Monday 19 October 2015


The Melbourne Cup is hailed as the race that stops a nation. The spring racing carnival itself could just as easily be seen as the event that kick-starts fashion spending in the southern states.
The numbers alone are astonishing. An economic impact statement was commissioned for last year's Melbourne Cup Carnival and found that the event contributed $374.2 million of economic benefit to the state of Victoria. Of that, $31.4 million was splashed on fashion items to wear to Flemington for the races, including 75,000 hats and fascinators, 61,000 dresses, 59,000 pairs of shoes and 30,000 handbags.
When you take into account the influx of interstate visitors – just the cruise ships from Carnival Australia and P&O will carry 8500 well-heeled guests from Sydney and Brisbane for the year's carnival –  and the national figure is even higher.
The races rank alongside weddings and job interviews when it comes to reasons to buy a new suit.
The races rank alongside weddings and job interviews when it comes to reasons to buy a new suit.  Photo: Simon Schluter

Fascinating figures

"The Melbourne Cup Carnival is our original major event and is incredibly important to the economy," says VRC chief executive Simon Love. "It transcends most of our nation's favourite pastimes of sport, culture, food and wine, fashion and a good time."
But what makes this year's data more interesting is the continued rise of male spending. Where once Fashions In The Field was an exclusively female domain, men are now coming to the party.
We have seen the growth of the carnival every year we have been in business
Chris Edwards
The data reveals that men bought 15,000 new suits and 17,000 shirts to wear to the races last Melbourne Cup Carnival. Apart from a wedding or a job interview, going to the races ranks as a major impetus for Australian men to to go and buy a new suit.
David Jones' Racing Runway Show at this year's Melbourne Spring Fashion Week.
David Jones' Racing Runway Show at this year's Melbourne Spring Fashion Week.  Photo: Justin McManus

Well suited

According to Sydney-based advisor Retail Doctor Group, worldwide sales of men's fashion have risen by 70 per cent in the past 17 years. Retail Doctor'sBrian Walker told Fairfax media that men were getting into fashion at a younger age than previous generations.
"Men are much more interested in the way they look today and they want to make a statement about their individual style," Mr Walker says.
Chris Edwards, the founder of Melbourne-based tailor Oscar Hunt, agrees. "There is no doubt the core business for tailors such as us, who make each suit to measure, is for weddings, but we have seen the growth of the carnival every year we have been in business," Edwards says. "It's now a significant time of year for us."
Suiting up is serious business at the Caulfield Cup.
Suiting up is serious business at the Caulfield Cup.  Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

Hey, big spenders

With more than $30 million of spending on offer, little wonder the big retailers are out in force for the races, to try and get their cut. As a result, signage for the Myer and David Jones brands will be ubiquitous at race courses for the next month.
David Jones is hosting a marquee at the Caulfield Cup this Saturday, where corporate Australia and key customers will rub shoulders with celebrities and fashionistas. Rival Myer has the monopoly on the Melbourne Cup Carnival in November, where it has a marquee in the Birdcage and another two-year option on the Fashions In The Field contest after this year's carnival.
But when you drill down into the numbers, it seems the big retailers are no longer dominating the fashion spend. "When I was there we knew from the data that customer spending was across the board, from the big retailers to small boutiques and shops," says a former member of Myer's marketing team.
Myer's high-profile marquee in the Birdcage attracts corporate clients and fashion leaders.
Myer's high-profile marquee in the Birdcage attracts corporate clients and fashion leaders.  Photo: Supplied
"There was actually an argument that spending to sponsor the carnival wasn't getting a good bang for your buck. People love going to the races and will spend anyway. Some of that money will walk in your door, some will walk though someone else's. Small boutiques don't sponsor the races, but they also get a massive boost out of the carnival. If anything, they do better, because people treat themselves to something special, something designer or unique, at this time of year. Not an off the rack dress from a department store."

Bricks and mortar

The woes of the department store sector have long been blamed on the rise of online shopping. That theory, of course, has played out in the numbers, and in some recent turns of events.
David Jones has churned through another CEO this month, when Iain Nairn was shown the door. Nairn was due to host the marquee at Caulfield this Saturday. His name even appears on the invitations, sent out the week he departed. But such is the tumultuous world of department stores, nothing is certain.
The story at Myer is just as grim. Richard Umbers replaced Bernie Brookes as chief executive earlier this year, and could close as many as 13 underperforming stores.
But the language has barely changed, and there is always a new strategy on the horizon.
The five-year turnaround plan at Myer now includes being more relevant to "high-value customers". It's a message many have heard before. Back in 2010, Brookes announced that Myer would add one million extra staff hours to boost service, especially in fashion sections.
The additional man hours were budgeted to cost $20 million, but never eventuated.

Man power

While the department stores struggle, not all in the bricks and mortar world are closing down or cutting back as a result of online sales, especially in the world of men's fashion.
Family-owned chain Peter Jackson this month flagged plans to open 50 new stores on the eastern seaboard. Melbourne-based tailor Oscar Hunt opened its first Sydney outlet this month, just in time for Sydney clients to get their suits for the Melbourne races.
The entire Oscar Hunt business model is based on bricks and mortar, rather than online sales. The tailor's Melbourne store features a whisky bar and two fitting rooms. Customers come in for a minimum of three fittings, and it takes roughly six weeks for a made-to-measure suit to be completed, with the bulk of the tailoring done overseas.
It's that high-level of service that attract clients to operators such as Oscar Hunt. "You book your fitting with us, and you are shown to a private room," says Edwards. "We go through all the options with you, and you come back twice again to make sure that suit fits perfectly. It's a level of service department stores just can't offer."
A perfect-fitting suit, from Italian cloth, can cost as little as $750 – not much more than many off-the-rack-suits at DJs or Myer. "We not only have a sustainable business model, we have a growing business model," says Edwards. "We have a new store in Sydney and our customer base is expanding. People want customer service and they want quality. There has also been a swing back to men appreciating a suit that fits properly. They know it will last."
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