“A spring wonderland.”

That’s how milliner Lisa Schaefer describes her hat that was a feature of the winning Fashions on the Field outfit for the national spring racing carnival last year.

Whilst it was a rather “accidental” collaborative fashion success story, the hat itself was actually one that took hours to design and intricately create, being originally made for a special Crown Oaks Day exhibition.

“It was a hat that was based on all the spring colours, lots of pink colours and hand-dyed stiffened lace. There was lots of hand wiring and the pink leather flower in the centre was also completely handmade, so it took weeks to make and because of the theme, lots of thought went into it,” Lisa explains.

Emily Hunter, who grew up in Grenfell, and whose mother Angela has since become also well-known for her dress-making skills after designing and sewing the winning dress, approached Lisa just days before the Melbourne Cup to choose a hat and the rest of her outfit centred around the one she fell in love with.

Neither Emily, her mother Angela who now designs garments under the label The Collaborative Dressmaker, or Lisa, could have predicted the exposure that “accidental” selection would have.

It might be this beautiful creation that has catapulted Lisa into another hectic spring racing season meticulously gluing and stitching materials on millinery for Emily to wear for her commitments with the Victoria Racing Club during the 2016 Spring Carnival including as a panellist to assist judge the Fashions on the Field events.

Lisa has previously also been commissioned by women Australia-wide to create bespoke millinery pieces to be worn at special events including Royal Ascot in England, ladies have paraded her millinery designs on various local and national catwalks, and she has created several bridal bespoke headpieces.

Her designs are unique and she always sculpts pieces that show a particular personality often with a vintage 1920s flare and intricate detail like silk flowers, birdcage veiling and the use of delicate laces and fine sheepskin leathers.

“There’s a lot of satisfaction in tailor-making something for someone. Often I have women sending in styles they like, but I always have a rule not to just copy something, I may use it for inspiration, but being handmade it’s special and I think people do actually like the mystery of exactly what their final creation will look like,” Lisa explains.

For spring/summer, Lisa has been creating several black and white designs, and pink tones, pastels, navy, floral designs to complement the popularity of clothing styles.

“Lace and bigger brims have been in fashion. When I started, the hats we were seeing were more cocktail style hats and hardly anyone wore a brim, but my designs evolve with the trends and what the girls are asking for,” Lisa says. “Often girls will ask me what sorts of gloves, clutches, shoes and jewellery will suit best with their millinery pieces too, so I do offer advice on that too, even though there really aren’t any rules to dressing for racing events, unless you are wanting to be a contender in the Fashions on the Field.

“If you do want to stick to the general ‘rules’, then in spring and summer it’s all about straw, sinamay, silk or leather, and autumn/winter season is for felts and leather headpieces. Leather is trans-seasonal so it’s becoming more popular.”

Lisa also offers advice on storing and caring for handmade millinery pieces.

“A hat box is very important and knowing how to position the hat with tissue paper so it will look good forever. You really do need to box your hat, otherwise it will get dusty, and if there is a brim, it will lose its shape.”

Lisa grew up at a small village called Monteagle, near Young, and studied nursing in Sydney, before she married Grenfell primary producer Warren, and now with two grown-up children Curtis and Meg, they live on the family’s mixed farming property.

Despite enjoying her nursing, Lisa always had an interest in millinery and every year extends her knowledge of the craft by attending workshops and courses including the International Millinery Forum in Wagga.

Not only is Lisa a successful milliner, but her giftware store Raffia & Co. located in one of Grenfell’s historic heritage two-storey buildings (which is also one that boasts a beautiful studio space upstairs), features many handcrafted items such as leather handbags, jewellery, scarves, fashion and home wares, created by other artists too.

“I really try to search for unique things that other stores might not have, but are still affordable,” Lisa says.

“My husband is a woodworker too, so all the coffee tables are handcrafted. We really try to focus on unique Australian pieces and things that might be a little bit quirky, so we appeal to all ages.”

Words: Rosie O’Keeffe