Sydney style: Exploring the best of Australian fashion
A sartorial adventure reveals Australian designer must-haves.
The Bassike boutique in Paddington, Sydney.
It’s a good thing I can barely swim. I’ve been in Australia for almost a week, and I’ve been so caught up in the surging local fashion scene that I’ve only had a moment to wade ankle-deep into the surf at Bondi Beach. Not that I’m disappointed: Instead of getting sand in my shoes and water in my ears, I’ve been spending the week exploring every corner of Sydney’s fashion scene.
One highlight is the Intersection, in the inner suburb of Paddington, an early Victorian neighbourhood turned style hub. The quiet feel of “Paddo” is uncharacteristic of a shopper’s paradise – it’s all quaint two-storey houses with filigree terraces. Most doors lead to local designers’ boutiques, and the best lunch is at a tucked-away courtyard café, the Bonython. But the sleepy vibe of the place only adds to the feeling of having stumbled upon a well-kept secret. Luckily for me, I have an expert guide – ELLE Australia’s style editor, Dannielle Cartisano – to help me navigate the local sights.
“Everything is very fluid at the moment,” Cartisano tells me as I work my way through flowing dresses printed with the local flora at Ginger & Smart, a 14-year-old label with its own range of candles. She’s right – as I weave in and out of stores along Oxford Street, Paddington’s main strip, I notice that the slightest breeze flutters the loose dresses and tunics, as if enchanting me to try them on. Over at Bassike, purveyor of cool minimalist basics (the label’s name is a play on the word), sun-kissed surfer girls can find a range of relaxed organic-jersey tees made locally and slouchy denim sourced from Japan. “The Australian girl, she likes to be loose and comfortable, but she likes to show herself off. She’s totally confident,” says Cartisano.
With summer temperatures sometimes hitting the 40s and the ocean irresistibly near, it would be easy to assume that all Sydney style skews more hippie than haute, but the scene in Paddington tells a story that goes beyond those floaty floral shifts. There was the fashion manager at Ellery, Australia’s best-known fashion export and the label responsible for this season’s off-the-shoulder obsession, dressed in one of the label’s sculpted black crepe dresses paired with black socks and schoolboy bluchers. And down the street, at stylist turned designer Alice McCall’s storefront, the racks are filled with sartorial psychedelia: crop tops adorned with curlicues and jumpsuits printed with butternut squashes. And that’s just one block!
The Alice McCall boutique in Paddington, Sydney.
“The great thing about the Australian girl is that she’s happy to experiment,” says Bridget Yorston, who, along with Becky Cooper, is part of the design duo Bec & Bridge, a 13-year-old label with a staples-with-a-twist mentality. “She doesn’t always get it right – the outfit can be a bit offbeat – but with the right attitude, it just works,” says Cooper.
Shannon Thomas, co-owner of boutique Désordre, is more blunt: “We’re pretty naked,” she says from behind the counter at her walk-in-wardrobe of a store located on a sleepy residential street a few minutes away from the Intersection. Thomas stocks the country’s buzziest names, like Christopher Esber, who balances tailoring with streetwear, hyper-minimal swimwear brand Matteau Swim and Bianca Spender, whose knack for draping unexpected silhouettes has made her a finalist for the International Woolmark Prize. “It’s about the contrast,” says Thomas. When I point to a pair of ornate Ellery flares, I’m told that the acceptably Aussie way to wear them is with my boyfriend’s grungy band tee. The local approach is anything but precious and predictable.
Which makes sense since Australia is backwards – but in the most fashion-forward way. When I visited in November, summer was just heating up; the country’s upside-down seasons have made designers and consumers experts in trans-seasonal dressing. Even Sydney’s Fashion Week has adapted – last year, it made the shift to showing resort collections, becoming the first Fashion Week in the world to do so. And the world is watching: Take Désordre’s Instagram account, which has a 56,000-strong following. The shop ships as far away as Canada and Tanzania. Just putting on these Aussie clothes instantly gives you a carefree attitude. What could be a better escape than that?
EDITOR’S BLACK BOOK
After all that shopping, you’ll need a place to crash – and a home for your fashion finds. Stay in Chippendale, a hip neighbourhood that is about to become the next big thing and only a half-hour walk from the Intersection.
The rooftop pool at the Old Clare Hotel.
Stay: Book a loft room at the Old Clare Hotel and enjoy two floors of retro-cool decor to spread out in. If the sun is shining (and it probably is), head up to the property’s rooftop pool to cool off. You’ll make some new friends while sipping on a camomile and orange-barley-water cocktail.
Snack: If you’re looking for a languid start to your day, wander down to the south end of Chippendale to Brickfields. This café serves coffee that’s up to the country’s notoriously high standards and bakes its bread in-house. Must try: the homemade ricotta on toast topped with local honey and fennel.
Explore: For a midday art break, head to Chippendale’s White Rabbit Gallery, which specializes in contemporary Chinese art. Take in the interactive installations, and don’t leave without picking up a souvenir, like a handkerchief printed with work by Ai Weiwei.
Eat: At the Old Clare’s Automata resto, grab a seat facing the open kitchen so you’ll be part of the “loud, fun and a bit rock ’n’ roll” vibe that chef Clayton Wells is forging. When I was there, the always changing prix-fixe menu included smoked mackerel and stracciatella with fermented peaches and kelp oil.
INSIDER’S GUIDE: Sydney Fashion Must-Sees
Parlour X: On the east side of the Intersection and housed in a heritage church, this shop carries exclusive pieces – designed in collaboration with some of the country’s biggest names, like Maticevski and Romance Was Born – that you won’t find anywhere else.
Double Bay: This tony harbourside suburb east of Sydney’s centre boasts luxury flagships for Marni and Max Mara alongside multi-brand boutiques like Cosmopolitan Shoes, the city’s best bet for shoe fanatics.
Sydney Walk of Style: Life is too short to shop alone, so sign up for a stylist-led walk-and-shop tour of Paddington. You’ll hit the neighbourhood’s key shops and learn about local designers (chicstyle.com.au).
Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia: The country’s annual Fashion Week (May 15 to 20, 2016) is a six-day marathon of Australian design talent. Industry heavyweights show alongside up-and-comers at the Carriageworks, a 19th-century railway carriage turned industrial-arts space. Not an industry insider? Buy a ticket to Weekend Edition (May 20 to 21, 2016), an open-to-the-public fashion festival. Watch runway shows, mingle backstage or take a photo course (mbfashionweekended.com.au).
A runway show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia.
The Key Aussie Shows to See (At Least on Instagram)
Macgraw: In just three years, Sydney sisters Beth and Tessa MacGraw earned industry acclaim and the coveted Tiffany & Co. National Designer Award for their feminine wares. When the northern hemisphere takes note, you’ll already be in the know.
Misha Collection: Bella Hadid is set to open and close the runway show for this Kardashian-approved label. Need we say more?
Romance Was Born: Designers Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales are known for their theatrical runway shows of their whimsical label Romance Was Born. Last year saw the duo stage a madcap garden party. We can only imagine what they’ll get up to this year.