Melbourne Shopping: The Most Eclectic Boutiques Of All
Melbourne shopping is some of the best shopping there is in Australia, especially for fashion. But while most visitors make a beeline for Bourke Street Mall and the posh GPO – the former General Post Office remodeled into an elegant home for luxury labels – far more interesting is are the city’s eclectic boutiques, hidden away in antique arcades, gritty lanes and building basements.
What I love about these retail gems is that they offer up a carefully curated selection of clothes, jewellery and accessories, each combination unique, reflecting the taste and aesthetics of their stylish owners, many of whom can be found in store.
If I only had a few days in the city, these are the Melbourne shopping spots I’d want someone to send me – not to Bourke Street Mall. Aside from the Australian department stores, David Jones and Myer, the pedestrianized shopping artery doesn’t hold much interest for foreign visitors, with pretty much the same global franchises you’ll find in the main street of any major city in the world.
Unusually for a big city, the CBD (or Central Business District, which is what Aussies call city centres or downtowns) is where the best shopping is – particularly on Flinders Lane, for interesting, edgy, indie shops; Little Collins, for Australian designers such as Alannah Hill and Scanlan and Theodore; and, less so, Collins Street, for international luxury brands (Chanel, Gucci, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, and the like), as well as shopping arcades such as the Block Arcade, Royal Arcade and Curtin House – with the shopping in the inner city areas not nearly as good as it used to be.
In the inner-city, worth checking out is Chapel Street, which runs through South Yarra, Prahran and Windsor, and is home to Australian designer boutiques.
Acland Street in St Kilda, Ormond Road in Elwood and Carlisle Street in Balaclava, are dotted with lovely accessories shops, gift stores, bookshops, and boutiques. I like Scout House at 125 Grey Street, St Kilda, for handmade and vintage homeware and Lulu at 322 Carlisle Street, which has handcrafted accessories by independent designers.
Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, parallel Smith Street in Fitzroy/Collingwood, and Gertrude Street, which connect the two, are all lined with interesting shops, such as Books for Cooks (233 Gertrude St), Polyester Records (387 Brunswick St), Queen Clothing (77 Smith St) for local designers, and Tomorrow Never Knows (415 Brunswick St), for local jewellery.
Rose Street Artists Market (60 Rose St, Fitzroy) has original clothes, jewellery, crafts, and arty objects made by local designers. If you have time and are happy to venture a little further afield, also try High Street and Beatty Avenue in Armadale, which boast beautiful stores, and High Street, Northcote, which is home to indie designers and vintage shops.
Back in the CBD, while malls like Melbourne Central can be skipped, worth a look is the GPO. While it has franchises you’ll find around the globe (Georg Jensen, Mandarina Duck, Pandora, Karen Millen, Camper etc), it also houses some of Australia’s finest designer labels – Leona Edmiston, Akira Isogawa, Lisa Ho, Sass & Bide, Zimmerman, and Dinosaur Designs. Built in 1864 in a neo-Renaissance style, the architecture is also splendid, although I’m not a fan of the glass shopfronts on the ground floor.
But if you’re on a tight schedule and you’re after a truly unique souvenir, make these CBD treasures your priority:
This beautiful basement boutique, stocking an eclectic mix of Australian and international clothes, jewellery and accessories, is the kind of store a woman can lose hours in. Last year it was awarded Best Boutique in Australia at the Marie Claire Fashion Awards. Owner Christine sources her stock on her buying trips around the globe.
Exquisite buys include couture jewellery by Robert Goossens of Paris, who has supplied gorgeous glistening pieces to Coco Chanel, Christian Lacroix and Dior, among other designers. For winter, which is about to begin Down Under, she has cosy covetables like Marie Mercié bear ears hoods, Etro multi-toned wrap cardigans, Philip Treacy leather pork pie hats, Christine lambskin driving gloves, and Robert Clergerie leather riding boots.
