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Carnival Couture: Racing’s best bespoke fashion moments


Spring Carnival is so big for Australian designers, they are now dedicating entire collections to racewear, but with popularity comes an air of danger. Choosing a prominent ready-to-wear label can cause you to prowl a racing club much like a snow leopard trying to size up a rival in the same coat on a cold mountain. While no two women will wear any garment the same way, when the notion of celebrity comes into play, sometimes couture is the only way to cut it.

While marveling at the Spring Carnival fashion shots, one can always pick the woman in a one-off creation. Whether it has been hand-picked from a couture collection and altered for her perfect fit, or a custom piece created just for her, it’s the confident aura that keeps onlookers enchanted.  

Stylist to the stars Lana Wilkinson is frequently the orchestrator of the highly coveted ensembles we see during Spring Carnival and every worthy red carpet event on Australian shores. Lana’s client list covers racewear heavyweights from Rachael Finch to Rebecca Judd, and some of her most iconic styling moments have earned their star in the racing fashion hall of fame.

Lana’s work starts with looking at popular culture and runway trends of the moment, then a deeper insight into what meets her client’s needs and makes them feel comfortable. “For me, an amazing red carpet moment happens when you can tell that a woman feels powerful and confident in what she's wearing,” she said. “This creates the best outcome for the client, the designer and myself.”

“I’m very lucky to have some amazing relationships with Australian and International designers and brands,” Lana said. “I often preview the collections and either collaborate on a custom piece with the designer or choose a couture piece in their collection,” she said. “I will then fit with the client and we’ll begin to make any adjustments and talk about what accessories and shoes we think could work. “

An outstanding moment in recent racing history was Elyse Knowles in Cappellazzo Couture for the 2017 Melbourne Cup, styled by Lana. “It is truly an honour to work with someone as talented as Sonia Cappellazzo and I am always inspired when I work with Elyse,” Lana said.

“Sonia and I have worked so closely over the years because she is able to take my vision and translate it into an amazing fashion moment, time and time again,” she said. “I’ve also been working with Elyse for a long time, so the collaboration felt like a great fit to me.”

The trio brought their ideas to the table to create the moment that cemented Elyse’s status as a spring racing style queen. “I wanted a big pop of colour for Melbourne Cup Day and Sonia and I love power shoulders and the structure really suited Elyse,” Lana said.

Another winning look was Lana’s work with the beguiling Megan Gale at the 2018 Melbourne Cup - one of the stylist’s favourite couture fashion moments. “Last Spring Racing carnival Megan Gale wore a Paolo Sebastian tea length gown to Melbourne Cup Day and it was spectacular,” Lana said. “We paired the gown with a Dion Lee top to dress down the look and add a touch of personal flair.”

Sydney-based couture house J. ANDREATTA is known for their feminine edge on the world of bridal and red carpet gowns. Founded by designer Jessica Andreatta, the label dressed Australian model Brooke Hogan for Derby Day 2018. The custom pearlescent cocktail dress gave us major drama with a voluptuous Juliet style sleeve, accentuated by a shoulder-skimming deep v neckline.

And no red carpet is ever complete without a little J’Aton. Poppy Delevingne made an angelic arrival in a white A-line, tiered, knee-length dress with sheer lace detail at Derby Day 2013. The Melbourne couture duo dressed Rebecca Judd and baby bump that same day in a caped white peplum dress with a circular patterned motif and nude underlay.

Lana believes the couture industry’s future in Australia is looking bright. “I always love to work with emerging local designers,” Lana said. “Their energy and passion brings a spark to the work and I think it’s important to support the next wave of talent.”

When styling her clients, Lana typically begins with clothing options, then coordinates accessories, where the options for customisation are unlimited. “This just ensures that the overall look is cohesive,” she said. “Custom headpieces allow me to add the wow factor to an outfit, so I will work closely with the milliner to get the design right.”

When it comes to racing fashion, I believe the millinery is the key to completing an outfit,” Lana said. “In Australia, we are extremely lucky to have so many talented milliners who can create such fashion forward bespoke pieces,” she said. “Racegoers should use these creations to add to their overall look.”

Some of Lana’s most beloved designers include Sylvy Earl, Stephanie Spencer, Ford Millinery, Kim Fletcher, Jack and Jill, Lisa Tan and Nerida Winter. “Accessories are also king!” Lana said. “Shoes and jewellery can really elevate an outfit, especially if it’s a bold colour, print, black or white.”

This year in racewear, Lana is expecting hats to make a comeback. “Wide-brimmed hats with structural shapes and coloured boaters are always a winner on a race day,” Lana said. “Also, hair clips are making a major statement on the runways and I suspect we will see this interpreted in millinery as well.”

This summer at the track, Lana suggests staying true to your style and having fun with your look. “If you feel comfortable and confident then you and your outfit will shine,” Lana said. “Show off your favourite features and always choose colours that complement your skin tone.”

Plan your summer racing session with our FATR calendar here.

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