As a style capital, Sydney has long been lacking. But since the Summer Olympic Games were held here in 2000, the city has begun to move past its staid Britishcentric colonial past, and today a newly confident fashion and design culture is establishing itself here, especially when it comes to womenswear. “The next generation of Sydneysiders has found its feet and realized that we have all the talent we need at home—we don’t have to slavishly look overseas anymore,” says Libby Lombardo, one of the city’s newest fashion entrepreneurs. Her label, Teesub.com, which launched this year, focuses on the designs of emerging Aussie graphic artists. “Don’t forget, we are the descendants of convicts: It’s in our nature to rebel,” Lombardo continues. “The more we find our own voice— and spend accordingly—the more new talent steps forward.”
“Sydney is an undiscovered shopping jewel, unique and fresh,” agrees Alison Chow, a native of the city who owns Coco Ribbon, the Notting Hill boutique that has championed Aussie chic in London circles for the past couple of years. “Local designers have used the country’s independent nature and free spirit to create an unabashed style. Today our brands rival any from Europe.”
Those familiar international upscale labels have arrived, of course, but it’s the particular finds within the city’s Victorian arcades, high streets, and beach alleys that make shopping here unique. Today the scene revolves around a constellation of jewel-box boutiques that showcase a single designer’s vision or a local fashion guru’s ability to perfectly curate selections of Australia’s top designers.
These stores provide the best way to browse and buy what defines Sydney fashion now. Local designer Michael Lo Sordo sees the languor of the lifestyle—the city has 37 beaches and long, long summers—as the key to the aesthetic here. “Classic Sydney style remains casual and sexy, no matter how high-end it gets,” he says. “And Sydneysiders like to bare a lot of skin.” Designers respond with cuts that accentuate a good tan—and a good body—along with a bold palette that pops in the southern light. But there’s always a lightness of touch, too, no matter how flashy the fashion.
The majority of the biggest homegrown names are a 20-minute walk south of the city’s business hub in Paddington, the most distinctive neighborhood in Sydney. Called Paddo by locals, it has village charm but enough urban color to keep a stroll interesting. Rows of 19th-century homes with elaborate wrought-iron balconies double as stores where shoppers find rare books, retro lingerie, unusual accessories, and Australia’s top fashion labels, as well as hole-in-the-wall courtyard cafés, pubs, and art-house cinemas.
The newest notable name to arrive in Paddo is Willow (3A Glenmore Rd., Paddington; 61-2/9358-4477; willowltd.com), the first stand-alone boutique for Kit Willow Podgornik’s five-year-old brand. Fans of her lace-up boots, signature corsetry, and silk dresses can mainline the total experience here. “It’s liberating to finally have a place that captures the essence of what I do,” says the designer, who is now able to show her entire collection in one place. The shop doubles as an art gallery, displaying the work of innovative artists like Sydney photographer Elli Ioannou, who shoots backstage at the designer’s shows. Podgornik calls the displays transient wallpaper.
The silver sparkle-dusted cocktail minis and swimwear at Collette Dinnigan (121–129 William St., Shop 33; 61-2/9360-6691; colettedinnigan.com.au), meanwhile, have been local icons since at least 1995, when the epony-mous designer became the first Australian-based couturiere to bring a collection to Paris’s ready-to-wear shows. But with international fashion’s current swing toward florals and lingerie-inspired pieces, Dinnigan is having a bit of a second coming, decorating her pastel designs with sequins and beading and emphasizing the soft and sensuous. “It’s the destination for a special-occasion dress,” says Alexandra Spring of Vogue Australia. “I love the romantic touches.”
The other now-classic women’s label in the country, Scanlan & Theodore (122 Oxford St.; 61-2/9380-9388), has a less feminine, more tailored look. “The designers are utter originals,” says Random House editor Alison Urquhart. “The clothes here are somehow timeless and edgy at the same time and still look fashion-forward five seasons later.” Although established more than 20 years ago, the brand remains innovative and focused on functionalism, creating asymmetrical separates and crisp khaki coats with tailored details like cutaway keyhole necklines. Scanlan & Theodore is especially good when working with intricately tiered chiffon and unusual fabrics like mesh.
Sass & Bide (132 Oxford St., Paddington; 61-2/9360-3900; sassandbide.com), the denim label designed by Sarah-Jane Clarke and Heidi Middleton, arrived in the late nineties, when the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker and Elle Macpherson began wearing their superlow-rise, body-hugging jeans. Today the pants are stocked at Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, but the label has maintained the charm of its origins (in the stalls of London’s Portobello Market), with signature detailing like frayed cuffs, dark washes, a mishmash of fabrics, and the original stovepipe silhouette. This season Sydney’s fashion devotees are coming into the flagship here for the ruched satiny leggings called black rats, and next season Sass & Bide will debut a collection that features hand-sequined knits and embellished muslin.
