Sydney in fashion
From 1940s swing dresses and super-chic stationery to desirable made-to-order designs
SYDNEY ANTIQUE CENTRE, SURRY HILLS
This dual-level warehouse on busy South Dowling Street, one of Australia’s oldest (and largest) antiques centres, is an Aladdin’s cave of second-hand wares. After a quick scout of the first-floor furniture and art, I always make a beeline for the appealingly cluttered lower level, which houses everything from vintage clothing to household bric-a-brac, including pre-loved French cutlery, glassware, porcelain and old-style dial-up telephones (‘‘How do you use one of those?’’ asks my 17-year-old niece during our Saturday afternoon shopping expedition). One lucky day we spy an armchair, in a fabric only granny could love, at one of the downstairs stalls. Inquiries reveal it is one of a pair, which we snap up for a song. They’re now covered in a lively lime fabric and have a new lease of life.
There are more than 50 antiques and art dealers under the one roof, so only the world’s most inept shopper should leave empty-handed. Next on my must-buy list is one of the fabulous vintage advertising posters. More: sydantcent.com.au.
This repository of eclectic furniture, accessories and gifts, largely by Australian designers, is not so much a shopping opportunity as a day out. Beautifully realised displays, from bedroom settings to arrangements of wooden toys and garden accoutrements, fill a 100-yearold former Rosella canning factory in Sydney’s southeast (owners Russel Koskela and Sasha Titchkosky relocated here in February after outgrowing their Surry Hills store).
Handwoven light fittings by indigenous Yolngu women from the Northern Territory’s Elcho Island sit alongside vintage rugs reworked into modern interpretations and one-off pieces of jewellery and ceramics. There are brightly coloured pillowcases from Sydneybased designer Castle, Leif desert lime, vanilla and orange shower gel and Quiescence candles in pretty jars.
Stop for breakfast at the much-praised Kitchen by Mike, separated from the store by a waist-high chickenwire gate. This refectory-style eatery, which serves
breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, continues the industrial-chic vibe with an open-plan kitchen and dining space where cutlery is stored in old tomato tins and nduja butter and coddled eggs on sourdough toast, or fruit and nut bread with honeycomb and ricotta, are served on tin plates.
Stylist and author Megan Morton runs the adjacent design school (classes include preparing a property for sale, and printing tea towels), studio and prop hire centre. Koskela also runs creative workshops, from basket weaving to card making. More: koskela.com.au; meganmorton.com.
CHEE SOON & FITZGERALD, SURRY HILLS
The bedside lamps were an impulse buy from a secondhand store but in the cold light of day they look drab and uninspiring. A dash to Chee Soon & Fitzgerald, which offers an old-fashioned, made-to-order design service, soon sorts things out. Co-owner Casey Khik talks me through the range of designer fabrics (Marimekko is the main line) and a week later the boring cream-coloured bell shades have been replaced with modern cylinders in a bright cherry print. Khik and co-owner Bryan Fitzgerald pride themselves on identifying trends and have an eye for the finest textiles, from bolts of vibrant Swedish fabric to vintage Japanese and African prints, as well as a gorgeous range of decorative pieces for the home.
If you’re looking for a designer gift, you should find it in this small but perfectly adorned store, from elegant mugs and plates and children’s mobiles to graphic tea towels and pretty photo frames. More: cheesoonfitzgerald.com.
PAPER2, SURRY HILLS
If this is not the loveliest stationery shop in the country, I’ll eat my notepad. Owner Margaret Rockliff searches the world for unusual pieces, from 1930s French architectural drawings and comics to botanical prints and vintage bunting. She presents her finds in this full-to-bursting, split-level space a couple of hundred metres from Chee Soon & Fitzgerald. Pens and inks, waxes and seals, journals, notebooks and quirky cards are all here if you look hard enough. Rockliff, a graphic designer, is a great supporter of local talent, employing up-and-coming artists as sales staff and stocking their creations alongside her international discoveries (the popular range of scratchy cards at the front of the store was created by previous employees). Paper2 also makes its own pretty pieces, from garlands and greeting cards to party invitations and gift bags. Those feeling creative can choose from the wide range of artist-quality coloured papers and envelopes in pigeonholes at the back of the shop. More: paper2.com.au.
LEONA EDMISTON VINTAGE BOUTIQUE, BALMAIN
As any well-upholstered woman of a certain age knows, Australian designer Leona Edmiston is the business when it comes to hiding a multitude of sins. This small store in inner-west Balmain is one of only five Leona Edmiston Vintage Boutiques in the country and is a chic and girly showcase for unsold previous-season designs offered at drastically reduced prices.
Pick up one of Edmiston’s signature jersey, silk or cotton frocks for as little as $50 (they’re usually upwards of $170), or check out the discounted PINS tights and accessories artfully displayed on a table at the centre of the store. There’s also a consignment program through which Edmiston fans can resell their pre-loved purchases for gift vouchers.
While in Balmain, cross busy Darling Street, continue down towards the harbour and stop in at Sofia Londero, which has an eclectic mix of womenswear from European, American and Australian designers; boldly printed skirts and jackets from Spain’s Desigual sit alongside cute floaty tops from Sweden’s Odd Molly, and there’s a jazzy range of belts, scarves and shoes. More: leonaedmiston.com.au; sofialondero.com.au.
FASTER PUSSYCAT, NEWTOWN
I take it as a form of encouragement that one of my favourite retro bands, the B52s, released a song a couple of years ago containing the lyrics: ‘‘Faster pussycat, thrill thrill/I’m at the mall on a diet pill.’’ Faster Pussycat in inner-west Newtown is certainly no mall, and diet pills are not required given its forgiving range of 1940s and 50s fashions — A-line shapes, pretty pussy bows and swing skirts. This quirky retro store, which celebrates its 16th birthday this year in a suburb known for its plethora of second-hand and vintage collections, is my go-to shop for outfits that won’t be seen on everybody. Owner Tim Chillingworth, who grew up with a love of 50s fashion, cars, bikes and movies, presents an eclectic mix, from magazines on 40s hairstyles and tattooed ladies to retro postcards and vinyl handbags. But his clothing choices (sexy numbers from Stop Staring, Pinup Girl, Bettie Page and more) on racks at the rear are the hot ticket.The less inhibited could team a pair of 40s-style frilly knickers and fishnet tights with screamingly loud pink leopardskin heels. There are also men’s choices ( lounge shirts, T-shirts, jeans with a rock ’n’ roll edge) and an out-there kids’ range — think skull-and-crossbones skinny-fit cords or cute hoodies. More: fasterpussycatonline.com.
NEXT WEEK in our Secret Shopper series: Melbourne