Racing in style: 2008 Melbourne Cup Carnival Marquees

May 15, 2009

Armed with only a glass of champagne, Charlie Holloway bravely ventures into the world of the Marquee at last year’s Melbourne Cup Carnival.

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In the lead-up to the 2008 Melbourne Cup Carnival the world press and, more importantly, conversation at smart dinner parties around Melbourne was dominated by something that we now know that we can’t avoid: the Global Financial Crisis – now more commonly referred to with the acronym GFC. Stories about cutbacks in trackside largesse and the absence of drawcard marquees in the coveted Birdcage enclosure saw footballers’ wives, Toorak dowagers and Neighbours starlets in a quandary! Everyone was wondering if Derby Day would still be the most glamorous day on Melbourne’s trackside calendar. On the day, concerns evaporated. Ensconced in one of the marquees in the reshuffled Birdcage the collapse of world financial markets seemed a mere trifle, that annoying little acronym banished.

One suspects that none of the glamorous guests noticed, but a number of the 2008 marquees employed so called recession-proof design strategies. This design prudence predates the publication of advice we now encounter more often than perhaps we would care to hear it – earnest counsel about how to dress ourselves in recession-chic, what to do if you are an out of work architect and can’t countenance driving a taxi, and how to furnish your home with fabulous opportunity shop finds and careful IKEA selections. Eschewing self-consciously frugal design moves a number of the marquees cleverly recycled, reused and refashioned materials, spaces and ideas. Employed in the service of brand equity, the 2008 marquees offered a diverse range of experiences.

Mim Design’s reworking of the de Campo Architects-designed Lexus Emporium structure overlaid the high-tech, two – storey translucent box with an intriguing mesh screen that resembled giant metallic flowers and deepened the apertures with thick timber reveals. Inside the marquee had an aesthetic inspired by Northern Europe’s humanist modernity. The material palette included a Tom Dixon copper pendant chandelier over the central staircase and, upstairs, designer rugs created by fashion mavens Pam Easton and Lydia Pearson. Intimate settings were created using an eclectic mix of furnishings, including lamps by Jaime Hayon and Moroso Nest chairs. Around the corner at Myer guests enjoyed an exciting afternoon on a luxurious fairground merry-go-round. Created by Amanda Henderson from Gloss Creative and Emma Hofstede from Myer the marquee had a rough-luxury aesthetic. The space was hewn from raw plywood printed with equestrian motifs and decorative Victorian frames. A fanning array of catenary lights, gathered up at a pyramid of flowers, was set against a blazing sky backdrop inspired by late afternoons spent in beachside amusement parks.

Occupying a privileged front row position in the Birdcage, The Village Green sat beyond the pale of an over-scaled white picket fence. BTTB Events and Hecker Phelan & Guthrie collaborated to create this quirky garden party setting. With synthetic grass underfoot, sculptural totem trees and voluminous green fabric billowing the space refused to take itself seriously. Oversized elements played cheeky tricks with proportion and scale. Bespoke pendant lights, circular ottomans and scatter cushions, all covered in a pink floral dress fabric, animated crisp white chairs and tables. “We’ve also created designs that can be used for a couple of years to cut back on waste,” said Corina Baldwin from BTTB Events – in a nod to the sustainable design, and fiscal restraint.

Nearby, at Schiavello, BVN created an encasing intimacy amidst a blanket of feathers. Drawing on the association of feathers with racing culture the BVN team created a soft, tactile environment using 2000 upside down ostrich feather dusters that were fixed through the marquee structure. BVN observed that in contrast to the interior, “The external aesthetic was derived from the construction for holding the feather dusters in place, which creates a contrasting spiky aesthetic.” Back inside a hot pink, high-back banquette divided the space along its length, creating discrete zones of activity.

The interiors of the trackside marquees have the power to transport their inhabitants. The serious enterprise on the track only intervenes now and then, if at all. The apparent nonchalance of marquee guests is a witty footnote referencing the power of design in the creation of social environments. If the dynamic of the space is right, people will just get on with the business of having a damn good time. This social dynamic is registered in the absurd conversations one might overhear trackside. Marquee parlance has its own very particular lilt – “GFC? No I don’t think any of them are here this year. The Geelong Football Club are ever so unpopular at the moment; Hawthorn trounced them in the 2008 AFL Grand Final. Another glass of French?”

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