Raw talent is one thing, but even more important is the ability to keep pushing the limits of your ability and to work hard. These, Viktoria Novak has in buckets. It’s no wonder that her millinery is so in demand, and even less of a surprise that the Viktoria Novak brand commands the awe and and fan-girling that it does.
Here, Ms. Novak takes us behind the scenes.
You’ve been doing this for 10 years, yet you come out with even better pieces every time.
It’s amazing looking at the journey and the style of the pieces I was creating 10 years ago, compared to what I’m creating now. They do say that everything comes around full circle. So you know, some of the old-style pieces that I’m doing might be reinvented again in the next few years, but the challenge is to recreate it in a way that is different and has never been done before.
You’ve probably created about 6,000 pieces and you’ve worked with over 3,000 brides. How do you keep that going? That is a lot. How do you keep from burning out?
Well, the simple answer is, when you love what you do, you do it and you don’t complain or whinge or burn out, because every day’s a new challenge. It’s exciting, it’s being creative, it’s testing. Lots of testing over the years. You just meet amazing new people and it’s an ongoing circle.
My clients are responsible for me being still here after 10 years, because without them, there would be no love.
Burning out is not really a problem for you.
No, no. Look, you know, I’m human, so I do get tired, but to give you an idea: Tristen and I, we work really long hours. So we work six days, we only have one day off, and that’s on a Sunday. We’re often here ‘till 8 or 9 pm. An early night is when we leave at 6 or 7 o’ clock. When it’s your own business, you can’t just walk out and go, ‘OK I’m done, bye.’ You can’t.
Time doesn’t matter when it’s your own business. You just throw all your energy in, before you know it, it is 8 pm. Sometimes I think I could stay on until 1 in the morning and keep working and designing. It’s just not enough hours in the day for me.
“We pride ourselves on being that old-fashioned. You can actually see how it’s made by me, by a human, by hand, and it’s finished to last.”
No, I don’t. So a lot of people think that Viktoria Novak is this huge corporation with minions, and a lot of people can’t understand how one human can make so many headpieces. The truth is, we work so many hours.
Tristen looks after the business side of things, so he does the emails, the phone calls, the online store, social media, he looks after things like loans for press magazines, press releases. You name it, he’s the man.
Everything is done the old-fashioned way, by hand. It’s very unique and it is a dying art, because now so many designers do take things offshore, and they get things mass-produced and sell it cheaper.
But we pride ourselves on being that old-fashioned. You can actually see how it’s made by me, by a human, by hand, and it’s finished to last.
I’ve read in several of your interviews that you never really meant to go into headwear — did you ever think you’d be this successful when you starting out?
No, I didn’t really know where this journey would take me. When I was younger, I knew I had to do something creative, whether that would be a costume designer, a fashion designer. I used to want to be a florist, all sorts of things. And then, this was totally by accident.
It’s been exciting because I’ve been able to reinvent what millinery is. I’ve been able to create a new — essentially a new niche, especially here in Australia with the crown trend.
It’s amazing, I look at your pieces and it’s hard for me to imagine that they would be dated. I would be looking at your work from a few years ago, and they still look fresh, and you can still wear it.
Yes absolutely, and that’s one thing I do pride myself on. I create pieces that are timeless, and you can wear them for the next decades. You know, I don’t want them to be just too trend-based.
“I want it to be ‘Oh, that’s so Viktoria Novak vintage, I’ll re-wear that.’”
They’re not trendy, they’re timeless.
Timeless, timeless that’s correct. Timeless but also contemporary and obviously very fashion-forward. In with now, what is on trend, but at the same time, looking back in 10, 20 years, I don’t want it to be like where someone will say, ‘So Viktoria Novak 2015’ or something like that. I don’t want that. I want it to be ‘Oh, that’s so Viktoria Novak vintage, I’ll re-wear that.’
Are there any milliners that you look up to?
I love Phillip Treacy, he’s my ultimate favourite, I love his work. He’s just unbelievable.
First-time racegoers — are they any common mistakes you see them doing? I would imagine that a lot of them would tend to overdress.
You know it’s funny, when you go to the races, you can pick (out) a first-timer. And it’s usually their outfit. The outfit is wrong. They’ll either wear something too short, too tight, too revealing, too nightclub-y or disco, or they’ll go too evening, and they’ll wear a long, formal dress.
Shoes, often they’re in pain, shoes come off, off they go, bare feet walking home. And then millinery as well. I find that a lot of people that are first-time goers kinda don’t respect that you do need to wear something on the head. A lot of girls go to the races and they don’t even wear a headpiece.
What’s your advice to these girls that are getting dressed for racing for the first time?
Just do a little bit of research. Go on Google or Pinterest, and type in a few keywords. Look at celebrities, look at the year before, just look at how people have dressed and take inspiration from that. It’s so easy to do.
What is the process like for a bespoke headpiece? Let’s say it’s a bride-to-be. What’s the process like? What questions do they ask?
With bespoke, it’s a matter of coming in and having a meeting with myself. They have to come prepared — they must have photos of their dress and swatches. We expect the client to have done a lot of research about their wedding already and a sort of clear understanding of the direction they want to go in, what the theme of the wedding is, the style. Once they present that to me, I can get a really good understanding.
If they come in, and they say, ‘I don’t have my dress, I don’t even know what I want,’ I can’t help yet.
The same thing applies to Spring Racing Carnival or some other event. If you have an event to go to, first thing I will say is, ‘What are you wearing?’ It’s so important, because there’s no point in coming in, and getting an amazing headpiece but not having the outfit, because what if you can’t get that outfit? It will change the whole aesthetic of the whole outfit.
“My background is Croatian, so I have that sort of ethnic love for anything that’s extravagant. I love gold and heavily embellished.”
You’ve travelled around the world and you’ve worked with so many different nationalities, do you have a favourite country to work with?
I in particular love Indian brides. I love the colour and flamboyant beadwork and crystals. And I love that they still remain traditional, but the push the boundaries. I also have a lot of Japanese brides and I love their culture as well, and Chinese brides. We get a lot of brides from all around the world. We get a lot of Arabic brides and I do like very heavy crystallised dresses which are amazing. US brides are a little bit more willing to push the boundaries and be more fashion-forward.
I personally love Russian. My background is Croatian, so I have that sort of ethnic love for anything that’s extravagant. I love gold and heavily embellished and those little dolls, the Russian dolls, very inspired by that look. That’s one of my favourites.
During Spring Racing Carnival, when it gets really busy, do you usually go to races, mingle with people?
Yes, I do. We always attend obviously with Myer, being in the Myer family, and their marquee is so much fun and it’s so vibrant and it’s amazing. So we do spend a week down in Melbourne.
How would you describe your personal style and who are your go-to designers?
I’ve always loved this, but very much now I’m more in love because more designers are doing it. I love Victorian era dresses, old-school, 1890s, 1800s even dressing. So I love anything with a high collar, lace, frills, ruffles, bell sleeves, lady-like dressing, longer hemlines, layering, lots of appliqué, just really, really timeless and classic.
I’m loving Valentino’s new range, and also Alexander McQueen does some phenomenal pieces, very lady-like dressing, high necks. At the moment, I’m absolutely obsessed with Gucci’s new range. I just think it’s so ladylike, the whole collection is so beautiful, and of course this style works very well with all my headpieces.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Track Mode is a horse racing and fashion site founded and curated by Nina O’Brien. Subscribe to our newsletter to get exclusive race day fashion edits straight to your inbox! You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google+.
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You can shop for Viktoria Novak’s headpieces on her website.