With Kennedy Oaks Day around the corner, we asked Melissa Jackson, the go-to milliner for the Melbourne Cup Carnival, to comment on the season’s latest trends, and how she’s kept her entrepreneurial spirit and namesake brand flourishing for over two decades.
Melissa Jackson’s sculptural creations have adorned the likes of Jennifer Hawkins, Kate Upton, Delta Goodrem, Coco Rocha, Liza Minnelli, and Zara Phillips, not to mention serious race goers and the sartorially inclined from around the world. If you’ve already clicked through images of the best-dressed from the races so far you would have seen some of Jackson’s designs—in particular, a sleek structured white broad-brimmed hat worn by Jennifer Hawkins on Derby Day.
“A great hat should reflect your personality and give you confidence,” said Jackson, who made two hats for Hawkins to choose from to match her gown by local designer Maticevski. “When Hawkins donned the broad-brimmed hat she told me, ‘I feel like myself in this hat,’” recalled Jackson, adding, “This is exactly what a great hat is meant to do—make the wearer feel all the more confident in their own skin.” Hawkins’ white hat could easily be transformed into a more casual look with jeans and a white t-shirt for the polo, a long summer lunch or to watch a sports game, said Jackson. “Living under the fierce sun of the southern hemisphere we should all be wearing hats every day,” she added. “People should embrace the idea of a hat as a wardrobe staple, like having a trench coat. Have a great hat that makes you feel fabulous.”
“There’s been this jewellery crown and tiara trend for the last four years – a romantic vision of the everyday woman wanting to be a princess. I wouldn’t say I see that as an empowering trend.”
Jackson made her first hat at 15—a seagull extravaganza made with chicken wire and wings that flapped as the wearer walked along. Jackson’s designs have been structural ever since, influenced, she thinks, by her architect father and being exposed to conversations about scale, proportion and visual aesthetics. In fact, Jackson comes from a family of makers. Her great grandfather was a cobbler and her grandmother made everything with her hands—couch covers, hats, tablecloths, and aprons. “My grandmother had to leave school early because she was asthmatic and so she focused on millinery.” In Year 12, when Jackson wanted to make a series of hats for her leaving exams, and because there was no one to teach her at school, her grandmother became her tutor. Jackson went on to RMIT to complete a textile and design degree, then she took a side step and went to Melbourne University to study music. Realising that she wasn’t going to be the next Dame Joan Sutherland, she set off backpacking in Europe to figure out what to do next. In London, she applied to St Martins, and with her impressive portfolio, was admitted into the honors program.
“I travel, read, I know my fashion history and then I create from there,” said Jackson, who, upon her return to Melbourne in 1998 created six hats that were snapped up by George’s department store. “I didn’t come home with the intention of starting my own business right away, but I made a few hats to fill the gap and it was an organic process.” And so, her business was born.
Jackson has learnt a thing or two from running her namesake brand in the sometimes-fickle fashion industry for the last 20 years. “You have to adapt to stay current and to stay viable,” says Jackson, who’s had different business model over time and credits trusting her instincts and cultivating mentors as some of the most important aspects of staying ahead. “You really need the passion for the work to stick at it. You have to love the work, to stay motivated through the years.”
Jackson is still as intrigued by the idea of costume and how dressing can change how one is perceived by others. She’s inspired by designers Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood. “I can be really flamboyant, and I can be minimal and shy,” said Jackson, and the same thing could be said of her hats, which can range from dramatic gold mohawk headpieces to quieter leaf and teardrop inspired hats. “The hat should either compliment the outfit and be the icing on the cake and it should reflect your personality and give you confidence,” Jackson said. “The other ploy is to have it be a complete fantasy and detract from everything else.”
As for the tiara trend? It’s on the wane. “There’s been this jewellery crown and tiara trend for the last four years and I’d say this is a romantic vision of the everyday woman wanting to be a princess,” said Jackson, influenced hugely by Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton, and their royal weddings. “I wouldn’t say I see that as an empowering trend.”
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