What to expect inside the best marquees at this year's Melbourne Cup

Here is something you need to consider when creating a bespoke piece of art for a marquee during Melbourne Cup Carnival: how fast paint will dry.

For Alessandro Ljubicic, a Sydney-based artist who was chosen to be part of Mumm champagne's "Mumm Collective," a group of five creatives commissioned to work on this year's Mumm marquee, this turned out to be a crucial factor.

Ljubicic typically works with thick oil paint, creating bold and effusive pieces that can take six months to dry.

Mumm didn't have that kind of time so the 2.4 metre by 9 metre piece Ljubicic has painted was created with alternative paints. He promises it's going to be both show stopping, and, crucially given it's the races after-all, super Instagrammable.

 "[The piece] is really about capturing the energy of race day, " he says.

He says the size and scale of the piece is intended to make people "be submerged and [feel] part of the piece."

Bespoke Details

​This year's Mumm marquee, dubbed the Maison Mumm Hotel and which takes inspiration from a typical boutique Parisian hotel, is, as ever, set to be one of the highlights of the Birdcage. Other members of the maison's Collective include fashion designer Dion Lee, who designed the uniforms for the staff and entrepreneur Hayden Cox who designed bespoke Mumm ice buckets from resin.

Julie Chan, Mumm brand manager, says it's the first time the champagne house has collaborated with creatives in this way.

The marquee, she says, is going to be the brand's "most luxurious and stylish celebration yet."


It's a tall order for Mumm to continue to top its offering for Carnival. Previous years have included Can Can dancers, an actual swimming pool and a 59 foot yacht.

From carpark to Millionaires Row

The Birdcage, the invitation-only location at Flemingon Race Course on "Millionaires Row," has long moved away from its humble beginnings of a few tents in a car park. Indeed it's become something of a bellwether for which corporate brands are riding high.

While there are far fewer marquees than there used to be - there were 34 in 2009 and this year there are 14, with some brands hosting private events in the Nursery carpark instead - there's certainly no penny pinching.

Millions are spent by brands on bespoke, custom-built enclosures, the French bubbly flows, caviar is consumed by the truckload and by the end of the day reality TV contestant, CEOs and society alike are dancing to the Nutbush (et.al).

The excess of the four-day Melbourne Cup Carnival is legendary.

But not without purpose. In 2018 Melbourne Cup Carnival as a whole contributed $444.5 million in gross economic benefit to Victoria, a 4.1 per cent increase on 2016 and a 22 per cent boost since 2013.

Brand power

It's an important, if lavish, branding opportunity too.

Scott Thompson, chief executive officer of Lexus Australia, which hosts one of the hottest ticket marquees, says this year's LANDMARK by Lexus marquee (formerly known as the Lexus Design Pavilion), says it's an invaluable opportunity to spotlight the brand's "commitment to hospitality, design and innovation ... without getting behind the wheel of one of our cars."

"LANDMARK by Lexus is a platform for Lexus to showcase our Japanese brand values of Omotenashi meaning to wholeheartedly look after our guests through a spirit of hospitality and warmth," says Thompson.

This year Lexus has commissioned the likes of sustainable artist Joost Bakker, chefs Matt Stone and Jo Barrett from the hatted restaurant Oakridge in Victoria's Yarra Valley who will create a four-course menu with a focus on native ingredients and ones which would otherwise have been wasted, and Sydney-based architect, Koichi Takada to bring this idea of hospitality to life.

Planting seeds of luxury

Bakker will create centrepieces throughout the three level marquee from Australian natives such as eucalyptus, melaleuca and cypress.

"My work for LANDMARK by Lexus is inspired by the Australian Landscape, its colours and especially its unique and diverse botany. [I was] frustrated by the fact we don't celebrate this enough and a [wanted] to show that Australian native flowers can be used effectively," says Bakker.

Meanwhile this year the Kennedy marquee was created by Italian design house Le Cellula and will feature a rooftop terrace from which guests can actually watch the racing. There will also be an "Exhibition of Wonders" which will showcase exceptional timepieces from brands such as Patek Philippe, IWC and Panerai. 

Ottavio Di Chio, CEO of La Cellula, says the marquee is, fittingly, meant to "convey the feeling of entering a prestigious club, combining the art of design and equine grace."

Rethinking the Birdcage

All of which fits in with what Caroline Ralphsmith, VRC executive general manager customer engagement, says is this year's focus of this year's Melbourne Cup Carnival entertainment: "reimagining" the birdcage.

"The whole Cage is being reimagined, from new entrances that reflect the global stature of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, think Met Gala, to new surprise and activations including a secret bar that's invite only," she says.

The VRC Members marquee, 1 Oliver St, will also have a new look. 

Ralphsmith lists Birdcage highlights such as the time Mumm brought that 59 foot yacht into the birdcage and the colourful celebrity guests which have included everyone from Liza Minelli to Naomi Campbell as her personal highlights. She believes the key to enjoying yourself during racing season is letting go of any hang-ups.

"[I]t's meant to be fun! Don't stress too much about what you're going to wear. Trust me, when you get to the track it really doesn't matter, as long as you feel fabulous and let go of your inhibitions, we'll look after the rest."

The Melbourne Cup Carnival runs at Flemington Race Course from Saturday November 2 to Saturday November 9. flemington.com.au