It has been a while since an international entrant has taken out the hotly contested Myer National Fashions on the Field title. But if anyone could do it, it was going to be Carena West. Hailing from Auckland, New Zealand, this striking beauty has impeccable original style and a gift for some seriously quirky accessorizing.
Carena is no stranger to FOTF, as the event is just as popular in New Zealand as it is in Australia. Our neighbouring ladies can rock some seriously enviable fashion.
Carena has been entering FOTF for around 8 years and I loved scrolling through her Instagram @carena_west admiring her incredible race day creations. She really is a true beauty and racing fashion icon. Every time I bump into her, she’s standing out from the crowd a mile in an effortless and well put together original outfit.
In this blog post I talk to Carena about her life on and away from the track, including what it was like to be named the National Winner, her advice to other hopefuls, trend predictions and the life she leads when she’s not strutting her stuff at the races.
Carena West | National Winner 2019
Fashion Related Questions
How long have you been entering FOTF? Number of events per year?
I’ve entered a number of FOTF competitions over the years, I believe the first one I ever competed in was in 2012. Although here in NZ we don’t get as many competitions as Australia!
I’ve competed in a couple of competitions previously in Australia, once at Eagle Farm, where the racing was cancelled because of horrific weather but the party still went on, and the second was Melbourne Cup Carnival Derby Day 2018 where I placed second.
Describe your National winning outfit and where you got the idea/inspiration?
I have been living in Florida a bit this year for my husband’s work, and was working remotely in the evenings, so I ended up binge watching every episode ever of Mad Men, which I think may have subconsciously been the inspiration for the shape and style of my outfit.
I’m always drawn to fabrics with beautiful textures so when I came across the traditional Uzbek Suzani dress which was fully embroidered, I couldn’t go past it.
The shape resembled a bit of a sack with brown sleeves, so I mocked up what kind of shape I thought would work on photoshop, then I draped it on a mannequin to get the shape in real life.
What was it like winning the national final? Recreate the moment for us.
So surreal! I still actually can’t believe it. Every now and then I remember and I’m like… Damn! That actually happened!
Has your life changed in any way since taking out the winning sash?
Not really, although winning a car and a shopping spree will definitely change my life a bit! I’m actually heading to Melbourne this weekend (Jan 10) to collect the prizes as VRC were a bit concerned about putting them in the post. I’m going to try and save some of the Myer vouchers for after I have this baby though, a bit of a postnatal treat haha.
What do you like most about FOTF? Will you continue to enter FOTF competitions?
I love the idea that you get to create and execute an outfit that is beautifully ladylike, but also gives you the chance to try something new with styling and accessories. And the millinery of course! Where else do you get the opportunity to wear beautiful millinery? (I’m still holding my breath for an invitation to a garden party at Windsor Castle haha)
Who are your favourite milliners?
I have been working with Claire Hahn for my millinery since about 2013.
She’s great at interpreting what I’m after and isn’t afraid to experiment with me! I have also worn pieces by NZ Milliner Monika Neuhauser and and Felicity Northeast.
Where do you find race day inspiration?
Everywhere- in movies, fashion week, vintage photographs. I also drive an hour each way for work every day so it gives me a lot of thinking time haha.
What advice would you give to other race goers (myself included!) who dream of one day becoming the National Winner?
All I can say is be true to your own style, fashion is so subjective so one day you might be the pick of the bunch and another you may not come anywhere… It just comes down to who vibes your look really!
What are your favourite millinery trends currently?
I love seeing pieces that aren’t too trend focused and are a signature look of the milliner- I loved Peacock Millinery’s entry into the millinery award at the Cup Carnival this year. I also love when people take risks with their millinery, it’s always fun to experiment.
What are your 2 favourite Spring racing trends?
I’m loving Berets, Pastel colours and volumous dressing at the moment. I also love seeing new hairstyles, especially ponytails and braids.
Aside from the Myer National competition, what have been your other most memorable FOTF wins to date?
Nothing will ever compare to winning the national competition, but winning the Supreme award in Tauranga a couple of years ago was really memorable for me. I wore a dress that I made with a Felicity Northeast Millinery hat that my mum had bought for me, and I won a trip to Eagle Farm in Brisbane as well as a brand new sewing machine which I desperately wanted!
Do you prefer judging or entering FOTF competitions?
Both have their perks! Judging is so much fun because there is less competitive pressure and you can take a few more risks with your outfits, but competing is always great fun, I love a good turn on the catwalk!
How many competitions have you judged so far?
Probably about 16… for the past 4 years it’s been about 4 per year, ranging from small style spotter competitions to New Zealand’s Prix De Fashion at Ellerslie, our national competition.
Away from the Track
Where do you currently live? What do you like most about the city/town?
I live in Auckland, New Zealand, on a farm about 40 minutes south of the City. I love living out of the city, when I was little it was my dream to have a pony in my backyard. Now I have one! He’s a Clydesdale cross and his name is Chunky.
Where do you work? Why did you choose that profession?
My sister and I own an online compression tights company called Clique Fitness. We both come from marketing careers but both studied design at university as well (Bex studied product design and I studied fashion design). It’s really cool being in business with your bestie!
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the business that my sister and I have spent the last few years building, and I’m excited to see where it develops to next.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
Playing with my horse, I also own shares in a few racehorses so I love going to the races for that aspect as well. I’ve promised myself that I will read more this year too.
What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your FB profile?
I’ve just started a vintage designer jewellery hire and sale company called Friday Candy, because I don’t seem to be happy unless I’m rushed off my feet busy haha.
If you could only keep five possessions, what would they be?
Some family photos that I don’t have digital copies of, a blanket that my nana crocheted, some jewellery that my mum has given me, my wedding dress that I made and my engagement ring. Everything else is replaceable!
What would your ultimate dream job be?
I’m doing my ultimate dream job! We have plans to start marketing in Australia this year so hopefully one day it will be a dream job that pays dream money too haha.
Do you have a sweet tooth or a savory tooth? Favourite dessert?
Sweet all the way- I can’t keep sweet treats in the house or I will eat them all in one sitting!
If you could travel anywhere, where would you go and why?
I’ve been really lucky to be able to travel a lot in the last 10 years, our parents live in the middle east so we have seen a lot of there and Asia. We have lived in Florida for a few months each of the past couple of years and I went to the Amazon with my husband for our honeymoon last year.
I still haven’t had a good tour around Europe, and I would LOVE to do a road trip around provincial France. I think this year will be all about the baby though so I imagine we will be at home a lot more!
Thanks Carena for giving us a glimpse into your life both on and off the track!
If you’d like to get to know some of our other past National winners, check out these interviews with Carle Rutledge (2018), Crystal Kimber (2017), Courtney Moore (2016), Emily Hunter (2015) and Brodie Worrell (2014).