Melbourne Cup 2015: Meet the milliners crafting 'crowns for the people'

Story highlights

  • Crowns tipped to be 'hat of choice' at this year's Melbourne Cup
  • Four milliners give us an insight into their exquisite handiwork

(CNN)When it comes to hats, Australian racegoers make their own rules -- for a while, cat's ears on headbands were all the rage.

Now as the nation prepares for its most famous horse race, the Melbourne Cup, expect to see something a little more regal perched atop spectators' heads -- the crown.
From delicate metal leaves, to halos of flowers, and laser-cut perspex numbers, crowns are tipped to be de rigueur at the sporting event so famous it's got its own public holiday.
    We spoke to four Australian milliners who are crafting crowns for the people.

    Richard Nylon: The Gothic Crown

    If you happen to be at the Melbourne Cup this year, keep an eye out for a man wearing a bowler hat made from peacock feathers -- that's Richard Nylon.
    The former President of The Millinery Association of Australia is known for his fabulously sculptured mustache and a style he describes as "early 19th century Dandy meets Edwardian undertaker."
    Nylon counts Chloe Sevigny, Kate Bosworth, Dame Edna Everage as some of his celebrity clients. Headpieces start at AUD$160 ($115).
    Your pieces for fashion designer Jason Grech (pictured) are fierce -- what was the thinking behind them?
    They were supposed to be a cross between a knight's helmet, a tiara, and a veil. Jason loves the idea of the powerful woman, and the catwalk is where ideas can be conveyed in a visually potent form.
    How should you feel when you wear a crown?
    I wore a crown on top of a top hat last year, and I felt very posh. Two symbols of the traditional ruling classes worn together!
    Crowns are tipped to be big at this year's Melbourne Cup -- why do you think that is?
    In fashion, the crown trend has been brewing for a while, and will reach it's apogee this year. It's a trend mainly for the young, and is a development of the "ears" look, which is now in its death throes .
    What's history's greatest hat?
    Probably the baseball cap. Ubiquitous, useful, and mostly dull. Worn by paupers and billionaires alike. Churned out in the millions or in the form of one-offs made by couture milliners -- it's a shape that is a classic. I wished I owned the baseball cap's patent.
    What's your favorite material to work with right now?
    Always feathers. I dabble in other materials, but I return to feathers .
    What's your most expensive piece of millinery equipment?
    My imagination. I spend lots if valuable time fooling about and experimenting when I should be making salable pieces. Developing ideas is the most costly thing.
    And what couldn't you live without?
    English Breakfast Tea with lots of milk.
    Sum up Melbourne Cup fashion in three words:
    Extravagant, unique, festive.

    Lady Petrova: The Flower Crown

    When pop singer Lana Del Rey toured Australia in 2012, she asked designer Petrova Hammond -- otherwise known as "Lady Petrova" -- to make her a set of flower crowns for the stage.
    Now you can make your own floral headpiece at Lady Petrova's Flower Crown Class, part of the designer's wonderfully named "School of Fabulousness."
    "I like to teach that 'more is more,'" she says. Crowns range from AUD$69 ($49) to AUD$139 ($100).
    What's the secret to the perfect flower crown?
    They should look like a fabulous freshly-picked bunch of flowers that you happen to be wearing on your head. The secret is to make sure the crown looks lovely from all angles and is comfortable to wear.
    How do you feel when you're wearing a flower crown?
    I feel like a princess, and wherever you go wearing one, you are always greeted with big smiles.
    Crowns are tipped to be big at this year's Melbourne Cup -- why do you think that is?
    Over the last six years, crowns have been growing in popularity. Melbourne is very windy in October and November. So any headpiece you wear to the Melbourne Cup, you really need to make sure it's secured to your head. Crowns are so easy, light to wear, and can be made to match any outfit.
    What's history's greatest hat?
    I love everything from the traditional Hennin head dress -- a cone shaped hat -- from medieval times, to the iconic creations by Irish designer Philip Treacy.
    What's your favorite material to work with right now?
    Because I am more of a fashion designer than a milliner, I always prefer working in fabrics, such as lace, tulle, and of course silk flowers.
    Sum up Melbourne Cup fashion in three words:
    Colorful, ladylike, fun.

