The Melbourne Cup floweth over – for the fashionistas as much as the horse fanciers. Morgan Dyer and Cameron Lucas seek out the top hats.
Three-story marquees, brand building, celebrity chefs, flower walls and $2 million watch displays are all features of this year’s Melbourne Cup carnival. These golden luxuries, however, will never outdo the fashions that accompany the 158th running of the race that stops the nation.
And few people know the Cup fashion frenzy as well as Melbourne milliner Kim Fletcher, who began making hats as a hobby in 1993 and whose creations are now favoured by the likes of celebrity stylist Lana Wilkinson and model Rebecca Harding. One of her pieces has taken pride of place in this year’s Spring Carnival window display at the flagship Myer store in Bourke Street.
“I thought I’d have some fun for six months and the worst that could happen would be having a nice hat that I could wear to the races,” Fletcher recalls of her more humble beginnings.
Fletcher’s hobby turned into a full-time career 10 years ago when she opened her own boutique and workshop in Elsternwick.
Now much in demand for her creations, she has worked seven days a week for the past month to meet her clients’ demands.
“I get a buzz seeing my clients wearing my hats to the races, after going through the process – them coming in and making something especially for their outfit,” Fletcher says.
This year, Flemington is expected to see a return to traditional millinery styles, with boaters, berets and classic fascinators back on the turf.
The tiara and jewelled headband trend of previous years is expected to fade.
“I’m really happy people are going back to substantial pieces,” Fletcher says.
“I think the two royal weddings that we’ve had recently have had an influence on what we see and therefore what we buy.”
It takes a “warped sense of humour” to come up with inspiration, says Fletcher, who constantly experiments with new fabrics and textures.
Her one-time hobby has sent her across the world. Every year she attends the lavish $35 million Dubai World Cup, but she says there is no place like home for race-day rewards.
“A lot of countries are very jealous of what Australia has,” she says.
“Our racing is very inclusive, and it’s not based on how much you can afford.”
On Cup Day, Fletcher will take a well-earned break from her busy schedule to enjoy the races for herself. But it won’t last long: she will be back in the studio finishing designs for the Dubai event, which takes place in March.