Melbourne’s queen of experiential retail reaches for the sky
Melbourne’s queen of experiential retail reaches for the sky. By Annemarie Kiely Photographed by Sharyn Cairns
After nearly 20 years of secreting her fashion phantasmagoria into a basement space in Flinders Lane, Melbourne’s queen of experiential retail, Christine Barro, is moving to Collins Street and, again, concealing her cabinets of opulent curiosities in a counterintuitive space. “But this time, it’s all about the vertical laneway,” says Barro of the upwards lift of her self-named salon, Christine, into a heritage-listed building at the end of the city’s premier boulevard. “For me, the real thrill in fashion delivers in the unexpected find; the hunt and the catch that rewards with the shock of the new.”
This relocation, precipitated by the development of the building she has long inhabited into a boutique hotel, has given Barro pause to consider “more obvious” real estate options. Not one to bend to prevailing wisdom or the pathologically trendy — “the last stage before tacky, as Karl Lagerfeld says” — she has determined to forge a new pathway above street level, in an old office structure that sits somewhere between the establishment stodge of the Melbourne Club and the State Treasury. Her abiding belief that future value lies buried in the overlooked was vindicated by the recent launch of Sotheby’s new flagship in the same building. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” says Barro with authority of demeanour that is amplified by her outfit — a bold navy dress coat by Melbourne-born, Paris-based Martin Grant, who makes Christine his exclusive Australian stockist. “I just listen to myself as a customer.” Typifying Melbourne style as cerebral and intelligent — “one that is drawn to a state of mind rather than a street” — being out of sight is not an issue for her business. “I’ve never done it by the book and just believe that the world is desperate for some unscripted drama, a little mystery that literally rises above the predictable semantics of luxury,” she says.
If one had to guess at Barro’s very particular state of mind — a pop-fest of toile de jouy and tartan that seemingly channels the Stewart clan, Marie Antoinette and Andy Warhol all at once — it would be that retail is more than consumption of product. It is a cultural movement, one overtly manifesting in her magical salon teas. These four-times-yearly, two-hour showings of story-filled fashion (served with custom-brewed tea in Limoges china) entertain, elucidate and engage customers in social community. Indeed, many a friendship has forged amid the aesthetic chaos of her subterranean salon, where lolly-hued slubs of 1950s Murano glass fight for surface space with Philip Treacy millinery, Meiji period porcelain, Pierre Hardy stilettos, Arts & Crafts tea services, Adrian Lewis jewels, Pellini necklaces, carved cinnabar cabinets, Isaac Reina bags and Robert Clergerie shoes. Avowing that an equitable measure of maximalism is now materialising in Collins Street, Barro says, “You can’t have too much of a good thing. Fashion is its own language.” VL christineaccessories.com @christineaccessories
FROM TOP Christine Barro wears a Lanvin for Swarovski necklace by Elie Top. Print from Andy Warhol’s 1972 Mao Tse-Tung series; Philip Treacy hat; Emma J Shipley scarf; Victoria Beckham handbag; antique brass mirror; lacquered cabinet from India. Kalmar caftan; Etro handbag; antique gilded table and buddha(in background).