Shopping Melbourne: Town Under
Published: June 2009
By Maggie Alderson
Sleek and modern, Melbourne has established itself as Australia's shopping capital
If you want to surf, go to Sydney. If you want to shop, the answer is Melbourne, where smart Sydneysiders buy fresh wardrobes, find the only decent shoes on the entire continent, and inhale a breath of Europe without a passport. Here, Melbourne's sexiest shops, by neighborhood.
The central business district follows a grid system, with narrow lanes between the main streets and a network of arcades connecting them -- meaning plenty of hidden nooks to discover. You can cover a lot of ground without having to get into a moving vehicle, but if you're laden with bags you might want to catch a tram up Collins Street.
Georges 162 Collins St.; 61-3/9650-4864. The year's big buzz has been the reopening of Georges, a haven of high design. Known for dressing generations of society in great style, the old department store faded away after a big chain buyout. The new Georges looks beyond the Donna-Calvin-Giorgio hit list to slightly recherché labels (Clements Ribeiro, Lawrence Steele, Slowik). Accessories are the glory of the store (raffia disco bags, scarves, pendants, chokers, hair clips, and a whole wall of hats) and the housewares department is the Southern Hemisphere's first branch of the Conran shop. It's all gorgeous, from the flowers lining the entrance to the gray envelope that holds your receipt.
Le Louvre 74 Collins St.; 61-3/9650-1300. Not a shop, not even a boutique, Le Louvre is a salon with leopard-print carpeting, a single dressing room, and high-end women's clothes stored behind mirrored doors. Although it isn't appointment-only, phone ahead if you're serious about assembling a wardrobe. Dynasties shop here -- grandmother, daughter, granddaughter. For a big wedding they will have dressed not just the wedding party, but everyone in the church (and they'll advise guests against buying a dress someone else will be wearing).
Zambesi 161 Collins St.; 61-3/9654-4299. A vast space in an old bank showcases the complex clothing from this label that has pundits calling New Zealand "the new Belgium." Zambesi is all about layering and pairing unlikely pieces; don't be too shy to ask the staff for guidance.
Scanlan & Theodore 277-279 Little Collins St.; 61-3/9650-6195. These excellently tailored clothes define Melbourne style: dark and edgy, with genius in the detail. Fiona Scanlan renders directional themes wearable -- presentable enough for the office, but fresh enough to be a pleasure to put on. There's also a branch in South Yarra (539 Chapel St.; 61-3/9827-2449).
Calibre 3/182 Little Collins St.; 61-3/9654-8826. Burst out the back door of Georges onto Little Collins, and you'll find a mini men's-wear mall. Calibre is where the boyfriends of the women who shop at Scanlan & Theodore buy their pared-down urban clothes and glazed-cotton flat-front pants. It also has an outpost in South Yarra (457 Chapel St.; 61-3/9826-4394).
Before the revival of the City, posh South Yarra -- five minutes away by tram -- was Melbourne's shopping epicenter. There's still a great deal to see, with classic stores along Toorak Road and a younger groove on Chapel Street. In the Prahan neighborhood and on Greville Street, you'll find shops selling vintage 1960's and 70's junk.
Mecca Cosmetica 166 Toorak Rd.; 61-3/9827-8711. This small white shop is the ultimate girlie playground, with seven counters of makeup and lots of mirrors. You're encouraged to sample, and the dedicated staff relishes explaining why you need terrifying banana-yellow loose powder to look truly fabulous.
Napoleon Makeup Emporium 228 Toorak Rd.; 61-3/9826-1811. Developed by an Australian makeup artist named Napoleon, this is another mother lode for cosmetics fetishists, with a cutting-edge in-house line. Sign up for a $70 lesson: "Cosmetics Commander Napoleon invites you to experience a consultation with his leading Makeup Engineers."
