From frocks to fascinators to a bevy of Moulin Rouge-style dancers, Baz Luhr-Mania enveloped Melbourne’s newest shopping mall, Emporium, last night. The Great Gatsby director was given free rein, a blank canvas to explore new territories. Paying homage to Melbourne culture, the Australian Open, Dame Edna Everage and the spring racing carnival, Luhrmann didn’t hold back. From a gigantic tennis ball sitting in a field of carefully arranged flowers to velvet-draped horses and equine mannequins, the “walking theatre” was surreal and aesthetically engaging. All of the installations were in a closed-off section on the ground floor, with the Emporium shops shut and strictly off limits.
The marketing slogan was “Reimagine”, or think outside the square of a John Lennon song, as Baz transformed Emporium in the city’s CBD from a sometimes cold airport waiting lounge into a Hollywood movie set. Rainbow confetti dripped from the rooftop as waiters wearing roller skates poured Domaine Chandon sparkling wine the champagne flutes of the 1500-plus crowd.
The red carpet was abuzz with the so-called A-listers: Michael and Lindy Klim, Vince Colosimo, Isabel Lucas, Peter Alexander, Natalie Bassingthwaighte and Melbourne weekend television newsreader Jo Hall. Baz himself arrived fashionably late, and within five seconds was swamped by his adoring fans trying to get a selfie with our homegrown hero.
Dressed in a slim black suit and tie, Luhrmann looked ready. Catherine Martin, Baz’s other half, was not in attendance due to their daughter Lily breaking her nose in a surfing accident over the weekend. Instead of celebrities from all avenues of Australian culture, this was more of a night for the Armani suit-wearing bankrollers of the shopping centre.
Employees from GIC and CFS Retail Property Trust Group floated through the complex in awe. Perhaps they thought, “What has Baz done?” It was like giving a child a bunch of crayons and butcher paper as a birthday present. He had coloured in the world in his own Willy Wonka sort-of-way.
Luhrmann prefers a controlled environment; he has always been a visual merchandiser of the silver screen. Last night he displayed vignettes from all of his films. There were oversize hats on pencil-thin models. Lying prostrate beside an electric harp, the damsel in distress. From the swing era, burly men dressed as navy sailors beeped and bopped to Benny Goodman, pioneer of the Big Band era. A quintet of musicians sat on a bale of hay, next to a brown 1920s Chrysler. Behind the musicians, two female Emporium staff members held up a glitzy sign, “Restrooms this way!”
The food on offer was a diverse range of European cheeses, beef terrine, smoked hams and posh little sandwiches with magical little fillings. It was high-end buffet binge eating. The dry ice oysters and lamb chops didn’t go unnoticed. With a hint of fairy floss, custard and jelly, the pudding looked like the ideal dessert until I dropped it on my shoe. I then slipped, spilling the Bombay Sapphire cocktail all over my op-shop jeans.
Like any semi-corporate event, it was time for the sponsors and everyone affiliated with the Emporium project to pat themselves on the back. Once this happened, Baz was called to the stage to say a few words.
“You guys are all extras,” Baz yelled into the microphone. “And if you don’t party tonight I am going to fire you all.”
The crowd applauded and cheered, rather overzealously, I might add. Baz could have just said just about anything and the crowd still would have cheered.
The Emporium shopping centre has been akin to the NBN roll-out; there has been opening after opening after opening. The social pages love it, but some may say it reeks of desperation. Perhaps this was the ace up Emporium’s sleeve. Baz Luhrmann — celebrity, director, fashionista, all-round nice guy. With 225 international and national stores squeezed behind Myer and David Jone’s flagship stores, time will tell if the $1.2 billion price tag was worth it.