Auckland designer Carena West won Melbourne Cup’s Fashions in the Field – here’s her raceday fashion tips

Long-term Auckland Racing Club (ARC) ambassador and swimwear designer, Carena West took out the ultimate win during the annual Myer Fashions in the Field during the recent Melbourne Cup carnival.

Dating back to 1962, the event celebrates the epitome of glamour and style that goes alongside the annual race day and is the biggest racewear fashion competition of the year. This year, Carena took out the overall win after placing second runner up in the first heat of the competition and taking out two first place wins in the second and third heats.

Her winning outfit – comprised of fabric found on Etsy for $60 – was a multi-coloured dress made from an Uzbek traditional dress. Carena wore a hat by Kiwi milliner Claire Hahn inspired by a hat worn by Audrey Hepburn and her shoes were from Myer. She won a prize valued at over $100,000 which included a Lexus car.

Carena is set to judge the Fashions in the Field at the upcoming Boxing Day Races. We caught up with the stylish judge to find out about what’s she looking for come Boxing Day, plus how she put her Melbourne Cup outfit together…

FQ: Tell us a bit about how Myer Fashions on the Field works.
Carena: Over the past 56 years Myer Fashions on the Field has established its place as Australia’s largest and most prestigious outdoor fashion event, attracting media attention and celebrity judges from around the globe. The competition was first staged in 1962 in a bid to attract more women to the male dominated racecourse. The women’s racewear competition is comprised of state competitions and Melbourne Cup Carnival competitions. The hotly contested state competitions are held in the lead up to the Melbourne Cup Carnival, where fashion photographers capture beautifully dressed contestants at events in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia, with a panel of high profile industry professionals selecting the state winners. Each state winner will receive a 10-day trip of a lifetime to the 2019 Melbourne Cup Carnival to compete on stage in the Myer Fashions on the Field National Final on Kennedy Oaks Day. In keeping with the tradition of Myer Fashions on the Field, the Victorian state competition will be held on stage at Flemington Racecourse on AAMI Victoria Derby Day, Lexus Melbourne Cup Day and Kennedy Oaks Day. There will be heats, a preliminary final and a daily final on each of these days which attract upwards of 200 contestants each day. On Kennedy Oaks Day, the winners of the three daily finals will compete to determine the Victorian state winner. The culmination of the women’s racewear competition occurs on Kennedy Oaks Day where the state winners will compete for the coveted title of Myer Fashions on the Field national winner. Prizes are awarded to winners of all stages, with the winner of the national final receiving a prize package valued at over $100,000 including a Lexus UX, a Graff diamond pendant and Myer gift vouchers.

You must be a very proud Kiwi to win this Australian competition! What does winning this competition mean to you? Have you entered before and how did you get into it?
I am so incredibly proud! It was quite a gas seeing myself named the “Kiwi Raider” in the Sydney Morning Herald, who took the Lexus Melbourne Cup Day fashion win from the Aussies! Fashions on the Field is an unusual beast, but it offers so many women the opportunity to harness their creativity and put together exquisite outfits. This competition is basically the creme de la creme of racewear fashion, so it is a real honour to win the title. It’s essentially the Melbourne Cup of Fashion in Australia! I have entered a number of Fashions on the Field competitions in my time, and my interest really came about from being a regular attendee of racedays at Ellerslie Racecourse.

Tell us about your experience in Melbourne, from start to finish. What was the inspiration behind the outfit?
Melbourne was quite a ride! Of course everyone who plans to compete in the Fashions on the Field competition intends to give it their best crack to secure a win! I was in Melbourne for ten days and it just flew by. Victoria Derby Day is the first race day of the Carnival, and the first chance to enter the fashion competition. The theme of Derby is black and white, so as you can assume, the 170+ contestants were in a creative sea of texture and shapes to help them stand out. My outfit was a ’40s inspired cream satin dress with a Claire Hahn lacquered wide brim hat, and my favourite part which was a pearl ponytail accessory that ended up being featured by! I came in third place on Victoria Derby Day and was over the moon. My Melbourne Cup Day outfit was a belted embroidered dress with a ’60s kind of flair. I found the fabric on Etsy for $60 in the form of a vintage Uzbek Suzani dress. I draped it on a mannequin to form the shape that I ended up with. I made the belt from French grosgrain ribbon. My millinery was again by New Zealand milliner Claire Hahn, and she matched the green of the headpiece to the greens that were in the dress.

I was lucky enough to be the winner on Lexus Melbourne Cup Day in another very strong field of over 170+. I was so overwhelmed I had to hold back tears on stage! On Kennedy Oaks Day I was to return in the same outfit to compete in the State Final. It was nerve wracking as the daily final was before to select the last daily winner that I was competing against. I was the chosen winner of the state final, and immediately whisked over to compete in the national final. The national final was surreal as I had seen so many promotional news articles and social media posts of the state finalists, so it was amazing to see all of their outfits in person. A large panel of judges made their selections on iPads, which calculated final scores to determine the winner who, would you believe it, turned out to be yours truly! It was a true whirlwind to win, and I never dreamed that I would make it this far. I have spent many years watching this competition from New Zealand and this was my first trip to the Lexus Melbourne Cup!

We heard you won a Lexus! Was it difficult to get it back to New Zealand?
I haven’t received it yet but I’ll let you know!

What are some of the racewear trends in Australia? Are they very different to the trends here in New Zealand?
New Zealand is very similar to Australia by way of racewear trends. However, I believe that sometimes New Zealand has the edge with that effortless “je ne sais quoi” that makes an outfit stand out on stage. The proof was in the pudding when four out of the top ten contestants on Kennedy Oaks Day were Kiwis!


Carena West with prize

You’re a long-standing ambassador for Auckland Racing Club. What does this involve?
I have been involved with horses in one way or another for the majority of my life and was a member of the Auckland Racing Club for three years before I became an ambassador. As someone who loves fashion and horses, it is a perfect combination of my interests! I am very lucky to have this partnership with Ellerslie Racecourse and my duties can vary from participating in campaign photo shoots, judging fashion competitions and promoting events to my followers, to educating people about the racing industry. I have a real passion for showing the “behind the scenes” of the races and will be posting some really cool videos about that aspect this season, including videos about ex-racehorses and their lives after racing.

We hear you’re a judge at the Hawaiian Airlines Fashions in the Field at the SkyCity Boxing Day races at Ellerslie. What are your tips and tricks for those who want to enter the competition?
If you’re a first time competitor, I would suggest doing a bit of online research about what constitutes as racewear, including looking at the little details of the outfits of previous winners. Millinery can elevate your outfit from being beautiful to being a competition winner, so don’t discount the impact it can have! Make sure that you let your own style shine through, and of course, have fun. Entering Hawaiian Airlines Fashions in the Field is a great chance to try out some new looks and take risks, find inspiration from unusual places (my Melbourne Cup outfit was inspired by my Netflix binge of Mad Men) and of course meet some really great people. I’ve made so many new friends from doing these competitions from all over New Zealand and Australia, and we always have a great time when we catch up, whether it is on course or not!

Carena West wins Melbourne Cup Fashion in the Fields

What else are you most looking forward to this season? Do you have a favourite raceday?
My favourite race day is Vodafone Derby Day, not only because it is The Ned Prix De Fashion, but also because I love seeing the creative ways people interpret the dress code of black and white. I also love the New Zealand Bloodstock Karaka Million raceday in January, which has a more cocktail vibe and attracts a huge amount of international guests due to the Annual NZ Bloodstock Yearling sales that the event is connected to.

Interview : Kelly McAuliffe
Photos: Victoria Racing Club/Flemington Racecourse