In our 5 Shops series, we’ll point you in the direction of our favorite independent shops across some of the world’s best cities. From food markets to bookshops, vintage and homegrown design, we’ve found a diverse and exciting mix of local retailers where you can pick up one-of-a-kind pieces.
Australia’s creative heartland, Melbourne is all about idiosyncratic shops artfully stocked with progressive streetwear, prized vintage finds, acclaimed local literature and standout wines, cheeses and more. Writer, glutton and hardcore Melburnian Cristian Bonetto sheds light on five spots that encapsulate his hometown’s standout style, signature flavors and irrepressible spirit.
Best for local design: Handsom
Melburnians are Australia’s sharpest dressers, and you’ll find some of the country’s most exciting designers on Gertrude St. My favorite store on the strip is Handsom, lit by a winged, neon penny-farthing. “Our best friend designed the logo. It encapsulates both the timeless and the contemporary,” explains fashion designer Sam Rush, who founded the unisex label with partner Henry Allum.
The design is the perfect representation of Handsom’s carefully, ethically produced pieces: classic yet street-smart, functional yet playful. For me, the label encapsulates Melbourne’s knack for merging elegance, restraint and subversive edge. The knits are especially popular; my current crush is the Fuzzy Stripe Knit (A$319). It’s like one big, bright hug under brooding Melbourne skies.
Best for vintage: Vault
It’s not every day that a vintage clothing store is run by the National Trust. But Vault is no average vintage store. Suitably set in Melbourne’s historic Block Arcade, this not-for-profit funds the preservation of Victoria’s architectural, cultural and natural heritage. “All the stock is donated, and once we’ve checked whether anything can go into the Trust’s Fashion and Costume Collection, we curate the best pieces to go into the store,” says Vault’s retail coordinator Jack Fordham.
This might include a silk flapper dress from the 1920s or a Georges Rech two-piece from the 1980s. Collectors quickly snap up pieces from Melbourne’s long-gone Le Louvre, while Vault itself commissions local designers to upcycle dated or damaged stock into anything from cocktail dresses to headwear. Prices are surprisingly reasonable; some frocks go for as little as A$55, while a small selection of menswear includes ties from A$30.
Best for food: South Melbourne Market
Central Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market may be a tad more famous, but the local vibe is stronger at the South Melbourne Market, which has been satisfying appetites since 1867. For top chefs, gluttons and my discerning Italian mother, this Victorian veteran is all about superb local edibles. Treat yourself to a flawless danish (A$7) from Agathé Pâtisserie before picking up harder-to-find cheeses at K-Sein Fromagerie; the award-winning Riverine Blue “Berrys Creek” (A$24.65 for 200g) is one of few buffalo-milk blue cheeses made in the world. For niche Aussie wines and beers, talk to the affable team at Swords Select – top buys include the Moondarra Fin Pinot Noir (A$34.60) from maverick Gippsland winemaker Neil Prentice. Comestibles aside, the market is also worth a roam for its rotating mix of cool, locally designed fashion, homewares and gifts.
Best for books: Readings
Since Melbourne is a Unesco City of Literature, it’s only fair that it should claim the bookshop crowned “World’s Best” at the 2016 London Book Fair. The champion in question is Readings, an independent bookseller as utterly Melbourne as Kylie Minogue and fickle weather. Since 1969, the store has played an important role in Australia’s literary landscape, supporting homegrown writers and elevating the voices of traditionally marginalized female, First Nations and queer authors.
There are several locations across the city, though nothing beats the buzz of the main Carlton branch, a popular pit stop before or after a film at arthouse Cinema Nova or a play at La Mama. There’s a fantastic selection of Melbourne fiction and nonfiction titles from writers including Greek-Australian Christos Tsiolkas. On a recent visit, I bought Adrift in Melbourne: Seven Walks with Robyn Annear (A$27.99), an entertaining guide to accessing the city’s often-kooky backstory.
Best for souvenirs: Melbourne Visitor Hub at Town Hall
Mementos come without the kitsch at the Melbourne Visitor Hub at Town Hall. At the city’s main tourist information center, a carefully sourced range of souvenirs promotes local creatives and businesses, including special collaborations with Melbourne artists and makers. The end result? High-quality, locally made merchandise spanning everything from contemporary resin jewelry embedded with native flora to Indigenous decorative arts, rooftop honey and totes made from upcycled public-art billboards.
I’m a little obsessed with the Otto & Spike socks (A$17), featuring Melbourne’s iconic W-class trams. Prices are wallet-friendly; even those on seriously tight budgets will find cool stuff like graphic postcards of Melbourne architecture and streets by artist Lewis Brownlie. One of these features Melbourne’s magnificent, 19th-century Town Hall, home to the information center and explorable via free guided tours.