    Viktoria Novak: The Royal Touch

    When Viktoria Novak started making crowns for racegoers and brides a few years ago, "people were calling me crazy," she says.
    With Novak's delicate metal crowns now appearing everywhere from the race track, to New York Fashion Week, and on U.S. TV series "Reign," it appears the talented Australian milliner is the one having the last laugh.
    Crowns range from AUD$298 ($215) to AUD$3,000 ($2,164).
    We've heard the word tiara is banned in your studio -- why is that?
    The word tiara is a little cliche. When we hear the word, it tends to be associated with Disney princesses, and that's the complete opposite to my work and style. My work is more refined, detailed, and delicate. I've modernized the design to reflect a crown, rather than a traditional tiara. So rather than use the word tiara, we much prefer to use the term modern-day crown.
    Do you have a royal style icon?
    I love Kate Middleton. I love everything about her as a person and her style. Kate is elegant, classy and modern -- but still remaining timeless. She is the perfect modern day princess.
    What's history's greatest hat?
    The one hat in my lifetime which I believe has had the most impact, belongs to Princess Beatrice, designed by the amazing Philip Treacy, and worn to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
    The wedding stopped the world, but the fascinator worn by Princess Beatrice also had the entire world talking. I also love that Princess Beatrice auctioned off her fascinator on eBay and raised $131,648 for for charity.
    What's the secret to the perfect crown?
    The secret lies with the person wearing it -- you have to own it. You have to have the confidence. And if you feel that you're ready to take on the world, then you're ready to be crowned. I also see crowns on the market that are overdone. It's like there is a perception that the more it sparkles, the more expensive it looks. And this isn't necessarily true.
    What's your most expensive piece of millinery equipment?
    I was extremely privileged to inherit a collection of the most amazing vintage Italian and French laces from the truly gifted late couturier, Laurence Shiels. These materials mean the world to me and my work -- they're priceless and many of my designs feature these beautiful, timeless laces throughout.
    And what couldn't you live without?
    Sleep! Although I'm not getting too much sleep time at the moment. But November is the best time of year in Australia -- the sun is shining and we all have an excuse to dress up. Also Coca-Cola -- I'm not a coffee drinker, so Coca-Cola is my daily caffeine intake.
    Sum up Melbourne Cup fashion in three words:
    Color, artistic, experimental.

    Danica Erard: Laser Cutting Queen

    Danica Erard uses a million dollar laser cutter to create her modern crowns, counting the Queen's granddaughter, Zara Phillips, as one of her high-profile clients.
    "I try not to follow trends, as I want my pieces to be timeless," she said. "They're a point of difference in the market."
    Hats range from AUD$200 ($144) to AUD$1000 ($721).
    What's the process behind laser-cutting a crown?
    One of my best friends Kirrily is a laser drafter at her family business, Ballarat Pressings. Kirrily takes my drawings and converts them as a digital file. The file gets cut on a million dollar laser cutter. Then once cut, the raw product is sent to me -- we live 1,500 miles apart! -- which I color, mold, and shape into the finished piece.
    What's your favorite material to work with right now?
    Definitely leather and perspex. My limited edition crowns dipped in precious metals are my favorite millinery at the moment -- they're dipped in gold, silver, and copper and make such a visual impact. They are more than just millinery -- they are jewelery, and possibly timeless family heirlooms.
    What's your most expensive piece of millinery equipment?
    The laser cutter that cuts material for my crowns is worth over a million dollars. But in my own studio, it would have to be my imagination. Without my vivid imagination I couldn't dream up half the ideas that become my collection every year.
    What's history's greatest hat?
    Being Australian, I am going to say the ''Slouch Hat." This distinctive Australian at was worn by those in the military forces in Australia back in 1885. A classic felt hat that shaded many a weary face. It's an iconic image etched into the minds of many Australians, young and old, and still worn today by our service men and women.
    Sum up Melbourne Cup fashion in three words:
    Busy, colorful, amazing.