour is a great way for ladies and gents to show their style. “I can’t wait to see how fabulous everyone will look,” Maria said.