Jean Paul Gaultier is in town in Melbourne, where the focus on fashion will be well and truly happening during the next month, with the Melbourne Cup, the race stopping the nation in its tracks, also looming large on the horizon ahead.
The fashionable focus at South Yarra in Melbourne is, at least for the locals like me, all about changing style. Parisian chic abounds, especially in that section Punt Road to Darling Street along Toorak Road.
Starting with the cycle shop Pista Bikes, where my cycling enthusiast son recently waxed lyrical over a rare bike selection in the window, you will find the most fashionable and beautiful bike and the best technically, especially if you seek to indulge in Melbourne’s ever expanding popular mode of transport, which is also exceedingly good for the figure.
The Paris precinct pauses first at France Soir.
This traditional brasserie and Parisian bistro is a busy lunch and dinner spot for local circles. Jean Paul Prunetti first established this highly regarded restaurant in 1986. His original partner returned home two years later and Prunetti worked with the first head chef Joachim Inacio to grow the menu. Today it is celebrated in original handwritten style, the wine list having grown grown to hold over 2,100 references.
All the waiters speak French making sure you not only taste, but experience a little bit of Paris.
Continuing in that atmosphere next door you can enjoy French Fantasies at the Depot de Pain; stunning almond croissants, Gruyere, Spinach and Ham Crepes and great coffee, with the local dog lovers enjoying a rousing start to their day.
In France as here in Melbourne, food is part of the lifestyle. Starting as a small bakery, and now supplying many top restaurants with bread and pastries, wrought iron chairs around country tables mean you can crowd inside the tightly packed interior on a cold day or tackle the footpath outside when its fine. A small selective kitchen out the back provides the breakfast or lunch.
Cheese croquet Monsieur’s are a crowd favourite with buttery salmon omelettes and French onion soup are crowd pleasers on many a cold Melbourne day.
French flavour and waiters speaking French also add to the atmosphere here and it’s a case of bon appétit being the order of the day.
You can also buy a delicious fresh Baguette to take home from the tiny well-stocked patisserie, where some of the most attractive of their sweet offerings attract the attention of many passers by, especially the miniature very French chocolate eclairs.
The French mustard in ceramic pots certainly draws me in, particularly that rare ‘black’ pot, which is filled with Napoleon’s favourite grainy brandy infused condiment.
Continuing down the footpath towards Darling Street, where The Block is moving in soon to lure more people to investigate the area, you will find a concentration of new business occurring between Punt Road and Avoca Street, with a number of established places drawing people down to Darling.
Always intriguing is the select Art business at number 27, which offers no name on its façade; just a closed door (must be open by appointment) as I have never seen anyone ever entering.
It set in a stunning old building too, beautifully restored. Enticing enquiry is always just one stunning offering in each window either side of the front door.
At the moment it’s two different Japanese textiles, which are indeed very collectable, especially if you have a passion for eastern textiles in particular.
Next-door is the Optometrist, featuring esoteric and aesthetically pleasing designs in eyeglass frames.
Simply called Eyes, if you can’t find the chicest style choices here you are very hard to please.
Next is a chic small jeweller and just to keep it all real a Laundromat, offering a practical side to the area, which incidentally still doesn’t have a BBQ chicken shop anywhere, although Belvga the best fish and chippery is a few doors down.
In between you will find the best antique jewellery in the area. Mary Titchener has been offering ‘exceptional jewels’ for consideration for some time. Mary started her business in Perth in 1978 but moved to Melbourne opening in 1988 and not long after, she became a fixture on the South Yarra scene.
She specialises in Art Deco era platinum and diamond rings, like this one with the sugar loaf sapphire, which are much in demand these days. When she’s open and they are on display they dazzle with their brilliance.
On one corner of the alluring stylish apartment precinct of Caroline Street is Trevor West, favourite local Menswear while on the other corner is the Rolls Royce of Dry Cleaners – Bancrofts, the only certified ‘couture’ dry cleaner in town.
In this short section before the next side street Avoca, there are a number of new businesses, with some specialist beauty and hair professionals.
Then you arrive at Oglia-Loro, whose haute couture evening and bridal gowns are associated with The Academy Awards, the TV Week Logie Awards, the BAFTA Awards and the glamorous world of show business and entertainment.
They are designed by Sam Oglialoro, who studied at the Melbourne Fashion Institute during the 1980’s and frustrated with ‘conventional techniques’ invented his own. With a loyal clientele, he combines ‘classical lines with contemporary styling’. His dresses make me long to be size 8 again.
Next to him is a very exciting fit out happening now and one of the most beautifully designed classical corner buildings around; a new destination for ‘blockbuster beauty’.
Jo Horgan travels to all the top fashion spots of the world to turn up every boutique brand she can to service her clients and provide a ‘mecca’ for cosmetics for them to indulge.
Make-up artists, skincare and fragrance specialists will provide bespoke beauty advice and expertise and there will be a range of esoteric and highly regarded cosmetic brands to choose from.
Offering lots of events in store they are sure to liven up the South Yarra scene
Back on track, on the final section down to Walsh Street on the corner you will find is Tolley of Savile Row. for businessmen,
They are likely to be among those who enjoy the delicious degustation menu at the small and exclusive Italian restaurant Da Noi with its cosy intimate atmosphere.
Otherwise experience the warmth and delights of wood fired pizza and other Italian treats at Ecco da Nicolini, including the best hand-made nougat imagined.
If you are thinking of becoming a couture dressmaker la Modiste has superb fabric choices and in the final section to Darling Street, there is a number of specialist boutiques and beauty spots.
My favourite Italian off the peg is here, Francesca of South Yarra. She offers a select range of classically shaped Italian clothes with a contemporary edge, a superb selection for those who love superb innovative textiles.
Victoria Whitelaw, the area and one of Melbourne’s top florists for all the special people in your life and all your special events has moved her smaller boutique into a large one, where the flower choice truly knocks your socks off. She still continues her lovely tradition of strewing the floor with autumn leaves annually, one I hope she retains.
There is one of the most stylish hairdressers around in this section too, Shibui, which is always packed with clients a sure sign of success. Then just before you arrive at Darling Street is Fig, a small very elegant fashion boutique with superb classic style choices.
If you are coming to town for Jean Paul Gaultier – after it’s over don’t wait too long before you visit that Parisian part of South Yarra where the locals can be found out and about in droves.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014