DIY Marquees.

Mallory (left) wears Camilla and Marc blazer and pants, and a Nicholas bustier, all from Green With Envy, a Marie Mercie headpiece from Christine and Alexander McQueen shoes from Miss Louise. Olivia wears a Christopher Kane dress from Belinda, Maison Michel cat ears and Robert Clergerie shoes, both from Christine, and an Eddie Borgo ring from Marais. Faux grass from Bunnings, Bordeaux chairs and side table from Place Settings, picket fence from Dann Event Hire. Photo: Simon Schluter

There was a moment at Christine Barro's Spring Racing Carnival party last year when guests realised something truly once-in-a-lifetime was happening.

The special guest, milliner Philip Treacy, was supposed to start the evening with a hat show on the fire escape near Barro's eponymous city store, but the models would have been drenched in the rain. So everyone stayed inside her treasure-box-size shop for an extra hour, waiting for the skies to clear. They did - just long enough for Treacy's outsize, crazily inventive creations to stay dry - and when the first few drops resumed, guests scurried to the safety of Barro's next-door apartment. There, amid a hodgepodge of furniture, partygoers sipped champagne, dined on suckling pig, and stickybeak-peeked over at Dita von Teese on the couch.

''There was someone in tears after the show, which Treacy said was the best he'd ever done,'' Barro says. ''It was a moment of pure serendipity, where everything - the clear skies, the excitement of the guests, the show - came together.''

Richard Nylon's invitation to his party held earlier this month.

Richard Nylon's invitation.

Spring racing parties are all about creating moments of magic, and you don't need celebrities in tow. So even if it's been a while since you last spoke to Nicole Kidman (a guest at Swisse on Derby Day), flown first class with Emirates, or had a hat fitting with Philip Treacy, that doesn't mean you have to go into spring racing hiding. You can still host a party that will recreate the madness, merriment and martinis of the day.

Invitations

Make them fun. This year, Swisse played up its sustainable rainforest theme by sending out invitations made of wood, with recycled labels. Milliner Richard Nylon asked guests to join him at the launch of his pop-up shop at Crown via a Mad Hatter-type invitation, complete with a bottle of alcohol that came with a ''Drink me'' label. Need guests to feel that they're better off not schlepping out to Flemington but coming to your soiree? Try tying little invitations on miniature plastic horses from the toy shop, cut out invitations in the shape of a hat and affix sequins and feathers to them, or email invitees a photo of you on horseback, champagne in hand.

What not to do.

Guest list

You only think you need Dita von Teese to make your party a hit. Rumour has it that a cardboard cut-out of Kim Kardashian proved almost as popular as the real thing in the Swisse marquee last year. In fact, despite the effort that goes into snaring them, marquee organisers know that a tentful of celebrities does not a good party make; you need to mix it up.

Publicity honcho Judy Romano, who heads up the Emirates marquee at Flemington, says: ''You've got to have guests who will dress up so others can talk about what they're wearing. It's also fun to have an ex-jockey, or someone who at least knows how to run a punters' club, because that makes everyone feel involved. And you need someone who screams loudly when they're cheering for their horse.''

Kate Keane, of Kate & Co, is one of the forces behind this year's Myer and James Boag marquees. She says, ''You definitely also need a mix of ages, and you need people who can talk to anyone. If the guests don't know each other well, you need some people to be good storytellers, who will keep that atmosphere alive. A mix of people in different industries helps keep things interesting.''

Dress code

Barro says: ''Spring racing is all about having the time to dress well. We all work hard; this is the moment we can dress up and play that expressive game.'' What does she suggest wearing? ''Sometimes more is less; sometimes less is more. Everyone is loving the Yves Klein blue, and you can constantly reinvent black. Flesh colour is a key thing. And you can take one hat and do something unpredictable with it by pairing it with different outfits.''

Swisse's Mitch Catlin says there's no need to let the weather rule your wardrobe. ''Ignore the forecast, they never seem to get it right. It's generally harder to back than a winner in race four.''

And, perhaps because the Birdcage's strict dress code won't come into play at your house, invite guests to have fun with the racing theme. Chiropractor Simon Floreani is organising his 40th party on Cup day this year and has asked his guests to dress as if they lived in The Hunger Games' Capitol of Panem: think gems on faces, multicoloured wigs and clothes so bright, you'd think they were saturated in Photoshop - all within the confines of the carnival's dress code.

Catering

Keane is a great believer in finger food ''that can be eaten in two bites, making sure there's no beetroot or anything similar that, if it slipped out and dropped on someone's outfit, would stain''. She says, ''Don't have too many foods that require a fork or spoon to eat because people will have a drink in their hand.''

Judy Romano, of Judy Romano Event Management, has a crumb test. ''If it's awkward and has crumbs dropping down, I say 'Nope, we can't have that','' she says.

