Design from down under

When most people think of Sydney, they think of the famous Harbour Bridge and Jørn Utzon's spectacular opera house, both presiding over one of the world's prettiest harbors. But the city is much more than a collection of landmarks. It is, in fact, a collection of vibrant neighborhoods: The Victorian-era Paddington is all charm and bustle, with tiny shops tucked between lively cafés. King Street Wharf unites some of the best global food, from Thai cooking to modern Oz cuisine. And in Double Bay, the beautiful set strolls the tree-lined streets, bobbing from one high-end boutique to another. This swirl of people and their pleasures is very much a force in Sydney's shopping scene, as a daring bunch of store owners have brought together outstanding design and craftsmanship from Sydney and beyond. Having an openness to the world and the confidence to appreciate it is a particularly Australian outlook—and the shops we've found serve it up with style.

Sydney's fashionistas make seasonal pilgrimages to this emporium in the heart of chic Double Bay. Twice a year, owner Rose Ghosn Saleh returns from Europe with a trunkful of handpicked pairs from designers such as Sergio Rossi, Missoni, Yves Saint Laurent, Rene Caovilla, Sonia Rykiel, Giuseppe Zanotti, and Dolce & Gabbana. Every style is here (and costs between $350 and $2,700), from delicate jewel-encrusted sandals to several racks full of leather and suede boots. Saleh also carries a few bags—nothing basic, of course: Look for embroidered and beaded Roberto Cavalli clutches starting at $2,100 and a mink bag by Dolce & Gabbana for $7,000. At 2-22 Knox St., shop 19; 61-2/9362-0576.

Former model Belinda Seper's stores—there are seven in Sydney—are the first stops for fashion insiders looking for the ideal mix of women's clothing by international designers and homegrown talent. The best shop, in Double Bay, carries Marni tops (from $200) and bags ($1,100), along with slinky Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses ($560) and designs by the Australian duo Easton Pearson (dresses are $735). Just down the street is the Belinda shoe store, lined with shelves of Marc Jacobs heels and flats (from $275) and bright Sigerson Morrison sandals ($200). Seper also recently opened a men's shop, a few doors away from her Paddington outpost on William Street. At 8 Transvaal Ave., Double Bay; 61-2/9328-6288 and 39 William St., Paddington; 61-2/9380-8728;

The name says it all. There's nothing here but some of the rarest, weirdest, and most fabulous buttons from the world over—England, Germany, France, the Czech Republic, China. Walking into the shop, which is tucked away down a historic walkway in The Rocks, is like stepping into a rainbow: All the buttons, whether antique or new, are color coded. The lowliest start at 35 cents; grander sets, like a box of six sterling-silver Liberty buttons from 1906, can reach $835. Bright red plastic flowers, perfect for a girl's dress, are $7 each. A Swarovski crystal flower is $8. And thirties Art Deco Bakelite buttons inlaid with mother-of-pearl range from $20 to $30 apiece. At 25 Nurses Walk; 61-2/9252-0833.

Somewhere between boutique, home store, and gallery, this colorful shop brings together a far-reaching and whimsical assortment of all things South Pacific. Owner Mandy Urquhart's vision is so complete, you'll find not only shell picture frames ($45-$83) and Polynesian floral swimwear, like men's board shorts ($45-$70) and bikinis for women ($60-$76), but also books such as A History of Surf Culture ($25), beachy music CDs, even bottles of Fiji water. We particularly fell in love with the bright Tivaevae bed coverings from Tahiti ($270-$520) and the bamboo and cane lamps ($140-$550). The best item in the store? An incredible rattan golf bag ($450) which, like My Island Home itself, is one of a kind. At 5 Transvaal Ave., Double Bay; 61-2/9362-8760;

This jewel box of a shop, deep in the heart of Sydney's tourist district, carries a well-chosen collection of vintage clothing from Australia and spots around the globe, much of it bought from private collectors. Look for midcentury coats in colors from snow-white to caramel and immaculate gowns—for one, a fifties pale pink number in gathered chiffon ($210). We especially loved Rokit's accessories: fur stoles ($70-$140), crocodile-skin handbags, tortoiseshell combs, and sparkling heirloom jewels, such as delicate paste necklaces and Art Deco jet bangles ($85). A few pieces may be a bit too quirky for many—bejeweled shoes and ostrich-feather fans, for example—but the fantastic array of cocktail dresses ($140), the store's most popular items, looks perfectly fresh among the current season's ladylike styles. "Even if they don't wear vintage all the time," says Pia Anderson, the store manager, "women want something beautiful and unique to wear on a special occasion—something individual. Vintage delivers that." In the Metcalfe Arcade, 80-84 George St., The Rocks; 61-2/9247-1332.

The genius of a great shop is its capacity to inspire—and the Country Trader offers inspiration in every corner. Owner Geoff Clark has assembled a gallery of stunning antique and modern pieces, all presented with an eye for form, function, detail, and theater. A collection of concrete pots that were used in the making of cobalt, their interiors a rich blue, is arranged in an artistic jumble (so that you can't imagine buying just one, no doubt). A thirties French mirrored bureau ($3,400) is presented with a bunch of flowers, ingeniously reflected. And a glamorous forties chandelier in Louis XV style ($6,600) hangs beside an 18th-century Italian gilded-wood chandelier ($2,700), one light, the other heavy in proportion. The rooms feel endless, each revealing more treasures, from fifties Italian outdoor chairs ($590 each) to floral china dining sets (sadly, sold the day we visited), with every item described in full detail on typed cards. At 32,000 square feet full of antiques, the store, Clark says, reflects "years of contacts and lots of kilometers. We buy on design, texture, quality, and most of all, rarity." And he means it: His oldest item is a Roman marble torso from the first century b.c., priced at $40,000. At 197 Young St., Waterloo; 61-2/9698-4661;

Chris Degotardi, a former fashion buyer in Antwerp, Belgium, opened this maternity clothing shop nine years ago to solve a problem common among pregnant women: She couldn't find anything stylish to wear. Eschewing the frills and bows so inescapable at the time, she opened her doors with only 50 pieces of her own design—and she hasn't looked back. Every season, Sydney women have been flocking to the cozy shop on a back street of the trendy Paddington district. And now the store has expanded to offer baby and kids' clothes by designers worldwide. A Max & Lola girl's skirt is about $190, Frieda Degeyter's bright fifties-style printed cotton dresses are $170, and an appliquéd dress in fuchsia and khaki by Anne Kurris is $290. There are also cotton shirts and jumpers by Petit Bateau and the New Zealand label Hum, as well as kids' jeans by Diesel (from $100). Some of our favorite offerings are the adorable little Bensimon canvas tennis shoes from the fifties in pastel colors (from $40). At 76A Paddington; 61-2/9362-0085 and in Chifley Plaza, 2 Chifley Square, shop 9; 61-2/9230-0771.

This superb food market opened only recently, but it quickly became one of Sydney foodies' favorite spots. This is no surprise considering that owner Barry McDonald, a veteran of the city's restaurant business, has been supplying chefs with produce for years. In fact, he's so ahead of his time, he has already established a successful online grocery. His new market specializes in fruits and vegetables (we especially loved the hefty oxheart tomatoes), as well as an impressive variety of imported Italian food: Look for all manner of artisanal cheese, pasta, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and biscotti. Upstairs, the café Sopra serves excellent seasonal dishes. At 7 Danks St., Waterloo; 61-1300/552-119 or 61-2/9699-3174.