So the Birdcage at Flemington during the Spring Carnival is really like another world that only a relative, privileged few are permitted to enter. It would be easy to dismiss this Melbourne institution as yet another display of our consumerist excess sometimes verging on the debaucherous (past Lavazza invitees; you know who I’m talking about). Still, there’s something fascinating about the machinations of this miniature, exclusive city that exists only for a week before disappearing under a sea of silly season celebrations like Atlantis.
The amount of creative sweat, talent and guaranteed tears that goes into making each marquee outshine the next, and the whole thing run as smoothly as Black Caviar, is quite simply inspirational. And in between mind-boggling, cerebral questions like “how does such and such an ex-WAG still get invited to these things?” or “how many Real Housewives can fit into one bandage dress?” there are precious leading lights from across creative industries rubbing shoulders, amazing displays of architecture and design nous and often a damn good day out to be found.
Aside from the always-coveted trackside locations on Millionaire’s Row, there are several other features trending among the marquees these days. Open air spaces like balconies and rooftops are desirable to keep guests from feeling claustrophobic and connected with the action on track. The environment of decadence in the Birdcage is tempered by an ethos of sustainability – spaces are often multi-purpose and food is ideally locally sourced and sometimes rescued later. If a person can be a trend, this year it would be lovely model Montana Cox; who seems to be on the VIP guest-list of nearly every marquee. And like a some kind of rich man’s babushka doll there are now vip sections (pop-up restaurants, exclusive spaces) inside vip sections (the marquees) inside vip sections (the Birdcage itself). It’s Inception for the beautiful people. I don’t envy those who must traverse the quagmire of guestlist politics. As the race that stops a nation – or at least Melbourne temporarily – is impending let’s take a look inside the marquees of the 2014 Spring Racing Carnival…
Emirates will take guests on a trip through Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich and Dusseldorf within its marquee taking cues from the 2014 Berlin International Design Festival via Coco Republic furniture and bright pops of colour. The façade balances out this modernity with a replica of the Germanic Neuschwanstein Castle.
Who – Ronn Moss (actor and musician), Devin DeVasquez (model), Gigi Hadid (international model, volleyball player and equestrian), Michael Klim (swimmer), Lindy Klim (businesswoman), Matt Preston (Masterchef), Margaret Zhang (fashion blogger), Montana Cox (model), Didier Cohen (model), Joey Scandizzo (hairstylist), Mark Schaller (artist), Ken Downing (fashion director of Neiman Marcus), Sarah Todd (cook,and model), Michaela Banas (actor).
Taste – Epicure Head Chef Tony Cimmino heads up a sit-down restaurant within the marquee. The menu includes kartoffelpuffer, mini open pumpernickel sandwiches, sauerbraten and modern takes on veal schnitzel, sauerkraut and apple strudel. There will also be a mobile pretzel bar.
See – “Schuhplattler” or German Slapdance by Patrick Studios Dance Group, specially commissioned artworks by Mark Schaller, beauty touch ups by Lancome and relaxation therapies from Wolgan Valley Spa & Resort.
Dubbed “Caffe Lavzza”, architects Herbert & Mason (who have designed award-winning retail spaces for Ksubi and Claude Maus) have produced their take on a traditional Italian espresso bar. There’s a chandelier of Plumm glassware, marble and steel accents inspired by renowned Italian designer Gilberto Colombo, parquet flooring, custom furniture like velvet and leather seating, coffee colours and Lavazza blue, as well as a fresco – “The School of Athens” – by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael installed behind the bar. The space is sustainable and is intended to be reused as pop-up cafe or future marquees.
Who – Margherita Maccapani Missoni (Missoni fashion house heiress), Erykah Badu (Grammy award winning singer, face of Givenchy), Solange Knowles (singer), Tyrone Wood (gallery director, son of Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood), Rolling Stone’s Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards (rumoured), Helen O’Connor (designer, Thurley)
Taste – Four chefs were given the brief “From Italy with Passion”; Paolo Masciopinto from Sarti, Giovanni Pilu of Pilu at Freshwater, Alessandro Pavoni of Ormeggio at the Spit and Jake Nicolson of Black Bird Bar. Guests will feast on cumin roasted pulled lamb sliders with smoky eggplant and pickled green tomatoes, beetroot-infused cavatelli with homemade quail sausage, parmesan fondue and pine nuts and risotto with specially-created champagne foam, dried mullet roe bottarga and fennel puree, layered over freshly shucked Sydney rock oysters. Caffeine fixes will come via signature coffee cocktails and an in-built coffee window to serve guests waiting in line for entry. The Royale Brothers will dish up burgers come Stakes Day with Huxtable manning the desserts.
