Two dismal springs into this wretched pandemic, Melbourne milliner Serena Lindeman is surprisingly optimistic about her bowed but unbroken industry.
"What we probably need most now," she says cheerfully, "is an explosion of joy. We need that feeling you get from the humor and exuberance of what your wearing, that sense of fun you get in fashion."
She says pivotal milliners in Melbourne's world renowned industry such as Louise McDonald, Rebecca Share, and Felicity Northeast and relative newcomers Lisa Hughes, Enza Geddes and many others, are channelling that joy into spring's trendy drifts of iridescent butterflies, sprays of hand-crafted silk flowers and quirky cherry pompoms delicately fixed to Frida Kahlo-esque crowns and headbands or to exquisitely sculpted ticks or elegant lozenges of light-as-air straw.
"They're doing incredibly lovely pieces," Serena says, "Things that will fit any head so they can just pop it into a box and send off to a client without needing to fit."
The waning popularity of large hats is timely but for those too fond of the classic glamour of a proper brim, a saucer or shallow cone shape can also be fixed to a headband and negate the need for an in-person fitting.
"Milliners are working with new lots of new ideas," says Serena. "Louise McDonald, for example, talks about how she dismantles one hat to make another; a really positive step toward sustainability that makes milliners relevant and viable in fashion. I think we're all making do in our ways, re-purposing things in our boxes we've probably held onto as treasures..."
Back "in the day", Serena says it was a badge of honor to own 400 or more hat blocks. "Now it's signature shapes, knowing how to do freeforming, how to make your equipment work harder."
Two spring seasons of lockdowns and sparse trackside lawns has barely diminished Victorian milliners' creativity and their astonishing array of hats and headpieces offered online according to Serena.
"They have intestate clients of course," she says, "But most milliners seem to be channelling more creativity, particularly into those pieces that don't require fitting: clever little headbands with wirework garnishes, lots of lovely things, very pretty things constructed using millinery principles."
She says Victorian milliners pivoted quickly to making face masks in the pandemic's earliest days. "I know many were making the money they would have (in a normal season), and possibly more. But (the ongoing pandemic) really becalmed the millinery industry."
Serena has adapted her own classes with Kangan millinery students to fit online formats and limited equipment. "The most important objective has to stay motivated," she says, "Not to give in to that ennui we all seem to have found since lockdowns began."
As post-lockdown Melbourne continues to blossom, there's little chance of that.