Did Hilary Swank and Jessica Mauboy get a rough trot from Flemington's fashion police - or when you're a gun for hire at the Melbourne Cup Carnival, are strict dress codes simply par for the course?
The week-long Melbourne Cup Carnival wraps tomorrow at Flemington Racecourse, but the carnival’s biggest story – Michelle Payne’s historic victory on Tuesday as the first female jockey to win the 154 year-old Melbourne Cup on 100-1 outsider Prince of Penzance – risks being overshadowed by an alleged ambush marketing controversy.
Booked by carnival organizer, the Victoria Racing Club, to sing the Australian national anthem Advance Australia Fair to the crowd of 100,000 before Tuesday’s Cup, Indigenous Australian singer Jessica Mauboy experienced a wardrobe malfunction of sorts and had to be replaced by her backup singer Nadia Aya at the last minute. According to some reports, a matter of minutes beforehand.
According to Frockwriter’s well-placed sources, Mauboy had originally planned to wear a “head-to-toe” outfit by Italian luxury brand Dolce e Gabbana, whose ready-to-wear is available in Melbourne exclusively through Dolce e Gabbana’s sole Australian standalone boutique on Collins Street and outside Melbourne, as a David Jones department store exclusive.
Now owned by Woolworths South Africa, upmarket David Jones is the arch rival of Myer. In a country with just two department stores, it’s Myer’s only department store rival in fact.
Myer is one of the carnival’s four “major” sponsorship partners, with a 37-year relationship with the VRC. In 2013, Myer announced it had re-signed a new five year “multimillion dollar” sponsorship deal.
Our sources claim that on Tuesday morning, Johnny Schembri – the designer of the By Johnny label, on which Myer has a department store exclusive – was called in to assist kitting Mauboy out in two alternative dresses.
Mauboy, we are told, wore one of the By Johnny dresses for part of her VRC engagement. It’s not clear when the photograph was taken, but the singer posed for a shot in what looks to be a limo “en route” to Flemington wearing a By Johnny dress and headpiece from Australian milliner Nerida Winter (who is sold at both DJs and Myer). The photo was uploaded by Mauboy’s stylist Mikey Ayoubi to his Instagram account on Tuesday. The AEDT time stamp on Ayoubi’s synchronized Twitter link to the shot is 2.27pm on November 3. The Melbourne Cup runs every year at 3.00pm.
Our insiders say that when Mauboy later insisted on changing into the complete Dolce e Gabbana outfit for the performance, a heated debate erupted, during which she pulled the plug.
David Jones, Myer and Dolce e Gabbana’s local representative all declined comment. Ayoubi has not returned Frockwriter’s phone calls.
UPDATE 07/11/15: Contrary to reports all week that the brouhaha centred only on Mauboy’s choice of footwear for the national anthem performance – further narrowed down today by The Daily Telegraph to Dolce e Gabbana boots – Frockwriter’s sources insist that Mauboy walked to the stage not in a pre-approved By Johnny dress, but a complete Dolce e Gabbana “look”, including boots, straight off the brand’s Fall/Winter 2015/2016 runway collection which was presented in Milan in February and is now in store. The outfit and boots were sourced directly from Dolce e Gabbana’s head office in Milan, the sources claim. “It was a full outfit, but then it became about the boots” said one source. “Based on a level of taste, they thought they could tell her what to do and she refused. They said take the boots off and she said no”.
Four looks, with boots, from Dolce e Gabbana FW1516:
On Wednesday evening, two statements were issued by Mauboy’s management and the VRC.
Parade Management blamed a “miscommunication” with Mauboy’s “styling team…unfortunately by the time it was resolved the call time had been missed”, adding that Mauboy was “deeply apologetic and devastated that she disappointed fans”.
The VRC confirmed it had supplied Mauboy with “a mutually approved wardrobe”, adding that Mauboy had undertaken a full rehearsal of the planned performance on “the eve of the Cup”. The VRC also claimed on Wednesday to have had “no details” why Mauboy didn’t perform and said the club is seeking clarification from her management.
Yesterday, Mauboy went on the record to claim that last minute “bickering” and “yelling” over her national anthem outfit triggered an anxiety attack.
As for VRC sponsors, the club’s statement on Wednesday noted that the VRC “values, respects and supports the very important commercial partners who make a vital contribution to the successful running of the Melbourne Cup Carnival. In many cases this involves exclusive rights and the VRC seeks to protect this exclusivity”.
