She wowed Australasian racewear fans when winning the 2019 edition of MYER Fashions on the Field at Flemington - the last time Victoria Racing Club's famed Melbourne Cup Carnival fashion competition was held on a runway.
But it wasn't just then when our ambassador Carena West has turned up as Queen of the Style Stakes with the savvy entrepreneur constantly pushing the boundaries of racing fashion and inspiring those that love to follow her.
With Victoria Racing Club set to announce its virtual 2021 Fashions On Your Front Lawn winners as part of their Oaks Day tomorrow, we checked in with Carena to learn a little more about THAT winning moment, her racewear trend predictions and more.
When did you first compete in Melbourne?
I first competed in Melbourne at Derby Day in 2018. I managed to place second which was an incredible feat for my first visit at the Melbourne Cup Carnival. Unfortunately, I had to fly home the next day so I vowed to come back in 2019 and compete again.
You went on to place PARTICULARLY well at your next visit - tell us about that.
When I returned in 2019, I placed third on Derby Day and was so chuffed! I couldn't believe that I'd had two placings in two consecutive Melbourne Cup Derby Day competitions!
I returned on Melbourne Cup Day and somehow clinched first prize, putting me in the running for the state final on Oaks Day. On Oaks day I won the state final and, then up against the other state finalists, ended up winning the Grand Prize which is something I had obviously dreamed of, but never imagined actually winning!
Your outfits were all incredible but your grand prize one was just gorgeous - remind those who don't know what you had it made from.
My winning outfit was a dress that I had made out of a vintage embroidered Uzbek Suzani dress.
Were you going to head over to Melbourne this year, travel permitting and if so, in a competitor or spectator capacity? I would have loved to return to Melbourne this year (and last year!) as a spectator. I think my competing days are over though, I like the idea of ending on a high!
What's it like competing at Flemington? Are there any differences between the Australian racewear competition process and New Zealand's? Because there are so many people entering the Fashion on the Field competitions, the entry process is very formal and if you miss the cut-off, it's "bad luck, try next year".
I almost missed it in 2018 as my sister in law Sarah and I were stuck in traffic in an Uber! We had to jump out of the car and jog to the track, which did not add to my nerves one bit!
Backstage it's VERY nerve-wracking and feels very cut-throat ("If you don't get through the heats, please exit stage right immediately" etc) but all of the competitors back there were so lovely and supportive of each other.
I think we all know how much work everyone has put in and there wasn't a single outfit there that wasn't polished and picture perfect!
Is there anything you felt you needed to do differently while in Melbourne in order to catch the judges' eyes vs what you might do in New Zealand? Nothing different per se, but I do think it's more difficult to catch the judges' eyes in Melbourne through the heats process - so, being able to capture their eyes with stage presence and confidence is extremely important.
You won't get through heats based on outfit alone, because EVERYONE has a great outfit!
Have you got any Australian racewear style crushes?
I have always loved Nicole Trunfio's style on and off track, and got to meet her when I won the 2019 competition.
She was gorgeous and about a foot taller than me!
Did you manage to watch the Melbourne Cup while you were there? Yes, I was able to watch from the members' stand which was a treat, but I only got there right before the beginning of the race, so it was packed and I could barely see anything except the screen! Feeling the atmosphere was a huge rush though.
The state finalists have been announced - what did you glean from seeing these?
I have noticed a contestant or two taking inspiration from some of our kiwi winners' previous outfits which I think is pretty cool!
I think New Zealanders have a really unique way of dressing and if kiwis were allowed to enter the competition I can almost guarantee we would have a couple of finalists up there as well.
As you've said, a winning look can come down to stage presence and catching the judges' eyes. Do you think photo-based competitions make it easier or harder to catch the judges' eyes? I think it can go both ways. A photo competition may be great for someone with a killer outfit whose stage deportment may not be polished, but I also think it's difficult to show certain embellishments and details of outfits in a picture alone.
Even how colours are picked up on photographs can be different, which can make colour matching risky!
Have you got any tips for anyone thinking about (travel bubbles & crowd capacities permitting) entering a racewear competition in Australia? Ensure that your unique sense of style shines through in your outfits, and be a trend leader, not follower.
Take inspiration from anywhere - my 2019-winning dressed was inspired by Mad Men, that I was binge watching at the time.
Do you think we'll start to see a lot of what our Australian counterparts are wearing (in the state competitions) start to translate into kiwi racewear trends this summer, or do you see our own 'style 'emerging? I think New Zealand competitions show that us kiwis have a unique and very strong sense of style, and we aren't afraid to take risks.
I love how we do it and I wouldn't like to see us following any trends.
I personally prefer to look elsewhere for inspiration for outfits, whether on Etsy looking at vintage dresses, on Vogue.com checking out couture and ready to wear shows or even film and TV.
Click the arrows to scroll through some of the latest looks at Vogue.com.au
I think that if you are emulating trends that are already "out there", you run the risk of looking like you've done exactly that.
Forging your own path is something that us Kiwis aren't afraid of, and I think it's part of our charm!
Trying something new can go the opposite to how you planned sometimes, but the reward can also be so much greater.
Any styles you think are now 'done'? Maybe lace illusion fabric. But like with anything, I am totally open to having my mind changed.
Anything else you'd like to add about your experiences competing in Australia? I feel so lucky that I had the opportunity to compete before COVID-19 was officially a thing.
It's an experience I will never be able to repeat, but one day I would like to go back again and have a few more champagnes! (I was 20 weeks pregnant at the time I won so maybe next time I'll have a little bit more energy too!)
The Melbourne Cup Carnival continues at Flemington tomorrow and on Saturday and, in celebration, we've shared a lot of great Melbourne Cup content for your enjoyment.