Christine’s suggestion for a quintessential Melbourne souvenir for fashionistas? A vibrant silk scarf by iconic Melbourne designer Christopher Graf. She has a huge assortment. The candy-coloured box alone, pictured above, is worth buying the scarf for!
181 Flinders Lane, Melbourne christineaccessories.tumblr.com
Light-filled Lord Coconut is one of those lovely, idiosyncratic stores that Melbourne does so well. Hidden away on the fourth floor of historic Carlow House, it would be impossible to stumble upon it, but visit once and you’re guaranteed to become a regular customer.
A project of love for owner Mark Boldiston who changed careers to start his handsome store last year, Lord Coconut specialises in contemporary, handmade, Australian-designed jewellery for men, by Australian designers such as Cath da Costa, David Parker, Mark Coulston, Puneet Jodhka, and Toby Horrocks.
The charmingly old-fashioned display cases feature handsome and often quirky limited-edition cufflinks, tie bars, lapel pins, rings, bracelets, broaches, pendants, watch boxes, and other objets d’art. Terence loved Justin Siow’s Blue Bug cufflinks and the Deeana Michela fob watch with delicate cog inserts (pictured above), while I was smitten with Fiona Griffiths’ Hula Girl Travel Token Ring,
My Friend Romeo’s moose lapel pins and Beth Croce’s Anatomical cufflinks. Each of Mark’s 30 or so jewellers, designers and artisans also make bespoke jewellery. Chat to Mark about your dream cufflinks and he’ll see what he can do. Mark also has an online store (click here), so let him know you read about Lord Coconut on Grantourismo and he’ll offer you a discount.
Suite 3, Level 4, 289 Flinders Lane, Melbourne www.lordcoconut.com
In her beautiful boutique in the historic Cathedral Arcade – make sure you look up and check out that glass ceiling – bubbly designer Dana Lenko, who can often be found behind the counter, showcases a kooky combo of idiosyncratic Australian and overseas labels for women and men, as well as her own cute designs.
Expect to find anything from her original collectible t-shirts and limited edition, handmade Animal Sweaters – the designs for which are crowd-sourced; the latest collection includes appliqués of a lobster, pigeon, sea otter, chameleon, and dachshund (last year’s featured a hedgehog, rabbit, flamingo, panda, and honey badger) – to the fun, faux fur Spirit Hoods that everyone is wearing in Melbourne right now, which were flying out of the store when we dropped in.
Don’t miss Lenko’s small but playful collection of jewellery, which changes frequently, from handmade Toto Geo clay and silver jewellery to Brass Mafia’s skulls and brains, inspired by traditional friendship necklaces.
Shop 5, 37 Swanston Street, Corner Flinders Lane & Swanston St, Melbourne www.ilovelenko.com
Next door to Lenko, Alice Euphemia is another lovely, idiosyncratic boutique with an eclectic collection of fashion, accessories and jewellery from all over Australia and New Zealand. Like Lord Coconut and Lenko, much of the jewellery consists of handcrafted limited edition pieces, with many being one-offs.
Look out for fashion by Carly Hunter (the long, drape dress is divine), Kahlo (the Liberty St Cape is a winter must), Christopher Esber (check out the Magyar dress), Ellison (love the smart Lila shirt dresses), and – my favourite – Romance was Born (for their colourful, tribal-inspired Tee dresses (mini) and Tent dresses (maxi)).
Of the jewellery, the bone rings and claw broaches by Julia deVille jewellery caught my eye, along with Kim Victoria’s massive Mountain Rings and Peta Kruger arty broaches. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the colourful silk scarves of another Australian fashion icon Jenny Kee in store – another quintessentially Aussie souvenir for you.
Shop 6, 37 Swanston Street, Corner Flinders Lane & Swanston St, Melbourne www.aliceeuphemia.com
Take the old-fashioned elevator upstairs to Kimono House where you’ll find a little piece of Tokyo in the heart of Melbourne, along with the shop’s lovely owner Leanne O’Sullivan. Be warned: time spent browsing the Japanese delights on display here might have you heading straight to the nearest travel agent.
