Australian fields of fashion


DEIRDRE McQUILLANshares some memorable moments of a flying visit to Melbourne including the fashion feast at Flemington racecourse

There’s a buzz around Melbourne these days and it’s not just its easygoing cafe culture and thriving music and fashion scene, but because Australia’s second most populous city has taken to keeping bees. On its rooftops. City restaurants and businesses have signed up to the idea like others in Paris, London, Toronto and New York and at Clementine’s Fine Food and Gift Store in Degraves Street, the rooftop honey is sold in both jars and sample tubes. “The response has been amazing,” says owner Melanie Ashe.

Clementine’s was just one of the many quirky shops we visited on an organised walk in Melbourne’s Laneways, a busy hive of passageways and arcades home to all sorts of intriguing cafes, bars, boutiques, art galleries and vintage shops, including some very enticing shoe shops.

Our guide, Fiona Sweetman, of fifth-generation Irish ancestry, who founded Hidden Secrets Tours, explains that these lane walks “are quite new for us”, but developing fast as one of the city’s premier attractions. Some places, such as Design a Space and Alice Euphemia, promote young Australian and New Zealand designers and down a winding tartan-covered stairs is celebrated basement boutique, Christine, in Flinders Lane. Called after its owner Christine Barro, this is a treasure trove of accessories from all over the world, including Philip Treacy hats, with many items grandly displayed in old-fashioned glass cabinets.

The flying visit to Melbourne was just three days, to the astonishment of locals, but it took in a memorable dinner in chef Donovan Cooke’s restaurant, the Atlantic, on the Southbank and a visit to the Healesville Sanctuary which features the largest collection of Australian wildlife in the world.

The main purpose of the visit, however, was to attend the Melbourne Cup at Flemington racecourse. At Australia’s biggest sporting event, everyone dresses up to the nines – ladies in full plumage, gents often sporting tails or co-ordinating colours.

Cup Day’s fame as a people’s race has a long history and even impressed Mark Twain more than a century ago when he described it as without rival.

As for the crowds, it was hard not to be completely overwhelmed by the 106,000 fans, many of whom drove in towing trailers from which laden picnic tables were erected. Others disgorged from trains arriving directly into the racecourse. Horses occasionally thundered by on the track, but at times seemed almost superfluous to requirements given the gaiety among spectators. Sponsored by Emirates, the $6.2 million cup was won by Irish horse Green Moon and this year, the Emirates Birdcage marquee had a Dublin theme in keeping with the airline’s new Dublin direct service to Dubai and Melbourne.

Newspapers reported that Philip Treacy hats had sold out in Brisbane and that designer boutiques had three weeks of strong sales in Sydney. An executive of the David Jones group, a long-established upmarket department store chain, was quoted as saying that racing has become a major national fashion event in Australia. Last year it was estimated that racegoers spent more than $28,000 on fashion items for the four days of the carnival. More than 63,000 hats and fascinators were purchased, 52,000 pairs of shoes and 34,000 dresses.

We met Treacy who was in Melbourne as international style ambassador at a private screening of his recent runway fashion show in London, hosted by Christine and David Barro at Cinema Nova. Afterwards, he spoke of his experiences of working with Michael Jackson’s “magic” costumes used in the show and with Lady Gaga who opened it dressed in a pink burka.

He also revealed that his business was expanding rapidly in places such as Russia and India. Christine Barro, resplendent in a black Treacy hat, explained that the Melbourne Cup initiated “Fashions on the Field” 50 years ago, which kickstarted the whole idea of dressing up for the races.

“There are so many milliners in Melbourne now and thousands of hats are sold for the race meetings,” she said.

Deirdre McQuillan was a guest of Emirates Airlines. Prices for Dublin to Melbourne start from €1,042 including taxes, Dublin to Dubai from €521 including taxes. For further details, see