Hear – Erykah Badu, Samantha Jade, Solange Knowles in a DJ set, Sax Espresso Hour and DJ Nick Cohen
The “Swisse Garden” has been designed by Matt Martino (The Block). Think “restored boat shed meets conservatory” with white timber walls, a functioning herb farm, local plants, rustic black steel window frames and a glass encased pergola which replicates the feel of Swisse’s Collingwood headquarters . All elements of the design are to be reused or recycled post-carnival and greenery will go to local schools to plant.
Who – Margot Robbie (actress), Ashley Hart (model), Buck Palmer (model), Megan Gale (model), Ricky Ponting (ex-cricket captain), George Calombaris (chef), Lleyton Hewitt (tennis player), Shelley Craft (television presenter), Liz Cambage (basketball player), Karen Martini (chef), Tom Harley (football player), Montana Cox (model) and Joel and Benji Madden (musicians)
Taste – Epicure is looking after the menu alongside Karen Martini. Dishes are paleo-inspired, mostly gluten free and highlight locally sourced produce. Each dish will feature a key ingredient from a Swisse product like beetroot, tomato, celery, lemon, blood orange and other fruits. Guests will dine on yellow fin tuna, spanner crab and avocado “cigars”, raw blackberry and lime “cheesecake” and Tasmanian salmon, leek and black pepper frittatas. Each guest receives a mocktail on arrival with a Swisse Energy shot and then a Liver Detox shot after the Cup has run.
Hear – The cast of Les Miserables and Human Nature will perform during the week.
Across three levels, the “Lexus Design Pavillion” celebrates the angles of their new NX model which will be launched in the marquee designed by Mim Design Studio. There’s a Sky Deck, complete with overhead canopy, featuring an installation of a coppiced smoke bush tree and recovered aluminium cable suspensions by the very clever Joost Baker and landscaping by Jamie Durie. Guests can take a fleet of private cars to the track.
Who – Emma Freedman (racing royalty), Neil Perry (chef), Jamie Durie (landscaper), Ben Shewry (chef), Jenna Rosenow (actor), Terri Biviano (shoe designer), Henry Holland (fashion designer), Margaret Zhang (fashion blogger), Sophie Van Den Akker (model) and Rhys Uhlich (model).
Taste – Attica’s Ben Shewry will bring a capsule of his restaurant upstairs with dishes like walnut in its shell (“it looks like just like a walnut with its shell on but it has been sawed in half and the guests lift the lid and inside are tiny sweet spring peas that look like little jewels and a silky puree of organic walnuts”), salted red kangaroo and bunya bunya, and Pukeko’s eggs. Downstairs’ menu is derived from Neil Perry’s newly opened Burger Project while on the rooftop is a gelato bar with a revolving menu of icy treats.
Champagne house G.H Mumm brings “Cote D’Azur by Day/By Night” to Flemington. Their French Rivera inspired marquee mimics St. Tropez by day but after the last major race transforms into a Cannes-esque nightclub.
Who – Models Bambi Northwood-Blyth, Alexandra Agoston and Zac and Jordan Stenmark will play hosts of the marquee. Dan Single (designer, ex-ksubi), Hannah Holman (model), Nicky Vanshe (musician), Ksenija Lukich (E!), Romy Frydman (stylist), Danielle Vagner (Kookai) and Nicole Warne (fashion blogger) will also be in attendance.
Taste – G.H. Mumm expects to go through 10,000 bottles of bubbles over the carnival week. Official toasts will be poured by the necessary three people from 12 litre and 15 litre bottles flown in from France and made especially for the Melbourne Cup (bottles are a metre high and the cork can pop as far as 30 metres). This morning they hosted “the most expensive Melbourne Cup brunch” at approximately $8000 a head for just 15 guests. They served Ossetra Caviar (costing up to $5000 per kilo) which was harvested and flown in for the first time in Australia from Abu Dhabi just 24 hours before it was served and small batch G.H. Mumm Cuvée R. Lalou. The general menu is headed up by ex-Queensland Gallery of Modern Art chef Josue Lopez and focusses on delights from the sea; shucked oysters, sashimi and gourmet seafood. A quartet of champagne cocktails will also be served alongside a bespoke ice-cream dessert called “Mummssina Surprise” whipped up by Gelato Messina.
