Celebrating Auckland Cup Week | A kiwi milliner taking on the world

9 Mar 2022
Auckland Thoroughbred Racing

The country’s premier racing carnival, Auckland Cup Week®, kicked off at Auckland’s Ellerslie Racecourse on Saturday. While COVID-19 restrictions may mean significantly less people have been able to attend, the big titles – including the $1m Vodafone New Zealand Derby, $500,000 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup and the national racewear final, The Ned Prix de Fashion with its $20,000+ prize package – have been able to go ahead.

In good news, the restrictions have meant more women can enter the fashion competitions which have now been moved online.
Entries into the first of the digital fashion and style competitions – the Adashiko Fashion Qualifiers – are now open to all women in New Zealand and are set to bring the glamorous spirit of Auckland Cup Week to homes throughout the country with entrants able to enter from the comfort of their backyards and four winners to be chosen.
Keen to have a go, but not sure where to start?
To get those creative juices flowing we sat down and chatted to New Zealand’s most well-known millinery export, Jill Humphries, for her take on all things fashion.

Jill Humphries, Kiwi milliner now based in Melbourne



What sets New Zealand’s racewear, or even fashion, scene apart?

I see New Zealand fashion as something that’s forever evolving and recently, I’ve seen what I describe as ‘wearable art’ becoming more mainstream, which I love. Basically, anyone that is a designer creates art – from milliners and jewellery designers to knitters – and people seem to be embracing this ethos more and more.

With COVID-19 playing havoc with racing events for a few years now, have you seen a shift in the types of headwear people are requesting?

Havoc is the right word! What I have seen with my repeat customers is that they want to return with statements. They want big, interesting, editorial-style headwear and, after two years of being in lockdown, they want to enter the room and be seen.

Is there a place for millinery in the everyday?

People can absolutely wear hats every day. During lockdown I created more mainstream pieces like unisex fedoras and leather berets. The leather berets were a great success with most heading over to New York clients.

I also noticed a real shift to people wanting sustainable, ‘slow fashion’ in their everyday wardrobe; a piece they will have for years that will age with them and get better with time.

Proudest career moment?

Hmm this one’s tricky. Winning the Millinery Award at Flemington’s Oaks Day was spectacular. But every day I get new reasons to be proud. In the last week both Cartier and Harper’s Bazaar have reached out (pinch me moments!), but I am also so proud to receive a message from a client to say that her hat is amazing and it has just won fashions on the field at her local raceday.

Jill’s winning piece at Flemington. Source: Bryce Dunkley/Victoria Racing Club


You’re a bit of an international millinery phenomenon with the UK’s Royal Ascot taking notice of your work. How do you stay so fresh and innovative?

Good old Kiwi ingenuity keeps me going as I always want to try something new. The last couple of years have been tricky, as usually travel and being out and about helps to inspire a direction. Instead this year I worked on things that I simply wanted to make to see what would happen!

Jill was the first international milliner to have a piece accepted in Fenwick’s millinery collection for Royal Ascot.


Do you think your New Zealand grounding has contributed to your success?

Absolutely! I believe that our “have a go” attitude and tendency to not take no for an answer is a strength. During my early days in millinery a teacher said to me “most won’t survive in this industry” which to me sounded like a challenge – so I worked to prove her wrong. My main piece of advice to others is to have a go and believe in yourself.

Jill (centre) during her trip to New Zealand to judge The Ned Prix de Fashion

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