And they're off...
I take a dislike to supermodel Kylie Bax Poros almost instantly. She is one of those incredibly annoying people who makes a white T-shirt and jeans look totally glamorous. I can manage a white T-shirt for exactly five minutes before the morning coffee and cereal dribbles its way down my front.
We meet at the Karaka stock sales in South Auckland. The Thames-bred fashionista, who traded the jet-setting international life for a Cambridge farm in May, is the newly appointed 'ambassador' for New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing. This morning she's shopping for horses with her Greek husband Spiros Poros. Her maroon parasol is tilted gracefully back as she admires a two-year-old colt proudly modelling his deep brown mane. "Isn't he lovely?"
She's easy to spot with her short blonde locks. Her casual attire - jeans, the T-shirt, scarf and knee-high leather boots - looks top fashion. On me it would be frumpy. It's no wonder she has modelled for Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Chanel.
Her husband Spiros is gripping a thick cigar as he watches the horses emerge. He just looks so damn cool: his scarf, judo-print T-shirt and scruffy-but-really-designer stubble. He is a fashion photographer who has shot for Vogue, In Style and Esquire (and now Sunday).
Approaching the pair I'm wondering, will she be a diva? Is my breakfast down my front? Thankfully, not all supermodels accessorise with an arrogant smirk.
When I mistakenly refer to Chanel as Channel - yes, I was horribly embarrassed - she politely corrects me.
A horse does a large, pungent poo just metres from us and she doesn't even flinch. Kylie and Spiros are genuinely nice people.
Her relaxed nature makes grilling her for fashion tips all the easier. I'm in desperate need of help after suffering various race-day fashion disasters. There was my fascinator that looked like a silver mushroom sprouting from my ear. The time I clutched my fabulous heels in my hands as I limped on blistered, swollen bare feet. And when my heels were so slim they acted like ice-axes in the grass.
Bax Poros' new ambassador role might be partly about amping the glam-factor of racing, but she's reluctant to set absolute rules. Faux pax, then? Firstly, no denim and no ballet flats. Lastly (and a mistake women of all ages can make), don't drink too much.
Nothing ruins a beautiful outfit more than the wearer stumbling across the field.
So once you've shelved the jeans, comfy shoes and that second bottle of wine, what does a fashion failure (like me) need to do?
Bax Poros says you need to create the total look, from heels to hat. This is where New Zealand women often go wrong. It's not about buying expensive shoes, a colourful dress and stunning hat. It's about finding an outfit that works together. Start with a dress that suits you, and price really doesn't matter.
"You've got your high-end designers, but it's also how you feel yourself, your persona that shines through, and how you wear your outfit you've chosen," she says.
"There's no price tag hanging off your dress. As long as it looks good on you and you feel comfortable."
Bax Poros is relieved the neon colours that first appeared in the '80s are finally making an exit. She has a mantra in fashion: Just because it's bright doesn't make it right.
"Sometimes it's not all about how bright you can be. If you've got any hesitations, go the route of being demure."
Take inspiration from someone like actor Audrey Hepburn, rather than an almost-naked pop star.
"When did music become porn? It's shocking," she says. "Whatever you do decide to wear, wear it well and feel good. You don't want to feel like a stranger in your own clothes. Also, don't be completely outrageousto the point of being ridiculous. Obviously it then becomes a clown show. People serious about racing and what they wear, they look absolutely amazing."
Bax Poros wore a pale apricot-coloured dress matched with graphite-coloured shoes and a hat to the recent Cup and Show Week at Riccarton in Christchurch. These more subtle shades are hot this season.
Once you've got your dress, it's time to look at your feet. There's no way of avoiding the discomfort of heels, but Bax Poros recommends finding a footwear designer who fits for you. Make sure the shoes are grass friendly, and consider the various inserts that soften the pain.
Next on the list is a hat or fascinator. There are no rules about what you wear on your head - small or large - as long as it works with your outfit. Kylie spotted a woman wearing a birdcage on her head at Riccarton last month. The elaborate fashion accessory looked great because the woman owned it, but cages won't be for everyone, she says.
Finish your look with accessories. Clutch, jewellery and anything else to give your look an edge.
And, she says, it's fine to wear shoes and a dress that colour match, but try to throw it off slightly. So if you're in red from head to toe, choose a silver handbag.
There's one more important component to accessorising, and that's what your date is wearing.
"Because ladies are getting into fashion, the men are following," Bax Poros says. Men have to think about what a woman thinks about, minus the makeup.
"The guys can play with the fashion now and be creative. You can buy a beautiful chain pocket watch from an antique shop. These are pieces that highlight your outfit which are simple and elegant. It's nice seeing guys going to lengths to look good."
Bax Poros' husband takes race-wear very seriously, has his suits tailored, and accessorises with items such as a hat, silk scarf and pocket watch.
But why get dressed up at all? Bax Poros says racing is traditionally known as the sport of kings and elitists, with a history tracking back to ancient Greece. While it's lost the elitist label in recent times, it's retained the glamour associated with royalty.
Her own racing pedigree began in her youth - her parents bred thoroughbred horses and she grew up in a house overlooking the Thames racecourse. Her husband also has racing genes - his brother was a jockey in Greece.
Bax Poros remembers being eight years old and attending her first races. Although jandals were the choice of footwear that day in Thames, she fell in love with the atmosphere.
As a teenager she wore heels and hats for the Ellerslie Boxing Day races and became hooked on the glamour.
The couple are now buying horses for their own racing syndicate. It's a long leap from New York, London and Greece, but she says her three children have a future in New Zealand where they can play outside and ride horses.
She's passionate about her new role as she talks excitedly about the races, and not just the frocks in the field - it's also about the magnificent horses and beautiful colours jockeys wear. "If it doesn't start with the stables, the trainers, strappers and the horse, it's not going to carry through," she says.
She introduced an award for the best presented stable at the races for this season, and says the recent photographic series she created with her husband (which features in Sunday this week) celebrates the colour and vibrancy of the sometimes overlooked jockeys.
"It's a dangerous sport. They need to be more recognised by the general public and be idolised."
This year, for the first time, Canterbury's Cup and Show Week sold out, with 18,000 people attending the races. More than 25,000 people are expected at the Boxing Day races at Ellerslie in Auckland.
"You're involved in a fantastic sport so you've got something to watch all day long," Bax Poros says.
"There's party ambience because there are marquees and a lot of people dressed really well. It's just an incredible feeling to be part of the crowd. It's a dress-up party, really."
- Sunday Star Times
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