6 things you can only buy in Melbourne
Travelers are often amazed by the amount of diverse retailers found on Melbourne's high streets and in its laneways and suburban villages.
While the city claims to be Australia's cultural and sporting capital, the amount of stuff for sale also has it as the shopping central.
It's chic and unique. Here are six items to look out for in Melbourne, for a start.
Back in the 1980s, Makers Mark was the only gallery-style jewelry store that took Australian design seriously, giving artists an up-market, elegant space to display and sell their work displayed.
Pieces of Eight today carries the mantel, selling stunning handmade, and limited-edition jewelry by more than 30 amazing artists.
There is also a great program of workshops, exhibitions and other events and a custom-made service.
Many of the artists are Melbournians and their use of materials and textures reflects the aesthetic and vibe of the city -- classic yet edgy, perennial yet very much of the now.
This collecting and appreciating is a big step-up from the handmade market jewelry space.
Pieces of Eight, 28 Russell Place, Melbourne, +61 (0)3 9497 8121, www.piecesofeight.com.au.
If the shoe fits
Melbournians are fond of shoes. Unlike their neighbors in the cities to the north who like to flop about in a pair of Havaianas, the black-wearing folks from the banks of the Yarra River like to put their feet in fine footwear.
Bespoke bootmaker Doc Cobbler is the go-to for an eclectic array of customers, from footballers to amputees.
What started as a golf shoe business now caters for prosthesis wearers and orthotics under the Doc Cobbler name.
Cyclists who want high-performance shoes, golfers (still) and a range of other athletes (besides those with shoe sponsors). These carry the Custom Fit brand.
But they also make stylish dress shoes under the Wootten label, not just for discerning customers, but also for folk with a difficult fit.
Shoes start around $650 and “the sky’s the limit” for boots. Co-owner Jess Cameron-Wootten fondly recalls a customer ordering a $2,500 pair of barramundi-skin cowboy boots.
Some readymade sandals and accessories under the Woot ‘n’ Wright label are available at their other business -- Milton on groovy Greville Street, which sells “low production” items such as textiles, home wares and clothing.
Doc Cobbler, 20 Grattan St., Prahran, +61 (0)3 9532 2611, www.doccobbler.com.au
Gippsland grass-fed Wagyu
Melbourne’s fresh produce market culture is the best in Australia. The cornucopia of produce from lush farmland that surrounds the city is easily accessed in a retail experience with European influences.
Where the amazing Victoria Market in the city is firmly on the tourist map, South Melbourne Market is more local, relaxed and cheap.
It’s where you’re likely to be shopping next to famous footballers, actors and musos -- particularly on Sunday afternoons when fruit and veg is running out the door for “a dollar a bag.”
Spruikers like to yell at anyone who looks like they’re about to walk past the bargain tomatoes without purchasing.
It’s also home to some spectacular organics and sole retailers of produce otherwise only available in restaurants.
TOMS, aka The Organic Meat Specialist, carries Moondarra grass-fed Wagyu. Producer Neil Prentice, formerly an esteemed city sommelier, now award-winning wine maker and beef cattle farmer, says like wine, beef has "le Gout du Terroir", the flavor of where it's from.
If his beef tastes like its place of origin, then Gippsland in Eastern Victoria is a delicious place indeed.
A bottle of Prentice’s Moondarra pinot noir would be a great accompaniment.
TOMS, Shop 30, Deli Aisle, South Melbourne Market, corner Cecil and Coventry Streets, South Melbourne, +61 (0)3 9699 7926, www.toms.net.au
Style statements without the quirk
Guidebooks prone to sweeping statements (they know who they are) could probably rattle off an unsubstantiated “more independent fashion retailers and designers per square kilometer than NYC” about Melbourne and feel pretty comfortable in doing so.
Superlatives aside, there really does seem to be a burgeoning of bespoke boutiques, especially compared to the other Australian east coast cities.
That’s in part due to Melbourne’s RMIT School of Fashion that produces plenty of talented young designers. It’s also about cheaper retail rent, and of course, the city’s charming laneway culture that grew organically from visionaries taking over pokey little unwanted places and turning them desirable.
Apart from funky Chapel Street South Yarra, they’ve resisted the march of mass-market malls. Especially on the north side, from Clifton Hill and Fitzroy, to Richmond and the CBD.
Down Yonder in the cute village of Hawksburn is noteworthy for the range of labels it carries and for the house label, Friend of Mine. It’s edgy without being unwearable, timeless without being stodgy and best of all, not a piece of appliqué or quirkiness anywhere.
Down Yonder, 485 Malvern Road, Hawksburn, +61 (0)3 9826 5400, www.downyonder.com.au
To a Melbournian, a ‘guernsey’ isn’t a place in the English Channel, but a tight, sleeveless top a footballer wears on the field. And a football isn’t a football, but a Sherrin, a pill or a footy.
And AFL is not just a game, it’s a religion. South Australians get it a bit. So do Western Australians. But there’s no denying Victoria is the heartland of the Australian Football League, better known as AFL.
The AFL store is the place to get official AFL merchandise, from the aforesaid guernseys in the 18 club strips, caps, flags, stuffed animals, key rings and all manner of other paraphernalia in club colors.
There’s more useful stuff, like footy shorts, boots, socks and the famous Sherrin (it’s the brand) ball.
And of course, the ubiquitous footy scarf and beanie, which have been the traditional shows of club allegiance for many years. Great-great grandma knitted up sets for everyone to wear on Saturday afternoons to keep out the Melbourne winter chills.
For AFL Store locations go to www.theaflstore.com.au
If one story encapsulates the artistic and intellectual heart of Melbourne, it’s that of Heide Gallery of Modern Art.
John and Sunday Reed established Heide as their home in 1935. There, they hosted artists, writers and intellectuals, inspiring great works, great stories and great love triangles.
Long conversations in smoke-filled rooms, we guess.
Names such as Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, Joy Hester, John Perceval and Charles Blackman might not have been the luminaries and legends they are today were it not for the patronage of the Reeds.
Three decades ago, in Melbourne’s north in the leafy suburb of Heidelberg, Heide became a public gallery and today, the extensive property is a stunning series of indoor and outdoor spaces dedicated to architecture and art.
Only few can afford a Nolan or a Tucker, but at Heide there is also a range of limited edition catalogues and other affordable items to satisfy the collector urge. Design pieces, art, publications, kids products, jewelry and scarves are for sale in the adjoining shop.
The Heide visitor experience? Priceless.
Heide Museum of Modern Art, 7 Templestowe Rd. Bulleen, +61 (0)3 9850 1500, www.heide.com.au, admission to the gardens and sculpture park is free, exhibitions $14, children free.