Melbourne’s Spring Racing Carnival is one of Australia’s most lavish events. In the state of Victoria, racegoers don their finery, swig champagne and try to back a winner, while “fashions on the field” competitions see the best dressed competing for hundreds of thousands of Australian dollars in prizes. Australia’s fashion laureate is a classic designer for the digital age This year’s carnival, which sees its biggest week in early November with four major race days, including Australia’s biggest horse race, the Melbourne Cup, played host to one fashionable face that went largely unrecognised by Australian racegoers – but is very familiar to Chinese audiences. Zhang Meng, 28, is a Chinese actress and sometime singer who shot to fame in 2011 playing Princess Wansheng in a film adaptation of Journey to the West . Zhang, who also goes by the English name Lemon, was in Melbourne earlier this month socialising in the celebrity “Birdcage” area of the course over two race days. Parading an array of youthful and feminine dresses, with lashings of chiffon and embroidery, paired with intricate headwear, Zhang’s attire was in keeping with the racing tradition of hats and fascinators, though with a distinctly modern twist. The model was there at the invitation of Australian fashion brand Elliatt, and her presence in Melbourne had very little to do with horses, or even the Australian fashion scene. The Filipino fashion designers in Dubai dressing Hollywood stars and Arab royalty – and China could be next Rather, Zhang’s role was as a messenger to her 7.6 million Weibo followers in China, a conduit to spread the news of the fun and fabulousness of the Australian fashion on show in Melbourne to her audience of fashion-conscious and insatiably curious young Chinese consumers. “Iconic sporting events like the Spring Racing Carnival provide a great opportunity for Victorian brands and designers to launch themselves onto the world stage and break into new markets, especially in China,” says Gonul Serbest, executive director for trade at Trade Victoria, a government department charged with connecting local brands with international partners. “The races have always been a place for Melbourne to flaunt its reputation as Australia’s fashion capital. “The Spring Racing Carnival is also a great chance for innovative Victorian designers to showcase their products to new audiences. Local designer Elliatt is a great example of an innovative, entrepreneurial and business savvy fashion company growing their business internationally.” Elliatt is a six-year-old brand that has targeted a niche for young consumers between the ages of 25 and 35 looking for well-cut clothing with special details – lace, embroidery and prints are all common elements – and high-quality materials at a price point within the accessible luxury segment. Elliatt prices most of its garments at between US$150 and US$300. Elliatt fashions are now stocked in more than 1,200 boutiques globally, including Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s in the US, and the brand has distribution networks spanning Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the US. The brand has turnover in the order of US$5.3 million annually. Fashion schools in the world ranked according to their ‘long-term value’ and more “The China market is our biggest growth market. We are still working and growing our UK and Europe markets and the US is still our biggest market, but my business partner is Chinese and knows the Chinese market quite well. We are seeing more rapid growth with our brand in China in a shorter period than anywhere else,” says Katie Pratt, Elliatt’s founder and designer. Riding on that growth, Elliatt this year opened its first own-brand store in the world, not in its home market or the established markets of the West, but in China. The store, which opened in Shanghai in August, is the first of 16 planned for an initial roll-out. Pratt believes consumers in China identify strongly with the brand. “We’re quite quirky, we’re colourful, we’re detailed and quite feminine and that is resonating really well with Chinese consumers. Also, the areas of the market we are pitching at, there’s less competition in that market in China, there’s a bit of a gap in that market,” Pratt said. China’s luxury retail market has tightened in recent years. On the other hand, the spending power of the hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers who do the bulk of their purchasing internationally should not be overlooked. This creates opportunitiesfor higher-end niche brands, like Elliatt, in non-traditional luxury markets, such as Australia. Hong Kong’s fur industry - how will Gucci ban affect it? A lot less than you may think Research from Nielsen shows that, although 61 per cent of Chinese baby boomers value luxury brands with a long history, just 37 per cent of Chinese millennial consumers think that way. That leaves the door open for newer and niche brands targeting younger consumers. The same study found that luxury consumerswere also largely open to trying new brands, with 31 per cent of luxury shoppers in China saying this, compared to 22 per cent in Hong Kong. “The trend we are seeing now in China is for brands that feel unique, exclusive and luxurious but don’t necessarily have the high-end prices. The growing middle class in China can have these go-to brands and feel like they are buying into luxury, but at the same time they are able to afford multiple pieces rather than having to ration out one handbag per season,” Pratt says. “It’s about timing and networks, but it’s something that is always been on our radar, and when we saw the opening and saw the pace of growth of the brand in China, we knew we had to go for it and open some stores,” she adds.