Leanne has been travelling to Japan since 1989 – she lived and worked there for five years – and spends roughly two months of each year there sourcing exquisite Japanese silk and cotton textiles, kimonos and obi – new and vintage – Japanese craft kits and supplies, patterns, and paper crafts.
She also has beautiful accessories such as purses and shoulder bags made in Japan from the pretty fabrics. Leanne also offers classes and workshops in traditional and contemporary Japanese handicrafts, including Japanese patchwork and quilting, Shibori resist dyeing, Sashiko pattern transfer, Ikebana flower arranging, kimono dressing, and tea ceremony.
Leanne also has some fascinating Japanese CDs tucked away, if you like what you hear in the store. Check her website for details to see if something’s on while you’re in Melbourne.
Room 7, 2nd floor, Nicholas Building, 37 Swanston Street, Melbourne www.kimonohouse.com.au
Vintage lovers should head downstairs to the first floor for Retro Star, Australia’s largest vintage clothing store with over 10,000 pieces of clothing and accessories.
The massive space is divided into different eras, with the 1940s through to the 1980s, being the specialty, so you can expect to find anything from floral cotton frocks with full skirts from the 1950s through to fur-trimmed hippy jackets from the 1970s to disposable fashion from the 1980s, from plastic flouro bangles to studded double belts.
In one room, dedicated to music and streetwear – think band t-shirts, biker boots and leather jackets – I fell in love with the denim jacket covered in buttons (pictured above) that took me back to my New Romantic-loving teenage-hood. Sigh…
And the prices are still reasonable too, making this a great spot for budget travellers to shop for original wearable souvenirs.
1st floor, Nicholas Building, 37 Swanston Street, Melbourne retrostar.com.au
Design A Space
A short stroll away on Manchester Lane, Design A Space is the spot to head for interesting fashion, accessories and jewellery by independent young Australian designers.
Modelled on the kind of concept store typically found in Europe (see these design shops in Berlin, for example), designers can rent a dedicated space – a rack, a shelf, a section of a display case – to display their wares, saving them money on high rents, a huge saving to a designer just starting out.
The shop was showcasing pieces by over 70 independent Aussie designers when we visited, and designers are rotated on a regular basis so you always find something different. There would be few places in Australia where you’d find such an abundance of creative products under the one roof. I especially loved the jewellery.
When you visit, look out for the lovely Bamboo ring and Lotus earrings by Long Silver Thread, designed in Melbourne but inspired by the designer’s travels around Asia, Bilingual’s unisex rings comprised of interlocking rings, and the funky plastic earrings by Do I Know You.
20 Manchester Lane, Melbourne www.designaspace.com.au
The Junk Company
We visited The Junk Company when we went to shoot vintage queen Danielle Pumo’s portrait (click here for her Melbourne vintage shopping guide), but I was so taken with this store, I had to go back for a better look.
Two minutes walk from Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market, this two-storey treasure trove is crammed with all kinds of vintage collectibles – furniture, décor, clothes, shoes, accessories, jewellery, keepsakes, glassware, ornaments, kids toys, antique cameras, vinyl records, old trunks and luggage… if you remember it, it’s probably here.
For a cool souvenir, check out the kitschy Australiana (I’m sure my Nanna had some of this stuff on her mantelpiece), from ceramic kangaroos to emu napkin holders.
583 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne www.thejunkcompany.com.au
A big thank you to Fiona Sweetman – we visited most of these gorgeous stores on our Hidden Secrets Lanes and Arcades tour. While you might too if you do Fiona’s tour, note that itineraries vary slightly depending on demand and interests of participants so you may in fact visit very different stores. So what are your favourite shops? We’d love to know. Feel free to leave your tips in the comments below.