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October 20, 2017
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Viktoria Novak skull cap base, with ivory lace and feathers, embellished with Swarovski crystals and pearls. Source: viktorianovak.com.

Australian bridal and race-wear milliner Viktoria Novak was delighted when she received a personal letter back from Buckingham Palace informing her that a hat she had designed would be worn by a charity member (whose identity would remain unknown) at the impending Royal Wedding. Under the media spotlight, millions of viewers across the globe caught a glimpse of Novak's artwork when her mint green, 1920's-inspired headpiece appeared on television, worn by one of the Queen's notable charity associates.

In the "headpiece fair" at the Royal Wedding, the elegance of Novak's vintage feathered design was a distinct standout amongst the multitude of bizarre creations; the most notable of which were worn by Princess Eugenie of York (a cobalt blue hat with white plumes sprouting from purple flowers) and her sister, Princess Beatrice, whose beige bow-shaped Philip Treacy headpiece became a widely criticised internet sensation.

Viktoria Novak headpieces. 
Photograph by Robert Cappa.

The wearing of headpieces has always been a status symbol at English royal weddings and in society. For centuries, headpieces have been a stylish way to demonstrate belonging to the nobility or upper middle class. During the Tudor period, sumptuary laws dictated what types of clothing, colours and fabrics people could wear depending on their rank or income. It was an offence to disobey, and anyone who dressed above their station was considered to be breaking the law.

The tradition of wearing a headpiece as a symbol of authority has ancient roots. In Egypt, the pharaohs had various crowns that were worn upon a tight striped headdress depending upon the occasion. Wealthy Egyptians often wore curly wigs made from plant fibre at special occasions or religious ceremonies, with the size and height of the headpiece denoting one's level of affluence. In the Middle Ages, the most popular luxury ornament for the elite was a headpiece decorated with plumes, ribbons and jewels. But it was in the Victorian era, during the third decade of the 19th century, that wide-brimmed bonnets and headpieces became popular accessories for brides and guests at public events.

According to the Victorian Bridal Museum's archive in San Jacinto, California, Queen Victoria was not only the first bride in modern history to wear an all white satin gown when she got married to Prince Albert in 1840, but she also wore a crown of orange blossoms and myrtle with a lace veil, symbolising purity, love and domestic happiness. From then on, a large number of brides began wearing white and using floral wreaths as a meaningful demonstration of elegance, wealth and royalty.

With a fabric napkin in a Chinese restaurant I made one of my headpieces.

Although much of Australian fashion has followed the tradition of the English monarchy as a direct result of its history and political system (nowadays Australia is a parliamentary monarchy divided into a confederation of States), there have been significant changes within fashion and headpiece designs over the last twenty years. "Even the concept of the headpiece and its utility has changed, becoming just a fashionable accessory to enhance women's elegance and femininity, regardless of the status quo. Each exclusive piece that I design is a true reflection of the personality of the wearer," explains Novak. "I plan each outfit according to the season and focus on creating a theme for the total look rather than focusing too much on the current trends. I find with race-wear that style and flair will always stand out from an outfit that is too trend-based."

Looking at Novak's creations, it is possible to match each masterpiece with their influences. Africana, for example, is a custom-made race-wear headpiece with feathers in various shades of black and brown, evoking the earthy colours of the African savannah. The handmade red, black and white feathered Awakening headpiece has influences of Japan and China within the colour scheme, whilst the thin ornaments are reminiscent of the popular chopstick. The bright orange and light purple Rio suits the joyful personality of women with Brazilian origins.

After completing her studies in Fashion Design and Interior Decoration at Canberra's Institute of Technology and with a background in Visual Merchandising, Novak found her love and true passion in millinery. In 2010, one of her headpieces was recognised as one of the top 20 in the world in the "Who Wants to be a Milli-naire” Royal Ascot hat competition.

When designing, Novak layers exquisite materials and fabrics to create an element of beauty and elegance, whilst her distinctive designs range from sophisticated to quirky. "I use Swarovski crystals, beadings, pearls, vintage laces, embroidery, silks, feathers, textured fabrics and organza, birdcage veils as well as unusual vintage brooches to create my original bouquets, wired together with artificial flowers, different types of fabrics, feathers and finished with a matching satin bow. I am a hoarder so I collect bits and pieces and have them all stored in boxes like a rainbow library," she adds. Alongside this, Novak always tries to include peacock feathers in her designs after being mesmerised by their grace and colour as a child. Many customers have come to associate the peacock design detail as a signature for her brand.

Viktoria Novak headpiece.
Photograph by Tristan Cassar.

Novak often gets the ideas for her designs from old movies, Parisian vintage stores and unusual places or things she collects along her journeys, which unite in her often eccentric and bespoke designs. "With a fabric napkin in a Chinese restaurant I made one of my headpieces. When I was in Las Vegas at an amazing adult Disneyland full of artificial fantasy, I was inspired by people being wild, colourful and very out there - a bit like some of my race-wear collections!"

Novak's nostalgic memories as a little girl playing dress-up have also largely influenced the colours and patterns of her latest collection, which represents a whimsical sweet dream world of real life dolls. Alongside this, she is also currently working on a new race-wear collection inspired by Russian dolls and ballerinas.

Most of Novak's clients are from word of mouth, however her exclusive custom made headpieces have been worn by a number of Australian celebrities including Belinda Green (former Miss World in 1972), pop singer Sally Singleton, designer Sarah-Jane Clarke from the label Sass & Bide, as well as model and actress Emma Cam (winner of the reality television series Beauty & the Geek - Australia in 2010).

Whether planning a wedding or simply updating your evening look, head over to the Sydney Bridal Expo on April 21-22 and experience Novak's stunning headpieces and rainbow brooch bouquets.

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