Almost all the marquees serve something that's unofficially known as ''the soak'' about mid-afternoon: hearty food designed to soak up alcohol, such as mini-pizzas, fish and chips, or small sausage rolls. But bear in mind those ladies in tight dresses. ''You always need clean food for those who are on diets and are scared of carbohydrates,'' says Romano, who adds that with a Dublin theme, Emirates will serve beef-and-Guinness pies on the day, as well as other delectables, such as corned beef and cabbage croquettes and ''minty blarney'' meatballs.

At Crown Casino's first Birdcage marquee, guests will munch on morsels prepared by Guillaume Brahimi, of Bistro Guillaume, including smoked-salmon brioche with horseradish cream and cucumber; mini sandwiches with blue swimmer crab and coriander mayonnaise; and wagyu beef daube with Paris mash. There will also be fancy chicken sandwiches and fresh raspberries - much more accessible for the regular party thrower.

The Big Group's owner-director, Bruce Keebaugh, says the food ought to look the part.

''At Myer, we have gorgeous layered rainbow cakes, which go from ice pink to raspberry pink. If you recreated this at home, keep everything in pinks and reds, and colour block with food that matches the decor. So you could include strawberries under cloches in the pinks and reds. We'll be doing food with edible flowers, which people can buy from their local greengrocer - violets and pansies - making it pretty.

''If you don't have The Big Group's staff and budget, make some fabulous sandwiches. They have a sense of elegance and you can wrap them in a tea towel and Glad Wrap to keep them moist all the time. If I were doing a party at home, I'd do loads of chicken sandwiches, a bowl of iced prawns, peninsula berries and cream, then I'd stuff champagne in a bucket and be done.''

As for the alcohol, remember that guests will be sipping it all day long - and you don't want to have the results of that on your furniture. ''I wouldn't serve spirits - I'd have champagne or prosecco, wine and cider or beer,'' Keane says. ''Cocktails are a lot of fun,'' Romano adds. As for sweets, Keane recommends ''sorbet - it's very refreshing on a warm day''.

Decor

To make your home look like springtime has sprung, follow Myer's lead by investing in plenty of flowers in rich colours. However, anything goes at a party: Emirates' marquee is based on the Long Room of Trinity College, Dublin, which will include a library bar filled with books and a Shamrock restaurant - with plenty of green and black throughout. (You probably can't recreate a small Irish village on your terrace, as Emirates will also be doing, but you could try.)

The James Boag marquee will look like a distinguished lounge, with dark wood, raw finishes and antique-style chandeliers.

At the David Jones marquee for the Caulfield Cup, inspiration comes courtesy of Marie Antoinette, with gold gilding adorning the marquee and a grand chandelier made of seasonal blooms. Can't do that in your humble lounge room? No worries. The most effective way to decorate is to choose two theme colours and use them throughout: in flowers, candles, table linen, and even food.

Entertainment

You might not spring for Irish dancers at your bash - as Emirates will be doing for this year's Dublin theme - but if you do, make sure the entertainment is something guests can participate in. ''When we had dancers for our St Petersburg theme last year, we made sure they danced to the song Moscow so everyone could clap and join in,'' Romano says. (Expect Molly Malone to be played at some point in the Emirates marquee this year.)

Julia Tink of Tink PR, who is PR manager for Lexus, says having a DJ is an important addition to the day.

''In the past, we wanted to have the ultimate race experience, but by integrating a DJ last year, he was able to read the crowd and amp up the mood. By the middle of the afternoon, Lauren Phillips was dancing on the dance floor; it was massive, everyone had a wonderful time.''

Of course, sometimes the entertainment comes from the guests themselves. Tink says that last year, the Lexus new-generation GS that was placed in the marquee had an unexpected use.

''Someone was obviously quite tired and had, um, quite a big day, and we found a lovely customer sleeping in the back seat for about an hour, much to the amusement of the rest of the guests. They had clearly found a position where they could shut out the noise and have a rest!''

Part of the entertainment will come from the big screen: have the races on TV during the party, but turn down the volume between the main races.

Little extras

You don't have to be in the Birdcage to add a spot of luxury. Romano says slippers would be a nice touch. ''All the women could have a pair when they leave, although some might want to slip them on at the beginning.''

Keebaugh says a take-home gift makes guests feel special. ''For Boag, we've got a doughnut wrapped beautifully, so people can munch on something when they walk to the track. Choose something that's relatively inexpensive, but make it feel generous with great packaging - you can easily dress up a brown paper bag or coloured striped bag.''

Many marquees have make-up stations and hairdressers; at the David Jones tent for the Caulfield Cup, for instance, there was a Bobbi Brown pamper room with make-up giveaways for the women. That wasn't all; a photo booth in the corner provided guests with a souvenir of the day. The James Boag marquee will include a shoeshine service for men, and Emirates will have a roving coat operator who will check people's bags and coats so they don't have to leave their spot.