Melbourne. Helmut Newton set up his first photography studio here in the 1950s. Fashion designers Toni Maticevski and Martin Grant call the city home. And every couturier’s dream client, Cate Blanchett, was born and bred in this majestic coastal capital. Melbourne takes its fashion very seriously, which means shoppers can scoop up everything from indie designs and vintage fashion to high-end luxury goods. Some of the best treasures, however, can be found with this quick guide to the city’s most ‘retro-politan’ retail districts.
Do you know what Melbournians love even more than fashion, AFL football or coffee? Anything hidden—be it down a laneway, through an inconspicuous doorway or in an unexpected location.
The Nicholas Building, on the corner of Flinders Lane and Swanston Street, houses local jewelers, artists, fashion designers and architects. An established creative hub, it also houses RetroStar Vintage Clothing, one of the largest vintage stores in the CBD. The clothing is arranged by decade, making finding that cute floral ’50s frock a lot easier, and once you’re done, you can pop into niche boutiques like Buttonmania, which handcrafts and sources an endless supply of buttons—everything from delicate porcelain pieces to novelty button ‘kisses.’
Downstairs in the Cathedral Arcade you’ll find local label Kuwaii, created by designer Kristy Barber as an antithesis to disposable fashion. I love the way Barber creates timeless shapes that also manage to evoke Melbourne through unique prints and color palettes. Over the years, I’ve bought many pieces here and always feel like I’m walking away with a new outlook on the city.
Remember the aforementioned inconspicuous doorway? Christine is an icon of Flinders Lane shopping, marked by its red door and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it staircase sandwiched into a streetscape of gray office buildings. If you want a window into how the quintessential Melbourne woman dresses for the races or the opera, or simply throws on her jewels, Christine is the place to go. It’s a veritable treasure trove of luxury handbags, hats, shoes, silk scarves, sunglasses and French candles, sprinkled with Australian designers like Toni Maticevski and Christopher Graf.
Influenced by Eastern European culture, Nevenka is a Melbourne brand that sources unique fabrics from countries such as Croatia, Turkey, Italy and France. Think vintage lace that your grandmother might have lovingly stored for years, brought to life in the form of delicate dresses and peasant blouses. Made in Melbourne, the label is adored by women for the way it interprets rich cultures into sought-after clothes.
Penny Lane Clothing Exchange, in the heart of Brunswick, is a great starting point for a truly Melbournian vintage-shopping expedition. A well-curated—even glamorous—consignment store, Penny Lane will see you rubbing shoulders with many diehard locals who are also on the hunt for good-quality but affordable designer threads.
Surrounding Penny Lane you’ll find an excellent mix of local brands like ethical upcycle specialists New Model Beauty Queen and fair-trade advocates Kinki Gerlinki, who excel at that quirky-cool aesthetic. Would Susie Bubble wear it? You’ll find it here. I love that you never know what you’ll discover, be it a gold lamé skirt, basketweave handbag or kitten-print raincoat. Quirky, indeed!
Staying just north of the city but a couple of suburbs over, you’ll find Smith and Gertrude streets. This is hipster central so expect to get a good coffee at Archie’s, or try something stronger after sundown at The Everleigh, one of the best cocktail joints in town.
Around the corner on Smith Street, you’ll find a multicultural mix of fashion, housewares, vintage items and dining spots. Pop into The Social Studio, a non-profit enterprise that celebrates the artistic talents and professional skills of new migrant communities in Australia, to see creatives designing and manufacturing garments using hand-dyeing and -finishing techniques. Everything is ethically made using only reclaimed and upcycled materials gathered from the local fashion industry, so you’ll leave with a major feel-good factor as well as super-cool threads.
Supply and Demand could be categorised as a housewares store, but you’ll actually find the ‘greatest collection of everything but…nothing in particular,’ as its tag line suggests. Is there a store you visit and never leave empty-handed? Supply and Demand is like that for me; there’s always something gorgeous that I must have to add to shelves already bursting with objet d’art. So what will you find? Ornaments, home decor and cutlery sit alongside reproduced vintage signs, mason jars and French wall clocks. You might find an old dress form, vintage-inspired tins or a set of apothecary jars—quite useless but absolutely charming, so I just had to have them.
Across the river is South Yarra and Prahran, the spiritual home of the city’s designer and luxury boutiques. You will, however, find your fair share of the offbeat here and a great starting point is Chapel Street Bazaar, a collection of 80 stalls selling the most fabulous retro jewelry, clothing, furniture and everything in between.
Nearby is Shag, hunters and dealers of wearable treasures, as they like to say. Like Kinki Gerlinki, Shag is a Melbourne institution as far as the quirky and even ridiculous are concerned. With its blend of locally and internationally sourced vintage clothing and new accessories, you can find a Chanel suit one day and a beaded African headdress the next.
Dakota501 on Chapel Street is one of the oldest independent denim stores in Australia. Denim is universal but pop in here to find diverse labels such as Nobody Denim, which designs and makes all its jeans right here in Melbourne. Accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia, this is a brand that fuses hipster-friendly designs with ethical labor practices. For a truly Melbourne look you’ll want to get your hands on a pair of Cult skinny jeans in dark or black denim.
So whether it’s quirky hipster chic or unique housewares, you’ll find it all in Melbourne—and, in the case of vintage treasures or upcycled garments, nowhere else.