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Crack the dress code

Sydney Morning Herald

Thursday March 24, 2011

Natasha Silva-Jelly

Designers Carla Zampatti and Bianca Spender help unlock the secret to trackside trends, writes Natasha Silva-Jelly. Fashionable racegoers have been donning the black and white for Derby Day since 1861 and this year April 9 at Royal Randwick will be no different. We asked Australian style doyenne Carla Zampatti and her designer daughter Bianca Spender for their picks on dressing for each day of this year's autumn carnival.As one of our most well-known designers, Zampatti - who remains the epitome of glamour at 68 - has often stepped into the role of Fashion on the Fields judge during race season."In the past 20 years, the criteria has become less regimented, gloves are less important and there is a sense of freedom and creativity, " she says. Describing the races as the one place you can "overdress, have fun and experiment", Zampatti says the look for this season is inspired by the 1950s and '60s."It's much more ladylike and covered up," she said. " The straight chemise dress favoured by Jackie Kennedy, as well as gorgeous little pillbox hats, are very popular." As for the colour palette, a range of soft creams and dusty pink shades are the hot tickets.That's not to say Zampatti isn't a fan of the little black dress on race day. "What would we do without it? Black is a canvas and my advice would be to dress it up with colour through accessories. That dusty pink goes beautifully with black, as do strong shades like mandarin red and hot pink."Bianca Spender, who is now a regular at Australian Fashion Week and has carved her own name in the industry with her signature brand of sophisticated tailoring, is also all for colour at the track and says autumnal shades such camel, grey and black, as well as tweeds, are a beautiful way to add texture to an outfit."And then you can go for a highlight shade like peacock blue or aubergine," she says.While the mother-daughter duo admit they bounce ideas off each other when designing a new collection, Spender says they have distinctly different handwriting but share the same aim to create clothes that are elegant, modern, fresh, feminine "and above all, beautiful".Qualities, she points out, that are well worth adopting for trackside dressing.Zampatti adds: "Personally I love the simplicity of a jumpsuit with a jacket popped over the top, which is a great option for a more casual day at the races. Dresses are also very popular but go for a simple dress with a modern twist."She recommends a georgette dress with a tailored jacket or coat in the same tone. "There is a certain sense of festivity about it, which is appropriate for the races," she says.Spender's favourite winter look, meanwhile, is "pants and shirt with a great coat". "Lace is also a big look this season but I'd go for separates or details, such as a lace trim rather than a head-to-toe lace frock," she says.The duo shares the belief that a sense of celebration and dressing up is required when it comes to the races. Both say a hat is a must.Neither, however, would choose their headwear first. They say whether you opt for a hat, a fascinator or the hatinator (half hat, half fascinator) depends on what suits you rather than what is currently fashionable."Fascinators are wonderful, especially with sleek, pulled-back hair, but if you like a big hat, why not?" Zampatti says.Spender agrees: "If you're trying to make a beautiful statement, an incredible hat is the way to go. Just remember when choosing an outfit that you will be balancing it with a hat, so I'd go for a paired-down silhouette and quite a bold sculptural hat but nothing that feels too much. I also wouldn't bring much jewellery into it, there is not the need for another layer."As for accessories, again a subtle approach is recommended. "Our handbags have become too big," says Zampatti, who advises finishing the look with simple clutch or small shoulder bag. "I have a tiny Chanel shoulder bag that is an old favourite that I love to wear on special occasions like the races. All you need is phone, lipstick, keys and credit card."Shoes should also be ladylike. A classic peep toe or platform "to make you feel taller and thinner", is best according to Zampatti."I also like the little baby heel with the pointy toe that is part of that '50s look and is perfect for a chemise dress, especially against bare sun-tanned legs," she says. Hosiery, she says, is no longer a must for modern stylistas. "Women like the sense of freedom and you can't beat a fabulous little dress and great legs. Just add a simple strand of pearls and the bag and you're done," Zampatti says.As for how to best pull off the black-and-white Derby Day theme, Spender attended last year's event and was suitably impressed. "It was almost like seeing a gorgeous old black-and-white photograph," she says. "The absence of colour shifted the focus to the cut and silhouette of the outfit. I don't think you can go wrong with this combination. I'd go for black and white separately, like a beautiful white dress with all black accessories."Zampatti's advice? "Go more white than black, but add a black-and-white element like a belt to bring it all together. Tweed is also very chic."Whatever way you go, rest assured these fashion icons have given our take on trackside dressing the thumbs up."Australian women have become very stylish and are not afraid to experiment with different looks for the races, it's wonderful," Zampatti says.Carla's race-day philosophyI never win. I go for the fashion and to catch-up with friends. As a designer, we are spoilt with too much choice and I often look back and think, "I wish I had worn that". I try to keep my look understated as that's my style and what suits me.Bianca's trackside inspirationDraw from our grandmothers' era of what they wore. There is no way we are as refined and the way we dress has totally changed. Back then every single detail, right down to the gloves, was considered and so it should be for the races.Carla believes these race-day regulars always get it rightMegan Gale (pictured) always looks wonderful, she is such a statuesque woman who carries herself beautifully and her skin and colouring gives her such strong definition. Maggie Tabberer also always looks stunning. Her turbans are fantastic. She understands what suits her and sticks to a formula to ensure that she always remains immaculate.Carla's big no-no for race dressingYounger women should forget about the "underwear as outerwear" look for the races. It's time to look more sophisticated.Carla's advice for your other halfMen should go for something sharp and smart. I like really dark suits, such as black with bright, narrow ties. Try not to match your partner, it's better to have your own individual style.

© 2011 Sydney Morning Herald

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