Flinders Lane, Melbourne, Victoria © Visit Victoria
How to shop Melbourne, with Jess Dempsey
Discover Melbourne’s best kept style secrets and closely guarded fashion haunts alongside a local industry pro.
Interviewed by Natasha Dragun
Victoria’s capital Melbourne deserves its reputation as the fashion and style capital of Australia, with an unrivalled collection of boutiques that merge the high-end with the avant-garde. As the founder of fashion and lifestyle site What Would Karl Do, Jess Dempsey has her finger on the city’s style pulse. Here she reveals shopping secrets only known by Melbourne’s effortlessly stylish locals.
First stop: Melbourne’s city centre
"We’re really lucky in Melbourne to have such an incredible shopping and design scene in the heart of the city."
Visit the city centre’s beautiful Block Arcade for boutiques housed in an unforgettable Renaissance-style mall.
Jess notes that she can often be found in the luxury stores along the eastern (“Paris”) end of Collins Street, where grand heritage buildings are shaded by tall leafy trees. Jess says that if it’s classic and sophisticated high-end style you’re looking for, Collins Street in the city centre is definitely one for your list: “Shopping here is a whole experience unto itself. It feels very glamorous.”
But it’s not just big, international brands you’ll find here. The city centre is also home to Emporium Melbourne, one of Australia’s largest precincts for iconic and emerging Australian designers. “I could spend all day here,” Jess says. Among the Australian brands to look out for are Aēsop (skincare), Sass & Bide (women’s fashion) and Bassike (organic cotton and denim clothes).
The rest of the city is a rabbit warren of laneways filled with eye-popping street art, where you’ll discover, “lovely one-off boutiques you’ve never heard of”, Jess says, all wedged between jazz bars and cafés.
Take the High Street
Jess says other Melbourne art, design and shopping suburbs worth checking out include Collingwood, Fitzroy and Brunswick.
Jess recommends the cool inner-city suburbs for the perfect blend of luxe and casual. “I love mixing high-end and high-street fashion in my own wardrobe,” Jess says, “which is so achievable in the city’s vibrant suburbs, where independent boutiques line the streets.”
Dempsey’s go-to for fashion finds is High Street in the inner-east suburb of Armadale, a 20-minute drive south-east of the city centre. Armadale is known for its distinctive lollipop trees and modern boutiques in heritage buildings.
“Shopping here is such a relaxed experience,” Jess says. “I always make a full day out of it. There are some great local boutiques to browse, like Viktoria & Woods, Bec + Bridge, Dion Lee and Camilla and Marc. The Diida flagship is also here, and it’s just fabulous. But you can also find international brands – for men and women. And every few steps there are cute cafés and galleries to pause in.”
Tackle Melbourne’s longest shopping strip
Also in the inner east, a 15-minute drive south-east of the city centre, is another fashion institution and shopping marathon gauntlet: Chapel Street. The many stores that line this street as it runs through the suburbs of South Yarra, Windsor and Prahran make it one of Australia’s largest retail and lifestyle precincts.
“First stop should be Bromley & Co, a gallery-meets-homewares store curated by Australian artist David Bromley,” Jess says. “Then just wander.” You can shop the eclectic boutiques on intersecting Greville Street, before stopping in at Dinosaur Designs for edgy resin jewellery and homewares, or getting lost in Chapel Street Bazaar, which is packed to the rafters with rare vintage finds.
To get a feel for local fashion in one place, make a beeline for Design a Space, a creative hub stocking fashion and accessories from more than 170 local, independent designers. Offerings here change monthly, so no matter how often you visit, you’re always bound to find one-off gems you’ve never seen.
Make for the mall
Fashionistas of all ages will find something for everyone at the famed shopping epicentre of Chadstone Shopping Mall.
"With kids, it’s really convenient and fun to visit Chadstone shopping mall, a 30-minute drive from the city, which calls itself the ‘fashion capital’ of Melbourne."
There are more than 550 stores to choose from here, including an entire precinct dedicated to luxury brands. Want something more local? You’ll also find a strong showing of Australian fashion labels including Zimmermann’s world-conquering ready-to-wear and swimwear, kaftan label Camilla and Melbourne textile and pattern fashion label Gorman.
See art, buy art
Looking for a gift or a souvenir with a design twist? From the city centre take a 20-minute walk or a short taxi ride along St Kilda Road to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) International. The gallery collaborates with local and international artists to create must-have design objects (browse the wares at its on-site NGV Design Store). Additionally, The NGV is often the exclusive Australian venue for major fashion-themed exhibitions, Jess says, with past shows spotlighting fashion stars such as the duo behind Viktor&Rolf, Christian Dior and Jean Paul Gaultier.
If you’re after a more focused art experience, there’s an second NGV Design Store dedicated solely to Australian art at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, in Federation Square, between the city centre and NGV International.
"Federation Square is iconic Melbourne, The architecture is so dramatic and colourful. It will stop you in your tracks."
A precinct for art, culture and events, Federation Square’s distinctive deconstructionist buildings are also home to the Koorie Heritage Trust, an Aboriginal cultural centre and gallery. Visit Koorie Heritage Trust’s on-site shop for tote bags, designer T-shirts and authentic hand-carved didgeridoos created by Aboriginal artists and craftspeople from south-east Australia.