The Victorian Racing Carnival is one of the highlights of the Australian calendar, and The Birdcage is the ultimate destination inside Flemington’s hallowed grounds. The invite-only VIP area is chock-a-block with movers, shakers, celebrities, media, artists. For the sixth year in a row, The Plus Ones gets to bring you insider coverage.
We’ll take you on a journey through the top marquees of the Racing Carnival on one of its most fashion-forward days. 80,214 racegoers enjoyed the 2019 AAMI Victoria Derby Day.
With a black-and-white colour scheme, attendees throughout the racecourse were dressed in their finery. There was tulle. There were feathers. There were pocket squares and hats galore. And above all — there are the marquees.
Entering Flemington and passing the tens of thousands of glorious rosebushes, we weren’t at all deterred by the wet weather (20 mls of rain fell throughout the day). The cloudy skies made for better photos, and the cooler temps allowed all the suit-clad men to feel their best. The entrance to the Birdcage literally dazzled: a 20-metre-wide, two-storey-high installation features sparkly pink carpet from Milan with iridescent multi-coloured accents.
We began our day with a visit to one of our favourite marquees: G.H. Mumm. This year they’ve completely outdone themselves, with a full-scale replica of a hotel. Walking past ‘hotel’ staff in Dion Lee-designed uniforms, past the dusty rose walls, guests can indulge in two varieties of champagne — along with some of the best partying in The Birdcage. We were lucky enough to run into the designer herself, from Nina Maya Interiors — and hear the full story of how the marquee got built. Let’s just say that Paris had the final approval on every little detail. There’s even a VIP room for top-secret tastings. Stay tuned for a report on that later in the week.
We couldn’t help but visit the wonderful Bumble marquee, full of flowers and beautiful frocks. With a focus on empowering women, it’s no wonder that they have a huge throne — where every lady (or gent!) can sit for a photo and pretend they’re the Queen (or Queen Bey). Invited guests on Derby Day were entrepreneur Rozalia Russian, model Brooke Hogan, model Samantha Harris, and models Jordan and Zac Stenmark.
The hydrangea-filled Tabcorp marquee had absolutely amazing food from Guy Grossi and the Big Group (think: charcuterie, a cheese the size of a small boat, etc.). Boasting 25 metres of track frontage, plus a huge screen, the guests were the most racing-mad of all the marquees we visited on Derby Day. This worked in our favour, as we had a personal chat with Darren Purchese from Burch & Purchese. He took the time to talk us through each and every dessert (what we thought were flowers were in fact pure chocolate!). Not to brag, but we might have had the very first dessert of the Racing Carnival from the pavlova bar, enthusiastically served by Darren himself.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Elle activation. A wonderful interlude amongst the marquee madeness, Elle created a tropical oasis — complete with jungle birdsong in the background — for partygoers to take a soothing break. With delicious non-alcoholic juices on hand and delectable savoury and sweet bites, we visited more than once. And left with a monogrammed hair ribbon from The Daily Edited and a sample of Dior’s new Joy perfume to boot. Running into one of the competitors from Fashions on the Field was the icing on the fashionable cake.
Lexus is one of the must-dos at The Birdcage — after all, it’s called the Lexus Melbourne Cup. Their marquee has phenomenal views, an amazing restaurant, and some of the most star-studded lists of celebrity guests. (We were lucky to see Cameron Robbie and Simon Fitzpatrick pose in front of a flower-filled Lexus convertible, and almost literally rub shoulders with Matt Preston and model Jordan Barrett.) Lexus has the largest-ever Birdcage restaurant, the 90-seat LANDMARK. This year, Matt Stone and Jo Barrett of Oakridge, the hatted restaurant in the Yarra Valley, serve dishes with a focus on native Aussie flavours and sustainability. Neil Perry is also on hand, creating beautiful Japanese-inspired canapes in resuable bento boxes. Outside, we watched the team from Eazy Peazy use an authentic Japanese hibachi grill, serving up chicken and veggies to lucky attendees.
The Kennedy marquee is pure luxury, with two stories on Millionaire’s Row devoted to showcasing the brand. Millions of dollars worth of luxury watches from the likes of IWC Schaffhausen and Patek Phillipe (taken care of by lots of security, don’t worry) add an unmatched air of sophistication to the marquee. With bars upstairs and down, beautiful floral displays, and beautiful decor from design house La Cellula (all oak, leather, and brass) this is the place to be. Kennedy’s move this year to a prime trackside location means lucky racing fans could view all the races of the day, including the main one: jockey Damien Oliver, riding gelding Warning, took out the $2 million prize.
Being at The Birdcage on Derby Day is perhaps the most stylish amount of people you will ever get together in one place in Australia. It’s well worth flying down from Sydney for, as your author did.
Endless people-watching, the most creative marquees, all amongst some of the best brands in the nation and the world — the Victorian Racing Carnival is pure magic. There’s nowhere else like it on the planet.
Visit The Plus Ones — and follow us on Instagram — for more coverage direct from The Birdcage the rest of the week!
– Theresa & Tomas
Co-founder of The Plus Ones, Theresa is based in Sydney but admits that there’s no better racing scene than Flemington’s. Follow her on Instagram.
Tomas Zagoda is a filmmaker, writer, coffee addict and tall person who does not play basketball. You can follow him on @TomasZagoda.
The AAMI Victoria Derby Day is held every year in November as part of the Victorian Racing Carnival.
The venue is partially accessible.
10% of all public ticket sales for 2019’s Melbourne Cup Carnival, and 5% of VRC annual membership fees, will be redirected to the VRC Equine Wellbeing Fund for the care of racehorses.