The Queen Of Crowns: Viktoria Novak

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How did you get started?

Viktoria: I studied interior design for two years and I never really clicked with it, so I went and studied fashion design. I was one of the older students at that time, and it was a big risk. During that course I was doing a lot of costumes and Cirque du Soleil kind of pieces and I originally thought I was going to go into costume design. I forgot to do my elective choice and basically millinery was the last left and I got shoved into the class.

The first day I remember they poured a pile of junk on the table and said to make a head piece they’d send off to an award in Melbourne. I came up with this head piece in the shape of the Sydney Opera House which is very symbolic of Australia. I just thought that building evokes happiness and home and then I had this explosion of yellow butterflies coming out, signifying rebirth.

Anyway it went off and I won the award for it and part of the prize was to win materials for millinery and all these tools arrived and I had no idea how to use them. The teacher started showing me traditional methods and I kept going with it and I was actually approached by a few boutiques in Canberra who wanted to stock some of my designs and that was huge. That was where Viktoria Novak  began.

In 2009 we got engaged and I started realising that race-style head pieces weren’t really bridal and there was a massive gap in the market for what I envisaged head pieces to be. So I started creating bridal head pieces and then that kind of took over and boomed and that’s sort of how we ended up in Sydney because there was such a demand.

 

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Is it just you two?

Viktoria: Yeah. This is our tenth year in business. Keeping a business sustained in this field of work and industry is challenging. We’ve come a long way; we’re coming into our fourth year in Sydney. in ten years we’ve probably serviced over 3,000 brides I don’t even know how many pieces I’ve created. Maybe over 6,000.

What’s your role Tristan?

Tristan: I pretty much look after the backend of the business. Everything the designer is not making so just general day to day business, the website, books, you name it.  I also do a lot of consults with our clients and in particular our brides.

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How long on average would it take you to make a piece?

Viktoria: It varies on the design. There are some that take three days full time, a lot of the beaded ones take a long time. Others take four hours so it really depends on the design and complex nature of the piece.

Do you have a cap on the number of pieces you can make?

Viktoria: Comfortably I like to say 20 pieces a month but I have pushed myself to make 50 before. When I go on buying trips I don’t buy a lot, I go with the intention of only buying a few. Sometimes when I sell pieces, I am really attached to them, especially bespoke pieces, I’ve only got enough materials to make one of. It’s hard to let go because they are pieces of art they’re not just like millenary.

Tristen: She has one request when she puts out one bespoke piece for the client, and that is that they must send us a photo because we’ll never see it again! Our clients are really sweet. We share a lot of our clients on social media and that’s important because people relate to other people, they don’t just want to see models and pretty faces all the time like we want to see real brides and real clients.

How did you get stocked in Myer?

Viktoria: Well they had been watching us for a few years. That was a big dream. The first day I created the crown which was now four years ago here in Australia, everyone thought I was insane in the fashion world and also in the bridal world. It was very strange and unusual to have that thought that you could even where a crown. Then we put the first ever crown out in public for Sonia Kruger for the golden slipper and she wore it and it went viral. Everyone thought it was very cool, very different, very new and it just exploded. After that I just kept reinventing it over and over in new shapes and new styles.

Tristen: Myer came to us and they wanted to set up a meeting and we got on really well with them and we just fit that brief that they were looking for.

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Tell me about your show at New York Fashion Week?

Viktoria: We did the fashion palette show here in Sydney in February last year and that was a chance for me to make a show about crowns. Things were bubbling, we had a lot of press and thought “OK, let’s take it beyond Australia; we’ll take it to a world stage, we’ll take it to New York!” And then I found out that we made history by doing that because I was the first milliner in Australia to have a solo runway show in America, in New York, or actually anywhere in the world. We had 14 models and it was weird because going to New York and doing this, I mean, how many New Yorkers know the Victoria Novak brand? Probably not too many if we’re brutally honest with ourselves. We flew over with our 14-piece collection and it was really well received.

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Ten years on, what are your tips for business success?

Viktoria: Firstly, you have to love what you do. There’s no point starting a business just for the money or the status.  If you don’t truly love what you’re selling or doing or offering, 99.9 per cent of the time it probably will fail or you’ll grow out of it or you’ll start despising it so much that you’ll walk away.

The other thing is it’s very important to have goals. If you don’t set yourself goals, you kind of just work every day. You can never sit back in business and be content, the day you do that is the day you fail, or it might be time to retire.

Tristen: I’d ask “what are you willing to sacrifice?” Viktoria and I feel like we’ve sacrificed our entire life to be here today. It’s well worth it but I’m not going to lie, it’s scary. It’s hard work.

What have you sacrificed?

Tristen: It feels like every day life. Viktoria might go to an event tonight and she’ll look beautiful with her make-up and hair done wearing a great headpiece, and people think that’s the life they want. But no one actually sees her sweating upstairs, with pins going through her fingers or the sleepless nights.

Viktoria: Our holidays aren’t holidays now they’re work trips. And because we’re a husband and wife team, we are always talking about work, you can’t help it, it becomes your life. Your business can easily take over your life and it can easily swamp you, there will be times when it will swamp you but it’s just a matter of realising those times and taking a step back and going “OK, we just need to go watch a movie, go to dinner, and just turn our phones off and relax,” and that’s what we do.

Every day, KBB’s Dannie Doughan chats with an entrepreneur and features their story on our website. If your business wants a ‘Date with Dannie’, email us a quick bit about your biz!

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Daniella has been a journalist for four years and is the former editor of Kochie's Business Builders. She's reported news, features and finance at Jiji Press and AAP.