Girlfriends on the go
Discover the best of Brisbane retail with a clued-up companion
FRUITLESS shopping experiences in Eastern Europe gave Amanda Kruse the impetus for a new business that highlights the best of Brisbane retail. After traipsing around Prague and failing to find the boutique shopping and dining experiences she’d heard so much about, Kruse approached the concierge at her hotel.
‘‘I asked him where his girlfriend shopped, where she ate and liked to go for coffee,’’ she says. ‘‘He didn’t seem to understand me, but the next morning there was a knock at my door and it was the same guy with a young woman behind him. He pointed to her and said: ‘You go with girlfriend.’ ’’
What followed was a day of discovery — exploring the hidden backstreets of the Czech capital, ferreting through racks of clothing by up-andcoming local designers and stopping at funky cafes off the tourist trail.
‘‘We had the best time,’’ says Kruse, who has worked in the tourism industry for more than two decades. ‘‘So I realised that this was what I’d needed in all my years of travelling — a ‘girlfriend’, a person who knows all those little local spots and can show me around a new city.’’
Now Kruse is that ‘ ‘ girlfriend’’, introducing out-of-towners who want more than high-street chains and tourist-trap dining spots to another side of the Queensland capital. Her Brisbane’s Hidden Gems tours cover three of the city’s vibrant neighbourhoods: eclectic Fortitude Valley northeast of the city centre; Paddington, with its antiques shops and streets lined with traditional Queenslander houses; and the tucked-away enclaves of Brisbane’s CBD.
The relaxed three-hour guided walks cater for both serious shoppers and those who simply want to get their bearings. Kruse recommends morning excursions so guests can double back later and spend more time at places of most interest.
During our ‘‘getting to know you’’ coffee and cake at Deb and Bien Peralta’s enticing Dello Mano chocolate boutique in Fortitude Valley, Kruse and I discover we share a similar taste in fashion, so she tailors my program accordingly. This morning we will take in the highlights of The Valley, known for its cool bars and restaurants and creative energy; tomorrow, we will head to Paddington, to explore its pretty cafes, bookstores and secondhand emporiums.
We climb a small staircase in a converted building on Brunswick Street to Fallow — the antler-handled front door and gold chaise lounge on the landing hint at the offbeat fashions and trinkets to be found inside.
Just around the corner on Ann Street, in a shopping strip showcasing several local designers, we unearth fashions to suit everyone from the toocool-for-school teen to the glamorous fifty- something. I make a note to return to Dogstar, with Asian-inspired designs from Brisbane-based Masayo Yasuki, and to Maiocchi, with its vibrant prints and frocks from another local fashionista, Deanne Mayocchi.
At Libertine Parfumerie, an exquisite fragrance boutique in nearby Robertson Street, manager Natalie Wilton provides a fascinating insight into some of the most exclusive brands, from Lubin’s Black Jade, the last fragrance worn by Marie Antoinette, to Fleurissimo, the blend Monaco’s Prince Rainier had perfume house Creed create for Grace Kelly to wear on their wedding day.
Kruse’s tours can include a masterclass, in which Wilton and her team provide guests with a brief history of perfume and advise on how to choose the perfect match.
In Paddington the next day, it’s a very different scene. The Valley’s cool, grungy vibe has given way to undulating, leafy streets, dotted with Queenslanders converted into upmarket dining spots and boutiques and historical buildings. (I could spend hours in Paddington Antique Centre, a cornucopia of pre-loved goods in an old cinema complex.)
Kruse is a fun and informative companion as she guides me past the chain stores and into more exclusive outlets. It’s clear she is enjoying the experi- ence, taking on the role of that trusted girlfriend who will let you know that your bum really does look big in that ill-advised velvet catsuit and recommending instead key wardrobe pieces from her favourite local designers.
At Adornments on Latrobe Terrace, a repository of everything from vintage jewellery and furs to collectible porcelain, we coo over exquisite beaded cocktail purses. In the chic Hamptons Home Living, a cafe cum homewares store, we take a seat on the back veranda for a coffee.
Then to the quirky High Maintenance, down a small staircase off Given Terrace, where we are greeted by Monika Neilen, a vision in pink clutching a bottle of sparkling wine. At once nail bar, hairdresser, beauty salon and fashion boutique, High Maintenance is a welcome sanctuary for serious shoppers and the last stop on our tour.
‘‘We want to provide a relaxed and chilled atmosphere and personalised service,’’ says Neilen. ‘‘When you’re time-poor, you can’t get to separate appointments to have your nails and hair and eyebrows done, and not everybody likes big salons.’’
Neilen pops me on a recliner, slips a gold-coloured collagen eye mask on my face and pours us all a glass of fizz as I lie back and think of my next Brisbane shopathon. Michelle Rowe was a guest of Queensland Holidays and Hilton Brisbane. T&I’s Regional Shopper series starts next week.
Clockwise from left, Natalie Wilton of Libertine Parfumerie; guide Amanda Kruse; High Maintenance’s Monika Neilen; Jan Bartlett at Adornments; and Hamptons Home Living