For shoes, it’s the stilettos in red satin or gold leather, with exotic touches like feathers and fish skin, from Terry Biviano (The Strand, 412–414 George St., Shop 122, Level 2; 61-2/9221-3456). Regarded as the Christian Louboutin of Sydney, Biviano launched the footwear line at Australia’s fashion week in 2002. The store’s location in the Strand, a beautiful 19th-century glassed-in shopping arcade, cultivates a certain Cinderella-preparing-for-the-ball feel. (Footnote: A pair of Bivianos was one of the prizes at this year’s Sydney Smooth Stiletto Sprint, an 80-meter race in which the female contestants eschew Nikes for high heels.)
Fine-jewelry designer Stefano Canturi (80 Castlereagh St.; 61-2/9231-1799; canturi.com) became a notable name as the creator of Nicole Kidman’s opulent diamond necklace in Moulin Rouge, so elaborately fitted to her neck that it practically costarred. (He’s doing her film Australia, out this month, too.) Canturi’s original baubles put a modern spin on the glamour of thirties cinema—the black lacquer walls of his Sydney store are even beveled like Art Deco jewels— but Canturi’s true trademark is the intricate engineering that allows his jewelry to move on the body like liquid mercury. This is especially notable in the pendant from his geometric Mosaic collection, assembled from 18 tiny pieces of gold.
Some shoppers prefer to let a professional do the editing for them. The people behind these stores have used their sharp design eyes to create boutiques filled with the city’s best fashion offerings, from both established and up-and-coming designers.
Each season former model Belinda Seper picks her favorite looks from the Australian labels that receive her benediction (Michelle Jank and Gail Sorronda, among them), plus international ones like Marni, Stella McCartney, Miu Miu, and Marc Jacobs as well as more niche collections such as 18th Amendment. The pieces all come together in Seper’s two stores: the ultrasophisticated Belinda (19–20 Martin Pl.; 61-2/9233-0781; belinda.com.au), which has helped boost the luxury market here since the early nineties, and the funkier and younger-skewing Corner Shop (43 William St.; 61-2/9380-9828; belinda.com.au), which opened in 2002. The latter showcases Seper’s favorites from Australia’s fashion week, which this season include laser-cut leather and sharp tailoring from Dion Lee and floral and pinafore dresses from Antipodium. “You can’t beat Belinda’s eye,” says Caroline Paidasch, editor of the Australian magazine Fashion Industry Broadcast. “She has a genius for alternative brands from God-knows-where and such a knack for interiors that just walking into her boutiques is a divine experience.”
And finally, for labels so new they haven’t yet caught even Seper’s eye, there is the Graduate Store (412–414 George St.; 61-2/9232-4199), opened only last year. Backed by the Sydney Institute fashion school and the Strand Arcade, which started fostering young talent by sponsoring runway shows, the shop focuses on hard-to-find emerging designers. The boutique’s current crop includes Melissa Polynkova, who prints and dyes her silks and knits by hand, and Michael Lo Sordo, who does blindingly white bell-shaped skirts, dresses in bold geometric shapes, and out-there silhouettes, like a tapered jacket with an 18th-century puff sleeve. More than any other shop in Sydney, the Graduate Store stays current, frequently “graduating” some of its designers to make room for new ones.
The Best of Bondi Beach
Fashion and decor boutiques are popping up like mushrooms after a rain on this beach of beaches. They join the old swimwear shacks and vintage clothing stores on Hall, Gould, Lamrock, and Glenayr streets, all within a few minutes’ walk of the main drag, Campbell Parade.
There is always huge buzz around surfer jeans label Ksubi and its Bondi store, City of the Dead (82 Gould St., Bondi Beach; 61-2/9300-8233; ksubi.com). Known for its outlandish fashion shows (it once sent rats down the catwalk and threw girls off a boat for its Models Overboard collection), Ksubi makes clothes with the same vagabond spirit. Its specialty is cutoff, frayed denim, but it has branched out into leather A-line mini Barbarella dresses, bubble tops, and organic T-shirts. Bondi boys love the crew fleeces and pre-aged fitted tees.