Collette Dinnigan 553 Chapel St.; 61-3/9827-2111. Australia's best-known designer -- as confirmed by faithful followers Jerry Hall, Helena Christensen, and Belinda Carlisle. Choose from sarong skirts in sari fabrics ($220), hand-embroidered dresses ($1,190), and exquisite beaded knitwear ($160 for a cashmere cardigan). And don't forget Dinnigan's wispy lingerie, which put her in business.
Home & Abroad Shop 4 Avoca St.; 61-3/9821-5144. Sure, you've had enough of Provençal napkins and gold-edged organza Indian tablecloths, but you haven't seen them put together like this. Chinese terra-cotta teapots ($9) look exquisite alongside antique Indian wooden bowls ($50). Loveliest are Sarah Lees's paisley throws, woven in India from Australian merino wool in muted shades -- $134 isn't much for a future heirloom.
It's a good 20 minutes by taxi from the City to the baby-boomer suburb of Brighton. Make the trip extra fun by heading back along the beachside road, with a stop in St. Kilda, a happening place to eat, drink, and hang out.
Egg 96-98 Church St.; 61-3/9593-3400. Andrew and Danielle Schofield have filled their all-white gallery with well-chosen objects -- jewelry, housewares, furniture, and bath goos, most of them made in Australia. As the name suggests, there's an emphasis on pregnancy and parenthood, with massage oils for big bellies and tiny babies and an in-house kids'-wear label (Egg Florentine for girls, Egg Benedict for boys).
One of Melbourne's toniest suburbs, Toorak is a haven of chic bistros and expensive addresses.
Husk 557 Malvern Rd.; 61-3/9827-2700. Andrew Schofield was a founding partner in Husk before going off to lay Egg. Like his new place, Husk is more than a shop -- it's like a Moroccan medina, with a helter-skelter assortment of men's and women's clothes, ethnic housewares, and beauty products by the Melbourne label Aesop. The café spills into a pebbled, leafy courtyard. (Don't miss the loo, which looks like a troglodyte's dwelling.)
Just north of town, funky Fitzroy's main street, Brunswick, is well worth strolling. On weekends it becomes a full-tilt scene much like Venice Beach or New York's East Village.
Tea Too 340 Brunswick St.; 61-3/9417-3722. When you can't stand the sight of one more pierced nostril, Tea Too is a sanctum of civilization, wallpapered with Chinese newspapers and carrying more than 300 varieties of tea stored in dark wooden cabinets. There's also inspiring paraphernalia, from pots to lemon squeezers. And they'll wrap it all beautifully in even more Chinese newspaper and lucky red tissue, tied up with a string.
where to stay
Hotel Como 630 Chapel St.; 800/457-4000 or 61-3/9824-0400; doubles from $310. A 107-room South Yarra hotel with Japanese flair and private Zen gardens.
Sheraton Towers Southgate 1 Southgate Ave.; 800/325-3589 or 61-3/9696-3100; doubles from $332. With 386 rooms, a pool, a spa, and endless services, the Sheraton is for the shopper who wants it all.
The Windsor 103 Spring St.; 800/562-3764 or 61-3/9633-6000; doubles from $208. The only grand hotel left in Australia, the 180-room Windsor opened in 1883. Afternoon tea is an institution.
where to eat
Georges 162 Collins St.; 61-3/9929-9999. The store has four restaurants. For a good, cheap bite, try the Canteen, with communal tables in a light-filled loft.
Il Solito Posto 113 Collins St.; 61-3/9654-4466. A lovely spot for gnocchi and a Campari. The kind of place where you can collapse with a load of shopping bags.
Pellegrini's 66 Bourke St.; 61-3/9662-1885. It would break your heart if they renovated this 1950's lunch counter. Cheap food, great coffee.
Caffè e Cucina 581 Chapel St.; 61-3/9827-4139. Have a reviving cappuccino, but be warned -- if you score an outdoor table, you'll find it hard to leave.
Charmaine's Ice Cream 370 Brunswick St.; 61-3/9417-5379. On a hot summer day, this is the place to cool off.
Maggie Alderson is a senior writer for the Sydney Morning Herald.