When you’re in the millinery business, the Spring Racing Carnival in Melbourne is like Christmas, which explains why Chantelle Ford is so happy to be at Caulfield Racecourse for our photo shoot – the first of several forthcoming visits.
“I love the spring carnival in Melbourne,” she says. “For me, it’s all about fashion. The effort the women go to. And the men look amazing, too.
“I love the drama and the excitement in the air, it’s amazing. I was speaking to Beau (jockey Beau Mertens) about the thunder that happens when the horses jump out of the gate. It’s so exciting.”
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Since then she has left her manufacturing base in Chapel Street, Windsor, and moved to Sydney, where she is taking her headwear business to new levels, adding David Jones to her growing list of stockists that also includes Zachary boutiques and The Eternal Headonist.
“We’ve really amped things up this year,” she says.
Chantelle’s Ford Millinery employs three design technicians who help create her striking geometric range of hats, fascinators and hair accessories, which have caught the eye of celebrities including Jesinta Franklin, Shaynna Blaze and Francesca Cumani.
Millinery runs in Chantelle’s family and it’s a craft she has always loved. “Both aunts on my dad’s side were successful milliners in Melbourne,” she says. “When I was five or six, in the school holidays I would go and stay with them.
“Any imperfect materials would be passed to me and I was allowed to have a little play. I just loved it. What I would make would have been overly pink, overly floral, overly feathered, but I loved it.”
The joy has never dimmed. “I love working with my hands. It’s got a sense of drama that other clothing doesn’t have.
“I think it takes a really confident woman to wear a hat. I love that. And I love that when women go to the races, you see the way they walk, they feel a million bucks.”
Chantelle moved to Sydney in November last year to be with her new partner, a French photographer.
“We were doing long-distance for about a year and thought it time to be a grown-up and decide whether it’s going to work or not,” she says.
“It’s probably one of the most stressful times in my life – with the business and making that all happen, and I haven’t worked this hard since The Block – but I’m also the happiest.”
Chantelle says winning The Block changed her life. “I know that was simultaneously the best thing I’ve ever achieved and it was also the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve always known I have a fire in my belly and I know I am capable of anything and that’s a good feeling.”