Kristina Foster takes readers inside Australia’s famous Melbourne Cup, where socialites, celebrities, and grand marquees make this race a true spectacle.
At 3pm Australian Eastern Standard Time, for about three and a half minutes on the first Tuesday in November, something very strange happens nation-wide in Australia. Homes, offices, restaurants and cafés all press pause. Eyes are glued to the TV and ears are pressed to the radio. Australia’s $6 million Melbourne Cup is “the race that stops a nation” and one of the world’s most famous equine events. A social, sporting and financial frenzy that makes up a part of Australian identity and culture, it is essentially a day of festivity and punting across the country.
Offices, clubs and other organizations hold sweeps where ticket holders are allocated Cup horses at random for the chance of winning the sweeps prize for each of the first three placegetters, so almost everyone has a stake in the race. As a school kid growing up in the suburbs, my brothers, cousins, friends and neighbours would all stand around clutching our 50 cent sweeps tickets, outside the teacher’s staff room straining to overhear the race.
More than 30 years later I finally snagged a golden VIP trackside ticket at Melbourne’s Flemington Racecourse and inside the renowned Birdcage enclosure. The Birdcage, a lavish, celebrity-filled exclusive enclave brimming with luxurious corporate sponsored tents and famous faces is like entering a privileged dimension. This famous stretch of marquees is where the style stakes are high and thoroughbred glamour rules the roost. Here the French bubbly and gold label whisky flow from gilded birdbaths, celebrities let loose and feathers fly.
Walking through the village of immaculate marquees, I was engulfed by a sea of color, from acid citrus hues to multi culti geometric prints. A fabulous hat is a prerequisite and the headwear ranged from the classic prim ubersized straw bow worn by model Coco Rocha all the way to the kooky Stephen Jones paper boat hat. The princess tiara was trés elegant and Geri Halliwell’s diamonté head collar won over the competition by more than a length.
Inside the opulent Johnny Walker Gold Label marquee, old school glamour ruled. Top hats, floral headpieces and lace dresses in pretty colours. I felt quite the part in my Chanel pastel plaid jacket, 50’s-style rose print skirt and straw flat cap as I sipped a couture cocktail delicately sprinkled with gold leaf and infused with a mysterious fountain of fog.
The Lexus Marquee was a shrine to simple beauty. Modelled with a Japanese aesthetic and surrounded by bamboo and lanterns, the fashions were intriguing and architectural. Tight turbans and hats of giant cherries, fluoro bows, pink lips and sculptural fascinators of balsa wood added the “Harajuku” element to the Tokyo theme.
“Have you got an invite to Mumm?” whispered one peeptoe-banana-pump-Louboutin-clad fashionista to her Louboutin-Staratat-glitter-sandal-wearing friend. The rumours were that G.H.Mumm was a highly sought after marquee ticket for the fashion and foodie set. And this tent did not disappoint. With exquisite champagne flowing and matching canapés designed by Mark Best from Sydney 3 hatted restaurant, Marque, the fashion peacocks and socialite storks were out in force. The imported star wattage of Naomi Campbell and Dita von Teese delighted the tipsy coterie.
Thousands of racegoers frocked up and flocked to Flemington to see crowd favourite Fiorente sprint down the final stretch to win The Melbourne Cup. It was an incredible day, but despite wearing my most comfortable suede Jimmy Choo booties, my feet were telling me it was time to fly the coop.
November is an ideal time to visit Melbourne and tickets can be purchased for next year’s event from mid 2014 at melbournecup.com.
Where to Stay
The Langham Melbourne is a luxury riverside urban experience that will spoil you silly. With picture perfect city views, rooftop pool, deep baths and plump pillows it’s just the ticket you need. Plus it’s a short stroll to the train station for the most efficient trip to the track. Or you can always take off in a private helicopter or scenic river ferry.
The Langham Melbourne
1 Southgate Ave, Southbank
Where to find the fab frock
Tucked away in the Royal Arcade, up a flight of stairs and around the corner you will emerge into an oasis of contemporary fashion. Marais doesn’t follow the usual trends and styles, they collect the rare and exceptional in local and imported brands for the style-hound and style-houndette in each of us.
1st Floor Royal Arcade – 314 Little Collins St, Melbourne
Where to pin down magnificent millinery
A swanky hat is the essential race day accessory. Myer Bourke Street Mall Melbourne stocks all the names you want to drop from Philip Treacy to local heady rock stars Nerida Winter and Ann Shoebridge.
314-336 Bourke St, Melbourne