See – A display of “sabrage” (opening bottles with sword).
Hear – International DJs including Robin Schulz and Fred Falke.
“Bar Schweppes” goes to the American Deep South decked out, on-trend, in Plantation and French provincial style architecture. Dark wood flooring, hanging mirrors, touches of brass, stone and an outdoor terrace complete the look.
Who – Rich Sommer (Mad Men actor), Pia Miller (model).
Taste – Bluebonnet Barbecue, Meatmaiden, Le Bon Ton and Meat Mother are keeping punters satisfied. They’ll dish up pulled pork, slow cooked brisket, mac and cheese, Texas chilli and deep fried chicken. One of the world’s best bartenders Sam Ross (Attaboy, New York) will be in attendance as bars like Black Pearl, Le Bon Ton and Seamstress stir Diageo liquors with Schweppes’-own mixers into deep south drinks plus the Flemington Fling using hand cut ice.
Hear – Brass ensemble Horns of Leroy, R&B-meets-Deep South remixes and DJ Andy Murphy.
The “House of Walker” transforms over the carnival days from fiery red, iconic black, intense double black, celebratory gold, noble platinum and deep, rare blue in ode to the distiller’s different whiskies. Modern LED lighting in the walls, ceiling and the bar will change colour as old-school, lavish baroque-style furniture, a balcony and ornate picture frames complete the space.
Who – Chris Hemsworth (actor), Montana Cox (model), Edwina McCann (Vogue), Natasha Oakley (fashion blogger), Bianca Cheah (model, health blogger), Nadia Fairfax (blogger), Nathaniel Dean (actor), Helen O’Connor (designer, Thurley), Bambi Northwood-Blythe (model), Dan Single (designer, ex-ksubi), Monika Clarke (model), Elyse Knowles (model).
Taste – Sean Baxter (Masterchef) cocktails with Epicure. The menu is Australian and organic featuring tastes like coconut infused organic quinoa and free range egg and chorizo tortillas, Whiskey cured Tasmanian salmon and peanut butter cremaux. On Oaks day there will be a Johnnie Walker and honey-infused chocolate fountain and a relaxed raw food bar crudo for Stakes.
See – Demonstrations of how to smoke meats and Johnnie Walker praline with whisky, lime and pineapple sorbet cubes tutorials.
Hear – JR Reyne.
The “House of Boags” will mimic the brewers new tourism centre to be unveiled next year on the location of James Boag’s original cottage. The marquee will have the original 1881 façade of the brewery and feature brewery memorabilia and Boag’s own Chevrolet, which has been shipped over on the Spirit of Tasmania. Lighting within the marquee is by Mark Douglass and Style by Nature are looking after the florals.
Who – Daniel MacPherson (host), Rodger Corser (actor), Lee Freedman (horse trainer) and Rob Archibald (polo player).
Taste – Tasmanian produce, including Seaport Black Angus, flaked Woodbridge trout, Petuna salmon and Tasmanian cheeses plus signature beers flowing through many of recipes, including a beer pretzel brownie! Guests will sip from black glasses engraved with ten Melbourne Cup winning horses.
Hear – DJ, vocalist and saxophonist trio The Mad Hatters.
Long having been associated with equestrian pursuits, Gucci’s Flemington Hill stand suite is custom designed, with Gucci’s iconic and striking ‘green-red-green’ canvas webbing (inspired by horse girth straps) forming the colour palette and on-course branding.
Who – Alexandra Agoston (model), Jordan and Zac Stenmark (models), Kellie Hush (Harper’s Bazaar), Nick Smith (Publisher, Vogue, GQ, Vogue Living),James Magnussen (swimmer), Jill Taylor (owner, Black Caviar), Daniel MacPherson (actor), the cast of Strictly Ballroom.
Taste – A menu design by Circa head chef Ashly Hicks alongside many glasses of free-flowing Champagne.
See – On Oaks Day, guess where the best place to watch the Gucci Stakes race is?