Fit For a King

Fit For a King

Last year’s winner of the Lillian Frank AM MBE Millinery Award, Melbourne-based Souri Sengdara wowed the judges with her swirling, sculptural two-toned headpiece ‘Flow’. The piece caught the eye of organisers at Royal Ascot, and she was approached to create another work of art to feature in their iconic Official Royal Ascot Style Guide as part of their millinery collective campaign.


You won the Fashions on the Field Millinery competition last year, congratulations! How many times had you entered before your win?

It was the fifth time I had entered the Fashions on the Field competition, although one year during the COVID period I did make it into the top ten! But after winning with ‘Flow’ in 2022, it gave me real clarity about what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to make mainstream hats anymore, I just want to make works of art. That’s what satisfies me creatively, just making art pieces that I love.

How did you feel when you were approached by Royal Ascot to be part of their Millinery Collective campaign and to have your work featured in the Official Royal Ascot Style Guide?

I did think after I won, “How could it get any better than this?” and then I was contacted by Royal Ascot and asked if I would create a work of art for them, which was incredible. I’m happiest when inspiration hits me and I create a piece that I can put all my effort into because I love the process. I don’t normally want to be under any pressure, but I was for Ascot. It was needed in a short time frame, and I had to come up with a brand-new concept and create something I’d be proud to represent Australian milliners with. But I was very, very happy with it. I think what I created for them is my best work to date.

Tell us about it.

It was called ‘Idle Peace’. It’s a sculptural piece that was inspired by the peace dove, who has just flung the olive branch over its shoulder, turned its back on us and let the world go to war. It was because I was saddened by the state of the world, from big-scale wars like Russia and Ukraine, to even a war in your own home. I saw the Alexander McQueen exhibition, and it was so sad to see his documentary and the way that this young man, was fighting his own war at home and lost the war after a certain time. It kind of hit hard.

Your designs do tell an emotional story, they’re not just fashion accessories.

Yes. Every piece I design has some meaning behind it, some concept. We all have a voice, every one of us. It doesn’t matter how small we are, or how famous, we can do something from the little path that we are on. I know people don’t like to talk about war, but I hope when a person wears or sees this piece, the message might inspire them to think about living peacefully.

So where is Idle Peace now?

Royal Ascot have kept it for their archives, and for exhibitions, etc, but I made an identical one for Fenwick department store London and they sold it! I was so thrilled!

So where else has your millinery taken you this year?

I have collaborated with a lot of beautiful models, mainly young men. They really inspire me, these beautiful souls. I love the concept of gender fluidity, I’m sorry that it is still taking time for acceptance. I want my designs to create a more beautiful world, celebrate diversity and inspire change, and evoke emotion.

I also attended Royal Ascot in June, and spent time with some other milliners I admire, Rachel Henry from Melbourne and also (US milliner) Sarah Sokol, who is amazing. It was amazing!

What does an award like the Lillian Frank Millinery Award mean for an emerging creative? What advice would you give someone who was entering?

I love this direction the VRC is taking. If I were on the judging panel, I’d be looking for something brave and bold and artistic. Nothing mainstream. There is a place for that, but when there’s a competition, you need to go all out and just be brave and create something out there. Something classy, something beautiful. I think that’s all we need in our lives.