Four of The Ned Prix de Fashion judges have given us the inside word on all things fashion.
Keep reading for insight from stylist Sarah Stuart, 2020 winner Katie Flett, seasoned judge Aleisha Mitchell and milliner Jill Humphries.
What are you looking for in a winning outfit?
Sarah: The winning outfit for me entails someone who is style confident, has created an interesting ensemble that’s unique with killer accessories that has not been afraid to take risks. The winning outfit is usually classy and modest, classic with a modern twist. Tailored silhouettes are preferred, with careful styling that considers all details from the hair right down to the toenail polish. I am looking for an outfit that really accentuates the contestant and I’m not left thinking that the outfit is wearing them.
Katie: Something that catches my eye, and I can’t stop looking at it. If think “Gee that’s clever” or I wouldn’t have thought of putting that with that, but it works amazing! All while looking effortless!
Aleisha: I have previously said ‘something that turns my head for all the right reasons’, and this still stands. I love nothing more than seeing an outfit that makes me want to look from head to toe more than once, appreciating all the details and the effortlessly way it has been put together.
Jill: A seamless yet effortless look. The wearer has to think of all components and not be contrived with her style. I am a little over the matchy matchy look that we have seen for a while. I believe if a dress has four or five colours in it the millinery should not be the same - choose one colour as your hero and stick to that
What have been your favourite looks of the season so far?
Sarah: I have loved the millinery that have come through in the last few competitions. We have seen pillbox hats, caps styles and quirky oversized bows with stunning colourways. My favourite FITF looks have been clever retro silhouettes, giving a strong nod to a classic vintage styling but making it modern by bringing it into 2021.
The play on fabrics and colour and the looks that are a little risky.
Katie: I’m loving the masculine square shapes of shirts and wide leg pants being paired back with feminine high gloss fabrics, soft hues it creates an interesting contrast. I love that dresses both midi and maxi have full hemlines allowing gorgeous floating movement when worn.
Jill: After the pandemic I am personally looking to an old school glamour vibe. I am working on headwear that in the future will be passed down through the family like a museum collection.
What advice would you give to someone who is new to entering fashions in the field competitions?
Sarah: There are so few chances to really glam up these days so seize the moment and be creative. There is one thing to think about - fab or fashion faux pas, remember it isn’t fatal. It’s more about feeling great, impressing with your creativity, and gracing us with your unique personal style.
Katie: Be yourself have fun and don’t be afraid to ask the regular entrants for advice or help - they are all a great bunch!
Aleisha: Grab a friend and enter together, it’s more fun and less nerve-racking having a friend to experience the day with. Remember to smile and enjoy yourself, it will make you shine on stage.
Jill: Your smile is your best accessory - use it!
How do you think New Zealand's racewear scene differs from other countries or, what sets us apart?
Sarah: Well in this current climate during this world pandemic… we are one of the few very lucky countries that can celebrate and hold racedays. As a result of this, it allows New Zealand to have the opportunity to be leaders for FITF, which I think is pretty spectacular.
Katie: I think we have a great community of girls who have made lifetime friendships. We're small here in New Zealand and don't have to travel far to get to all the events compared to our friends in Australia.
Aleisha: As a nation we are known as great improvisers. I often see this in FITF outfits also. We aren’t scared to spray, bend, stitch, tack, mould our outfits together to create what we want to achieve as opposed to buying it off a clothing rack in an expensive boutique store. There’s something unique and special about the ability to do this.
Jill: New Zealand's racing fashion is different. I have seen some risk-takers with fashion and that has paid off. Think of Carena with her winning Oaks Day fashion win!
Is it really “all about the sash”?
Sarah: I feel like FITF is more than getting a prize at the end. I admire the creativity and the confidence it takes to put a stunning outfit together and then put themselves on a stage to showcase their creation. It takes a lot of confidence to put yourself out there like that. Sounds cheesy but I truly believe everyone should be proud of themselves for stepping on that stage and showing us what they are working with.
Katie: Yes, I’d be lying if I said no!
Aleisha: If you ask anyone that has ‘placed’ at a FITF event I’m pretty sure they will all say it was that first sash that got them hooked! I have been fortunate to meet so many amazing girls over the years through FITF competitions - many of them have won sashes and it keeps them coming back for more. They don’t place or receive a sash at every event, but they do meet like-minded ladies, make new friends, and have an extremely fun day out!!
Jill: I never thought it was - until I won the millinery award and was “sashed”. It now hangs next to my workbench proudly.
What’s your best racewear or fashion hack? Either something you’ve done yourself, or something you’ve seen that looked amazing?
Sarah: Add your own personal touch to anything that you purchase. Talking to previous contestants, most have either spray-painted their shoes for the perfect colour, added bows to their handbags, made a head piece from a fruit bowl… the sky is the limit. Add some flare.
Katie: Last year’s hat, it was a purchase I made on Etsy - a vintage 1969 mod style. It was originally navy and white so I sent it to Claire Hahn to revamp and left her to it with no instructions. I'm not going to lie though - the first photo she sent had me worried that I was going to look like a clown. However, I took a deep breath,went with at and itturned out to be the biggest "best" risk I’ve ever taken. It looked unreal all together!!
Aleisha: Gabby Cashmore’s chicken wire moulded shoulder bow (pictured) at the SkyCity Boxing Day Races and her willingness to share her secret with everyone!! That was priceless!
Jill: Hmm - that’s a little hard to answer as over the years I have seen and heard some amazing things. Probably stick with Coco Chanel’s advice - In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different. The best fashion looks are the stylish and not always the “on trend”.
What’s the first thing you notice when someone gets up on fashions in the field runway?
Sarah: Strangely enough it is how the contestant is carrying themselves, followed by the silhouette, to see if it is flattering. Then lastly (and more importantly), my eye goes to the accessories to see if they are harmoniously pulling together the overall look.
Katie: How comfortable they are in their outfit.
Aleisha: Their stage presence. Grace and poise are the best asset for any outfit.
Jill: How they hold themselves, confidence and a smile. Throw those shoulders back, enjoy yourself and that adds as much weight as a winning outfit.
Sometimes you hear judges say the final decision for them came down to the ‘little things’ or the ‘overall look’ – what is it for you and what are the ‘little things’ or ‘overall’ look that you’re looking for?
Sarah: My little thing is… I have noticed that shoes seem to be an item that often gets overlooked. I have observed shoes that are very safe in style, un-kept and also favour comfort… which sadly can let the whole outfit down. Something to consider is that your shoes are often at the judges' eye levels.
Katie: I think the overall look is key and if there is a standout overall look then it’s easy but when there is several you really start digging down to the smallest details which its hair nails fitting of garment, makeup, etc.
Aleisha: Goodness, this is the ultimate question isn’t it!! If there was a formula for it everyone would do it and that wouldn’t be much fun at all! A huge part of the final decision for me comes down to how the contestant wears the outfit, do they look like they are going to have a fabulous day wearing it? Do they look comfortable, confident, can they walk in their shoes well enough to last the day? I am a firm believer that it’s just as much what everyone else is wearing on the day that determines how your outfit will be judged.
Jill: If it comes down to a close competition it can be immaculate grooming and a fine detail. I remember once a lady turning around and there was a tiny brooch at the top of a fishtail pleat on the skirt. It made us all go “how clever” and I have never forgotten that little extra push for perfection and element of surprise.