Melbourne Cup – An Annual Affair with Sports and Fashion
By Pooja Bhatia

It is a sports extravaganza which delivers on-ground. But not just in sports or high-horse racing; it is an up-to-date spectacle on fashion. The racing event is a race of horses and styling and fashion.

Many Aussie celebrities and personalities head to the racecourse for ‘live’ action and while horses are under their anticipative glare, there are millions waiting to catch sight of the way they dress-up at the event. Officially, more than six million people saw the race on TV and online and more than 95,000 people were expected to attend the event in person on the Cup Day in 2017 alone.

Melbourne Cup 2017 is an event of prestige. This fact was made evident by Twitter, the macro-site streamed the racing live on its platform, taking the sports tradition to a contemporary base of audience.

Along with the official event date announcement comes the dress code for the D-day. In 2017, under the Melbourne spring weather in July with light showers expected, the glorious evening dress code was worked out as- eye-catching designs, hats, a yellow rose flower decoration- enough to make a statement.

Melbourne Cup from The Past

The enclosure between horses and spectators started in the 1880s. Under the Colonial Linguistics Era, the term coined for this 18th-century action in Newmarket Racecourse in England was then “Birdcage”. It was a small fee entertainment token then when the surprise action of horses amused people at the first sight.

By 1950s, the race was hosted at the Victorian Racing Club area, eventually turning into a popular picnic spot. The reserved spaces concept was born then and here. The event was advertised by the Australian Women’s Weekly inviting further attention from business honchos and the wealthy in the town. By now, the event had people enjoying the sport with food and champagne served along.

The 1980s saw the area fully fenced and policed.

In 1985, it was sponsored by the brand Foster for the first time ever- it became the Foster’s Melbourne Cup 1985. It garnered more interest from the corporates and soon the event saw a rush of multi-sponsorships.

To accommodate more sponsors, a noble thought came from the royalty of Lloyd Williams, a multi-million-dollar Melbourne-based property developer and a racehorse owner. He shared his occupancy brilliance asking to create four adjacent car spots with an erected tent. This is how the new cocktail party idea hit the streets where people stood to watch the racing spectacle. There were roads next to the tent poles and people swarmed here to witness ‘live action’ closely.

With time, more innovation happened and by 1986, the first corporate shelters were established. Louis Vuitton was one of the first occupants in a single-storey area decorated with fresh flowers and using antique furniture style to infuse a renewed ambience. The list of event attendees included the PM, CEOs, Chairman and the French visitors of the Louis Vuitton stature.

Soon there were more corporate areas and then, private rooms, dance floors and chandeliers. Reputed chefs like Attica’s Ben Shewry and Maha’s Shane Delia were doing the specified catering.

The Next-Level Change

The big event push came from Dubai by a lesser-known airline of that time- Emirates. The airline landed at the racing event in the 1990s and with an Emirate Marquee, it was never to be the same again. The arriving sheikhs poured in dollars in the Melbourne economy.

The marquees were constructed taller now. There was a ‘Millionaires Row’. Soon, there were pavilions. The best architects were hired to create a corporate or personal canvas. There were pop-ups within the tents and special narrative to earmark your property.

Motorola built a two-storey structure. Lexus had a rooftop area. Pernod Ricard’s had can-can dancers and a pool to splurge.

The Present Scenario

In 2017, there were 28 marquees. Restricted though grand. It has space to accommodate over 4,000 people on each day. People at the event have an option to stay inside the marquee and enjoy the race in action. The racing event is a four-day spectacle.

Now there are houses being constructed near the site; such is the popularity and prestige of the Melbourne Cup. The investment in a marquee is a high expense. As per a media report, Emirates had spent around $1500 per head. Almost 250 guests attend the event in a day, taking the total estimated cost to be around $1.5 million given its four-day run. There are still special sponsorships slot for the front row marquee.

The Changing Face of Fashion

In the last few years, the event has seen cross-section invitees moving from the A-listers and B-listers to the Insta-famous. In 2016, the Insta guest of honour was Stephanie Smith- the “Fashion on the Field’ ambassador and a person with 1.2 million followers on Instagram.

There are more reasons to believe in the technology fiesta at the event. Sensis Digital Marquee has a massive LED screen display which is real-time active on pixelated footage and streaming on social media including the text snippets. There are video crews, editors, producer, photographers on the go. A media report confirms that Sensis had garnered 2.4 million impressions on social media in 2016, the whole day.

The critics now believe that it is more about the party than racing now. The socialites and the fashionistas our replacing the true racing fans in the confinement.

Along with the politicians, society belles and local captains of commerce, every half-mad dingbat who ever had any pretensions to anything at all…will show up there to get strutting drunk and slap a lot of backs and generally make himself obvious…Nobody minds being stared at; that’s what they’re in there for.” These are the words of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, from 1970.

On the contrary, a more famous writer Mark Twain, who visited the Melbourne Cup in 1895 said, “Their clothes have been ordered long ago, at unlimited cost, and without bounds as to beauty and magnificence, and have been kept in concealment until now, for unto this day are they consecrate.”

 “And so the grandstands make a brilliant and wonderful spectacle, a delirium of colour, a vision of beauty. The champagne flows, and everybody is vivacious, excited, happy…” 

While critics may continue to debate between fashion and the sport, it is the audience which is getting the best of both worlds. Given its wide base of reach now, the Melbourne Cup will continue to retail its annual entity and fanfare. The only difference is that people now wait for the next horse champion and the next instant fame too.

 

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