How to style a Melbourne Cup event

Who doesn’t love admiring the event styling and décor of the Melbourne Cup’s exquisite Birdcage marquees? The designs typically reflect the height of fashion and showcase Australia’s best event designs.
Taking inspiration from the top event stylists at the Melbourne Cup is a great way to inject some pizazz and creativity into your own events. But as all good event planners know, a successful event design is not just about looks!
To discover what goes into creating the ultimate Melbourne Cup event, we caught up with TJ Carroll, Director at Melbourne-based event management company, ENGAGE at Disegno. TJ and her team have worked on all facets of racing design and execution - from large scale front row marquee design and builds to racing-inspired events held offsite during the Carnival. They look at the entire event design, including the catering right through to arranging helicopters and boats to transport guests to the party!
Experienced? Yes, we think so… Now let’s get started!

When designing an event space for Melbourne Cup what do you need to consider?

As with designing any event space, the key is to ensure the space is engaging and projects your company’s brand and values. TJ explains that this is particularly important on Cup Day: “there is a massive expense involved when hosting a large scale Melbourne Cup event and you want to ensure your guests stay in your marquee, rather than moving on elsewhere”. For private functions or ticketed Melbourne Cup events this is also a very valid point.
TJ gives us a few quick tips on creating an engaging event space:
1. Show your brand in a different light – move away from just using your corporate colours and choose something with a racing flare. Think bold and beautiful (no, not the TV show…)

2. Create one central WOW factor piece – but ensure it is positioned up high (hung from the ceiling, up on a plinth or up on the interior gables of the marquee) - anything under head height will get lost when your guests arrive. 

3. Use the opportunity to showcase your brand values and what you stand for. For example, TJ has worked on a marquee for The Herald Sun that featured key elements relating back to the newspaper’s history and integrity. They found interesting ways to use old newspapers to create amazing installation pieces and talking points. 

4. Make sure you have a private ‘tote’ at your event so guests get the full racing experience and don’t need to leave your event to place a bet!

5. Make sure you have entertainment planned throughout the day – it can help encourage your guests to stay in your area. If you can manage it, arranging for VIPs and celebs to pop in is a great idea too!

What are the key features you should look for when choosing a venue for a Melbourne Cup event?

If you’re not going to be at the race track, TJ recommends you find a venue with lots of natural day-light and preferably a garden or outdoor space to reflect the Springtime atmosphere of the Melbourne Cup. 
If you don’t have outdoor space or a garden, get creative and style your event space to include those key features. 

What design trends do you think work best for race day events?

TJ explains that ENGAGE likes to encourage clients to be more outrageous and adventurous when it comes to styling Melbourne Cup events. Take inspiration from the Birdcage marquees and be flamboyant and theatrical. 
TJ’s biggest piece of advice is to take the guests on a journey – start the theming with the invitation to get them excited and intrigued. Then keep the theme running through every detail of the event – little details like the race book covers and pens, right through to the menus, room styling and even the staff uniforms. Make sure the entire event is cohesive and every element stays true to your brand and theme.

In recent years, the team at ENGAGE feel that the smaller marquees have had more of an interior design focus. While the event spaces look like the beautiful, neat houses you would see in a fashionable interiors magazine, they seem to have missed the whole point of the flamboyance of racing. TJ recommends that you steer away from your favourite sofa or stool, and think more creatively so that your event has the WOW factor that will get guests talking and coming back for more!

Styling trends this year?

TJ and her team have put together three mood boards for what they believe is on trend this year. For more information on their design ideas or to discuss how ENGAGE can help style your Melbourne Cup event, get in touch via their Event Birdie page. 
Taking inspiration from Vivienne Westwood, ENGAGE suggests taking traditional Scottish design elements, such as tartan fabrics, pewter silver & ribbon corsages and using them to create a rambunctious and risqué style.

Equistyle | Melbourne Cup event styling - ENGAGE
A reflection of classic French style, Prix Du Jockey is an elegant look with a sense of casualness. Think stripes and bold shapes with a colour palette of black, white and royal blue. 

Prix Du Jockey | Melbourne Cup event styling - ENGAGE
Step inside an elegant English garden with an abundance of sophistication. The perfect Spring time setting for entertaining.  Use a colour palette of greens as your back bone - walled gardens, giant topiary - set against the vitality of Spring roses for a burst of colour and race day fun.

Estately | Melbourne Cup event styling - ENGAGE

Other ideas for events around Spring Carnival…

Hosting an event at the race track is an expensive exercise to get involved with and TJ highlights that there are loads of additional ideas for creating unique experiences that run throughout the racing period and offer superior value to clients.
One such idea ENGAGE have arranged for a client was to host a private dinner for 20 guests with Gai Waterhouse, the MCC winning horse trainer. TJ explains that by hosting unique experiences like this, you can create a more intimate experience and gain better traction with your clients. “We not only designed the concept for our client, we also used our contacts to have such an integral guest like Gai attend and even created a race track centrepiece for the dinner table to tie it all together – it’s all about the detail!”
ENGAGE at Disegno specialise in creating engaging experiences and events for their clients in Melbourne and Australia-wide. Check out their Event Birdie page or their website for more details. 

P.S. Want some more visual inspiration for styling your Melbourne Cup event, check out our dedicated Pinterest Board on all things Melbourne Cup (includes a look at past Birdcage marquee designs)