The area can be high-end, too, though: There are yacht-friendly, floaty couture caftans in coral or a jungle print at Camilla Beach House (132A Warners Ave., Bondi Beach; 61-2/9130-1430; camilla.com.au), where the aesthetic cribs heavily from Liz Taylor’s fifties Capri look. Camilla Franks, an actor turned designer, just opened this Bondi flagship and will begin selling at international spots, including the Maldives, in 2009. The ultimate Sydney high-low experience would be donning one of her bejeweled caftans while watching surfers ride the breaks and picnicking on crunchy fish and hand-cut chips from Fishmongers (42 Hall St.; 61-2/9365-2205) on Hall Street.
The brunch crowd lazes away its weekends at Hall Street’s indoor-outdoor restaurants. Young designers, artists, photographers, and girls taking breaks from the beach spill out of the café Le Paris-Go (38 Hall St.; 61-2/9130-6753) or perch for hours with a book on the velvet couches at bookstore-cum-café Gertrude & Alice (46 Hall St.; 61-2/9130-5155; gertrudeandalice.com.au). At sunset everyone dresses up for Icebergs (1 Notts Ave; 61-2/9365-9000; idrb.com)—the best fine-dining spot at the beach, even after six years, this modernist glass cube on the southern cliffs provides views of the entire shore and a rock-carved pool, where the water rhythmically crashes over swimmers.
The best way to see the beach, however, is on the walk from Bondi to Bronte, which curves into emerald coves and snakes south along miles of coastline scattered with dramatic boulders. The path goes past all the neighboring beaches, each with its own surf club and “lifesavers,” volunteers trained to rescue swimmers in distress.
Travelers to Sydney still love the harborside Park Hyatt’s service and stellar views of the iconic Opera House (From $550 to $6,000. 7 Hickson Rd., The Rocks; 61-2/9241-1234; sydney.park.hyatt.com). But right now media types, creatives, and retro-design fans have made the year-old, 70-room Storrier (From $120 to $200. 15 Springfield Ave.; 61-2/8988-6999; thestorrier.com.au) hotel their new favorite. A converted twenties Art Deco apartment block in the heart of Potts Point, a 15-minute stroll to the city’s Botanical Gardens, the hotel has plenty of charm, which designer David Hicks has played up with lush midnight-black carpets, striped accents, and nooks with daybeds in all the public areas. Each of the suites here feels like a Deco dandy’s smartly appointed apartment, and the gourmet restaurant Red Belly, featuring a modern Australian approach to rich Asian fusion cuisine, has just opened on the ground floor (The Storrier, 15 Springfield Ave.; 61-2/8988-6999; thestorrier.com.au).
As the Southern Hemisphere’s land of milk and honey, Australia has superb local seafood and beef, plentiful produce, and a sophistication that’s created a culinary new wave. These three restaurants are some of the most on-trend in an ever-trend-conscious city.
In the harborside suburb of Potts Point, Ego overlooks the city lights. As dark and black as the kitchen’s signature squid-ink risotto (sprinkled with 23-karat gold dust), the interior hints at the gourmet-style seduction that has become the refined Italian restaurant’s specialty. Meals unfurl slowly and carefully, with waiters bringing flashlights so diners can peruse menus. The rare farmed Iranian caviar is a Sydney exclusive, and freshly shucked Pacific and Sydney rock oysters sit on pebbly salt mounds from around the world. A decadent (and curious) crowd packs the place nightly. 155 Victoria St.; 61-2/9332-1555.
Darrell Felstead, who made his name at the 3 Weeds Hotel and is now one of the city’s top chefs, creates cleverly complex, robust food at this modern European spot in the Surry Hills neighborhood. Standouts include an impossibly tender coffee-braised beef brisket that slow-cooks for six hours, and seared kangaroo loin with hibiscus gel. The subtle but improbable contrasts here enter into the realm of the culinary unknown—the hallmark of exciting cuisine. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide named it the best new restaurant of 2008. 65–67 Foveaux St.; 61-2/9211-0664.
The city’s latest mecca for beef has got to be the world’s least butch steakhouse. Citrus colors, white leather booths, and massive floral lampshades are in keeping with the retro whimsy of the Ivy, the bar-and-restaurant complex in which this spot is located. Decor aside, it’s the wagyu beef from southern Queensland (animals are handpicked and grainfed for 500 days) that has the starring role. For dessert have the pavlova, a fifties-style confection of meringue, cream, strawberries, and passion fruit. The Ivy’s beautiful-people social scene builds from quiet Mondays to full-tilt party by Thursdays. The Ivy, Level 1, 330 George St.; 61-2/9240-3000.