Melbourne Milliner @ velvet&tonic

The first race day I ever attended was Derby Day, a couple of decades ago. I wore a white figure hugging dress and a black bucket hat. The Champagne Bar was where I spent most of my day and I’ve been hooked on the races since then. The atmosphere was amazing, like a massive daytime party with so many well-dressed attendees. 

It wasn’t until a few years later that I had this brave idea of entering a Fashions on The Field competition on Caulfield Guineas Day at the Caulfield Racecourse. My Charlie Brown, green and black floral print dress with a (borrowed) large vintage disc hat saw me into the top six of the best dressed ladies in the competition on Caulfield Cup Day. Unfortunately, I wasn’t announced the overall winner. The amazing experience and prizes had me hooked.

Following that competition, I attended many race days. One way to help sustain my new addiction of competing in the fashions on the field competitions was to learn how to create my own headwear. I attended some millinery classes with Melbourne milliner, Sandra Buchanan. From then on my headpieces became more elaborate and professionally finished. With each competition, I was able to produce on-trend creations to perfectly compliment my chosen outfits. 

One of my creations won me the Blue Diamond Stakes Day FOTF title at Caulfield racecourse in 2006. I was treated to a trip of a lifetime to South Africa, where I got to experience some magical safari action at Kruger National Park. It was a time when sponsors of such competitions were very generous. Eleven years later (2017), I won the same competition on Blue Diamond Stakes Day wearing another one on my own creations. This time there wasn’t a trip, but I was very happy with the win nonetheless. It proved that I was able to keep up with trends and produce winning pieces.

Last year, one of my gorgeous friends (Holly Stearnes) wore one of my designs and won the Victorian title of Fashions on The Field at the Melbourne Cup Carnival. She came third in the national final. This huge win finally  pushed me into creating my first millinery collection. With so many talented milliners with headpieces in the competition, it was so thrilling that my creation had been on-trend and beautiful enough to get Holly the winning sash.

From the beginning, I was always happier creating and wearing free-formed and more sculptural pieces. I have blocked a few hats but it was more exciting to twist and turn the different straws into something a bit more unique and intriguing. It always felt like I was wearing a work of art, rather than just a hat. My first collection showcases all those elements which I love when it comes to millinery. The pieces I create are uniquely beautiful, sculptural and slightly dramatic. They are all pieces which I would proudly wear myself to a race meet. I hope you love them as much as I do.

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Souri Sengdara