I know I say this every year… but, seriously, I think this spring season would have to be my favourite compilation of FOTF outfits ever!!

My fabulous new dressmaker, Mark Blake, created two gorgeous custom-made dresses for me and my third dress, equally as stunning, came from brand, Solace London.

milano imai 2019 spring carnival outfits

My outfits this year for (L-R) Derby Day, Melbourne Cup Day and Oaks Day

The story behind a race day outfit is just as interesting as the final result. So, I’ve decided to share with you how my three race day looks for 2019 came about with a behind-the-scenes peak into the adventure of each outfit.

This post (Part 1) will tell the story of my Derby Day outfit. In Part 2 and 3, I cover my Melbourne Cup Day and Oaks Day outfits.

My Dress Maker

Last year I was watching the Myer Design Award competition where I spotted a beauuutiful floral full skirt dress on the catwalk.

floral multicolour designer dress by mark blake

Image: @bymarkblake

I instantly fell in love with the design and knew I wanted to have something made by this designer. I found out he was Mark Blake, a design student from RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) in Melbourne.

When it was time to start thinking about my Spring Carnival outfits, I contacted Mark and said I wanted one, or possibly two, dresses for the upcoming carnival. We had a Skype call to discuss designs, prices and time frames.

I am very hands-on when it comes to the creative process. Meeting the dress maker is important to me, to get a better idea of their style and to talk through ideas, making sure they’re in line with my personal style. Around this time, I had already decided I wanted to have some fabric pleated at Specialty Pleaters in Melbourne for an outfit, and decided a trip to Melbourne to kill two birds with one stone was in order. Plus, I had a two-night stay at Sofitel on Collins that I won at Derby Day last year and was about to expire. I promptly booked the hotel and booked my flights.

outfit design brainstorming and sketches

My first meeting with Mark! Isn’t he such a darlin?

A couple of weeks later there I was. Mark came to meet me at the hotel. We discussed ideas and fabrics, drew up some sketches and the look I wanted to achieve, as well as taking my measurements.

It was really great meeting Mark as I felt like he was very capable of executing any design and concept and also had fantastic taste of his own- as well as being super friendly and very easy to work with.

The Design

Mark’s floral dress from his Design Award entry was an inspiration. I absolutely loved the structure of the very fitted waist and big volume in the skirt. I wanted to change the top design, so we set off adding different top ideas to our shared Pinterest board (sorry I can’t share it here, it’s top secret hehe).

sketch for dress

As the dress was very full at the bottom, I wanted to balance it out by having one shoulder bare. I wanted a cutout on the shoulder to show some skin and lighten the look.

I also wanted a big bow on my shoulder for a fun added feature. I told Mark the back had to be just as fancy as the front, and he came up with an epic cutout for the back too.

hand sketch for derby day dress

Mark’s sketch is much better than mine

The Fabric

In the lead up to my Melbourne trip, I visited all the good fabric shops in Brisbane and the Gold Coast. I was open to options, colours and prints as I really didn’t have anything specific in mind.

My search resulted in one fabric, a leopard print with a lurex sheen through it from The Fabric Store. I don’t know what drew me to it, whether it was the sheen or the print, or because it was on sale for $12 a meter (I love a bargain)!!

fabric shopping for diy dress leopard print

Knowing I was going to Melbourne and there would be a better variety of fabrics, I held off.

When I met with my dressmaker, we trammed around Brunswick and walked up and down streets hunting down fabric shops, in the pouring rain of course. Nothing really grabbed my attention though, and panic started to seep in.

race day dress fabric shopping

shopping for black and white fabrics for derby day races

Some fabric options, but nothing was quite right.

The Fabric Store is also in Melbourne, I took Mark in and spotted the leopard fabric again, still on sale for $12 a meter. A sign?

the fabric store fabric purchase in shopping bag

Knowing I needed 8 meters for my dress, and doing some quick math, I calculated it would only cost me $96 for the lot. I really couldn’t go past this!! I quickly purchased and decided it was meant to be! Crazy jungle lady here I come!

One trend I am loving this year is neons. I thought it would be a super fun idea to incorporate the neon trend into my outfit in the form of a neon yellow lining that could be seen as I swooshed around the FOTF stage. I purchased 8 meters of inexpensive neon yellow fabric online. Side note here: Originally, I did not intend to wear this dress on Derby Day, I wanted to wear it on Cup Day.

cotton drill highlighter yellow neon lining fabric

leopard print fabric with neon lining

Fabrics decided! Deep sigh of relief.

Making the Dress

As Mark now had my fabrics and the design was decided upon, he set to work and was able to finish it rather quickly. I loved working with Mark. It felt like we were always on the same page with our ideas and thoughts, and it’s like he can do anything!!

how to make a dress photo examples

My front and back cutout feature, it’s the little things that count!

Mark sent me a lot of progress photos to check I was happy with how it was going. One thing anyone who works with me knows, is that I need to know what is happening every step along the way.

I tend to be quite fussy with what I wear and I’d rather make changes sooner rather than later. Sorry to my dressmakers and milliners in advance haha! In this case, everything went smoothly and easily, which is very rare as I’m sure most of you will agree as having outfits made can be quite an ordeal.

big bow feature off shoulder race day dress black white derby

My big beautiful bow!

When it came to the shoulder bow, we played around with different sizes, and lengths of the arms. I wanted the arms to drape down long, like a cape behind me, which would create beautiful movement on stage.

Plus, I wanted the bow to come unattached, so I had the option of wearing it or not wearing it, depending on the event.

Mark had the brilliant idea of adding little loops of thread, which would slide into the clips on the shoulder, to secure it in place when I wanted to wear it. I love all the little problem solving you do in design.

clip to secure fabric on a dress

Mark made the dress within a week (what a machine!) and posted it up to me in a huge box. When it arrived, I inspected it thoroughly and I have to give massive appraisal for a very professionally and beautifully made couture garment. The inside was finished spectacularly. He even designed it with an inbuilt corset, to allow for better shape and to help the invisible zip withstand the weight and pressure of the fabric- the last thing you want is to have your zip break the day of a FOTF competition after all!

leopard print on trend dress for races

I am going to be the fanciest jungle lady ever.

To finish off my dress, I had ordered a custom belt from Buttonmania. It had a yellow trim on the outside to tie in the lining of my dress.

fabric covered belt leopard print black white with yellow edges

Trying it On

I was so excited to try on my dress as I had been DYING to see it. I had already decided my Louise Macdonald Dior Brim hat would be my best option to suit it, and if not, I would have a hat made.

No need, it was the perfect match!

making of milano imai 2019 derby day outfit

The only change I wanted to make to my outfit, was to add a thick strap to the left side to make it a little more conservative.

derby day fabric

Not the best photo, but this is my makeshift strap.

I had some spare leopard fabric at home and draped it whilst wearing the dress- a rather difficult task to do with no one at home to help! I hand tacked the strap in place, feeling quite pleased with myself.


I scouted around for some strappy heels and ended up purchasing four options online from The Iconic and Fashion Nova.

When they arrived, I unpacked them excitedly to find, I did not like the look of any of them!

In fact, one of them I couldn’t even keep my pinky toe inside the strap! Lol!

shoes that don't fit

Expectation vs Reality