|Nicole pictured in the middle with 3 of her |
stunning creations at last years Melbourne Cup.
Pictured left her creation that won the honours.
Nicole Leonard is thirty something and currently studying millinery at the Hunter Institute of Technology. This Newcastle born and bred creative force is creating a
bit of stir on the racing fashion scene.
Nicole grew up the youngest of four girls in Birmingham Gardens. At 16 she left school to start an apprenticeship in floristry. During her career in the florist industry she created a following for her beautiful bridal bouquets and stunning flower arrangements.
I caught up with Nicole at her home in Wallsend. A beautiful Californian bungalow that has been lovingly and meticulously renovated, blending refined modern taste and convenience with old world charm. Of course when I walked in she apologised that they had not completely finished the job with the gardens still retaining a little too much of the old world for her liking. That is the perfectionist coming out and after a tour of the house and her current projects and past creations I realise just how passionate she is about beautiful things.
We sat down, with a glass of wine and discussed her past career in floristry. Nicole loved the creative design involved in floristy, but the hours were long and hard and some customers could be a bit on the difficult side. "It's not that they were hard to work with, but some people were convinced we were making millions from their flowers when the truth was much poorer." "People just don't realise the time and effort that goes into their flowers, from seed to delivery. In fact I am sure some customers thought we were growing the flowers out the back."
This was one of the reasons that pushed her to consider a career change, "I had gone as far as I wanted to go in floristry and I had no ambitions to own my own store. It is a lot of time and hard work for very little reward, it is such a competitive industry."
The other reason was her love of her horse racing. "My love affair with the races started when I first went to Broadmeadow races. I loved the atmosphere and the women with their beautiful dresses, hats and accessories, it all seemed so dignified and almost regal."
About six years ago Nicole met her partner Matt McBrien who is originally from Melbourne and was working on the Central Coast and it wasn't long before Nicole developed a love for Melbourne and Matt. "Everyone is so stylish in Melbourne, even the men. They take such pride in their appearance and yet they are really friendly and open people".
On her first trip to the Melbourne Cup Nicole was unable to find a hat or fascinator to match her dress, "I already had in my mind what I wanted but I searched high and low, far and wide and just couldn't find what I wanted. So I thought why not give it a go and make one myself!" and that was exactly what she did.
Nicole admits her very first creation was a little on the crude side as she had no idea of what she was doing, she just knew how she wanted it to look. It was at this point Nicole starts using millinery terms that completely lost me!
While it may not have passed the test of an expert she received lots of compliments at the races and it wasn't long after that friends and family started putting their orders in. "With all these people wanting me to make headpieces and fascinators and my passion for floristry waning I thought why not start my own business." So she looked into her options and signed up for her Tafe course and started her business Absolutely Fascinating.
Nicole has come so far from that first attempt,and her drive to be the best at what she does, you know that her work is only going to get better and more in demand. "I know I can't compete with department stores and I have no desire to do so. I want to produce individual and unique pieces of art that will be cherished by the women I make them for, not these cookie cutter designs made in China."
At heart Nicole is an artist, you can see the passion that takes over when she shows you her latest creation or talks about all the technical aspects of her work. With all of that and an exceptional talent it won't be long before we see her creations walking down the runway of a high end fashion show and even at the famous race that stops a nation!
Examples of Nicole's exquisite designs