The VRC declined comment on reports that at Saturday’s Derby Day, the first day of the carnival, the club had also vetoed the release of photos of actor Hilary Swank holding the Melbourne Cup in a VRC-organized photo opportunity. The problem? Swank turned up to the track wearing a black Swarovski crystal-encrusted mesh top and trousers by Australian designer Christopher Esber, also a David Jones exclusive.
Swank had been flown in for Derby Day by one of the carnival’s 10 “official partners”, the Melbourne-based vitamins group Swisse Wellness, for a reported fee of AUD 150,000.
Coincidentally, Mikey Ayoubi dressed both Swank and Mauboy and as recently as one week ago, was promoting his freelance styling work for David Jones advertising campaigns on his Instagram account.
According to people familiar with the Swisse matter, the cancelled photo opportunity with Swank holding the cup had been organized with The Herald Sun and a wire agency photographer. An alternative, Myer-friendly outfit was proposed for Swank to change into at the track just for the cup photo op. Why she failed to do that remains a mystery. “Running late” is one theory.
A Swisse spokesperson declined to comment on the minutiae of the Swank incident, other than saying “As a sponsor, we respect and understand the VRC’s position to protect its other partners”.
UPDATE 07/11/15: Today’s Age newspaper has further details about the Swank snafu. The Melbourne paper reports the alternative dress proposed for Swank to wear just for the Melbourne Cup photoshoot was by Melbourne designer Toni Maticevski. It goes on to report the farcical scenes that ensued. Interesting to note that Dolce e Gabbana features yet again here:
“The Herald Sun is a sponsor of the Melbourne Cup carnival, and agreed to pull the picture at the VRC’s request, leaving the newspaper forced to find a replacement front-page picture.
Model Ashley Hart, who appeared for Swisse across the carnival, was chosen on short notice and a picture was arranged. But the VRC and Myer also vetoed that image. “Ashley Hart was wearing Dolce & Gabbana, which is a David Jones brand,” said a Herald Sun source. “In the end we had to use a picture of [Myer ambassador] Rachael Finch, and go and shoot Ashley Hart again. Then that became a shitfight because Hart is sponsored by Just Group, and wouldn’t wear Myer.”
Hart eventually appeared on the front page of the Monday paper wearing an outfit by designer White Suede, which is stocked at Myer”.
The Dolce e Gabbana dress Ashley Hart wore to Derby Day – before she was reportedly obliged to change into a Myer brand for The Herald Sun photoshoot:
So, did David Jones really attempt to crash Myer’s racing party? And whatever protection the VRC sought to give valued sponsor Myer, is all the negative publicity a good look at the end of the day? Mauboy has come out of it looking extremely unprofessional. The VRC and Myer, highly-disorganised and heavy-handed.
According to Esber’s Sydney PR agency EVHPR, Swank’s racing attire was organized directly by Ayoubi through Esber and not David Jones. Sources close to David Jones, moreover, sniffed that it is highly unlikely DJs would be eager to dress Mauboy, since she recently signed on as an ambassador to discount department store Target Australia.
When you are attending events such as Derby Day and the Melbourne Cup not on your own dime as a punter, but as a celebrity who is being paid big bucks for your starpower, should it come as any surprise that strings may be attached to the deal?
Not according to Australian media analyst Steve Allen, who estimated Myer’s VRC deal to be worth AUD 2-5million per annum and believes the deal would give Myer “preemptive rights” regarding celebrities involved in any official photo ops at VRC events. The terms should have been clearly articulated to all parties beforehand, said Allen – but appear not to have been.
UPDATE 07/11/15: The Age also reports it has sighted a copy of the Myer/VRC contract, which singles out Myer competitors that are banned from being linked with Flemington and the Melbourne Cup, including Just Group, David Jones, Target, K-Mart and Big W.
“This just sounds like a complete fiasco” said Allen. “You’re a gun for hire. You either accept the conditions or you don’t do the job. Because Myer support the VRC and that’s where their money goes, they’ve got over-arching, not unreasonable, conditions, simply: that any ambassador for any of the hosts or sub sponsors, [what the ambassador is wearing] must be a brand that Myer stocks. It’s a simple condition. If either of those two people were served up with that beforehand and agreed to it then there should have been no trouble”.
“If the Saturday incident hadn’t occurred, maybe the VRC wouldn’t have blinked” he added. “This sort of thing hasn’t happened at the Olympics for 16 years, because they’ve learned their lesson. Noone wants the politics and the bad publicity that emanates from these fiascos. It doesn’t do anyone any favours”.