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Kirstie Clements: The fashion-forward future of racing

VRC has been encouraging participants in Myer Fashions on the Field to break with stuffy tradition.

VRC has been encouraging participants in Myer Fashions on the Field to break with stuffy tradition. Photo: Getty

It will be interesting to see just how much the crowd gets dressed up for the races next week, especially for the Derby and Melbourne Cup days at Flemington.

Fashion and racing have always enjoyed a close association. Flemington’s Fashion on the Fields competition celebrates its 60th anniversary this year and has secured a number of high-profile judges including Australian fashion designer Michael Lo Sordo and UK milliner and national treasure Stephen Jones OBE.

It has been testing times for the racing industry, with the onset of COVID preventing large-scale crowds to gather and party, along with a growing distaste for the sport from many concerned about animal cruelty.

The VRC (Victoria Racing Club) has done a very solid job in marketing and promoting the Australian fashion industry over the years, encouraging and bolstering sales of race-appropriate fashion, accessories and of course, hats and headwear.

In the spirit of change and modernity, VRC has been actively encouraging this year’s participants in Myer Fashions on the Field to break with stuffy tradition and explore new possibilities, via digital entries on the club’s website pre-race week, which produced three finalists who will compete in person at Flemington.

In years past, local designers would often dress fashionable women at the races to promote their label, and the VRC has re-established this by creating an Emerging Designer Award, as well as naming a millinery award in honour of ardent race enthusiast Lillian Frank, who passed away this year.

While the underlying theme of the Melbourne Cup Carnival is about being adventurous and pushing fashion boundaries, Stephen Jones mentioned that he thought the sartorial style of the late Queen Elizabeth II would inform many outfit choices, especially hats, given her long affinity with horse racing.

queen trumps

The Queen in her element at Royal Ascot. Photo: Getty

Interestingly, King Charles III is currently selling 12 of the 37 racehorses the Queen had in her stables. While the royals will apparently continue with the traditions and connections with Royal Ascot, Charles felt it prudent to downscale the racing operations. Whether this is because of his own opinions of racing, or a nod to a societal shift in mood is unclear.

But there is no doubt that Melbourne Cup Carnival is a huge support to the local fashion industry, in addition to being an event that encourages people to dress up and dress well, something that is fast disappearing.

In a very positive move, iconic Australian brand Country Road announced the launch of Australia’s first fashion industry climate fund, The Country Road Climate Fund, which will invest AS1.5 million in funding grants to projects that drive climate change solutions in the Australian fashion industry over the next three years.

Recognising that fashion directly contributes to the climate crisis, the aim of the fund is to invest in, incubate and accelerate climate change solutions within the Australian fashion industry, including the promotion of a circular economy that reimagines the textile lifecycle, biodiversity conservation to restore natural habitats, and partnerships led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.

It is heartening to see corporations take responsibility, rather than shrugging their shoulders at consumer behaviours and collecting the profits, so bravo Country Road.

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