Fitzroy has become a magnet for architecture and design afficiados. Literally on the doorstep of Melbourne’s central business district, this cool and slightly gritty neighbourhood, attracts everyone from students and young professionals, to empty nesters.
The strip shopping centre in Gertrude Street is now one of the most ‘hip’ places to shop, dine and be seen. With the great dome of Melbourne’s world-heritage listed Exhibition building (in Nicholson Street) making its presence felt at the start of the centre, Gertrude Street includes fashion boutiques, art galleries, café and bars. There’s also a selection of bric-a-brac stores, offering unusual furniture, art and objects for the home. And unlike many parts of the city, numerous original Victorian shop fronts remain in tact, offering insight into the past.
Gertrude Street has become a fashion destination for locals, interstate visitors, as well as those visiting from overseas. Here you’ll find fashion designers such as Alistair Trung, Sa Dot Na and Ess Laboratory, just to name a few. There’s also the Megan Park boutique, one of the latest designers to join this fashionable shopping strip. Not surprisingly, as retailers find their own niche, Gertrude Street, particularly with fashion, offers a more sophisticated aesthetic. You will regularly see well-dressed women in layers of black clothing and men in slightly deconstructed outfits (think frayed edges). Designer Bronwyn Nicholson opened her boutique at 65 Gertrude Street a few years ago. Her simple Victorian corner store, with its pristine white walls and timber floors, provides a neutral ‘canvas’ for her predominantly black sculptural clothing. “My clients understand design. They’re confident women, who know what they’re after,” says Nicholson, who occasionally uses plaids or stripes as highlights for the racks of black coats, dresses, skirts and even designer jeans.
Pickings & Parry at 126 Gertrude Street also captures the other side of Fitzroy, ‘hipsters’ looking for rugged street wear. Here, the colour palette leans more towards blue (denim) and khaki (army-inspired clothing courtesy of British-based designer Nigel Cabourn). “There’s not one particular vintage, but there are obvious references from the 1920s through to the post-war period,” says Christopher Pickings, owner of the store. In between shopping, why not stop off at Andrew Connell’s Marion Wine Bar, just up the road from Sa Dot Na. Designed by IF Architecture, this relaxed and informal venue picks up the slightly tarnished look of Fitzroy (a few imperfections in the interior rather than one that’s highly polished with brass fittings).
Nearby, at 93 George Street, is Third Drawer Down (just off Gertrude Street). Founded by Abigail Crompton, this store was inspired by Andy Warhol’s Pop Up Art store in New York, in the 1960s. However, this store is more of a hybrid between a gallery or museum and a hardware store. “It’s a humorous take on the contemporary convenience store,” says Crompton, who collaborates with local and international artists and works with some of the world’s leading galleries, including the Tate modern in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Those looking for something unique and a one off item for the home should take the time to venture into Tarlo & Graham, located at 202 Gertrude Street. Almost impossible to describe, there’s everything from taxidermy, through to furniture and objects that couldn’t be more disparate. On the day of this writer’s visit, a steel medical cabinet from the 1930s, thought to be from Germany, took my eye, perfect as an armoire for my new bathroom.
Those people looking for a slightly younger fashion look and household objects at a lower price point, tend to head to the Smith Street Bazaar, located in Smith Street. There, the emphasis is on mid-20th century. The other area to discover nearby is the southern end of Smith Street, heading towards Victoria Parade. This developing strip is often discovered by locals, surprised to see the individual boutiques and craft galleries emerging.
Given Fitzroy’s many period Victorian streetscapes, some of the neighbourhood’s finest architecture is concealed behind period, often heritage-listed facades. An award-winning warehouse fit-out, designed by architect Kerstin Thompson, for example, known as ‘The Drum’, is concealed behind high red brick walls. Other architectural gems, such as Kennedy Nolan Architects office, located at 61 Victoria Street towards the Brunswick Street end), stands apart from its Victorian neighbours. Designed by architects Paul Couch and Dennis Carter in the 1980s, this brutalist pile has found favour with a new design audience, decades later. Inarc Architects recently completed townhouses at
67-69 Gore Street, also evoke a slightly brutalist sensibility. But rather than concrete, the dominant material used for the façade is bluestone. Spread over several levels, these two townhouses respect the neighbouring Victorian terraces homes, while still embracing the 21st century.
Those traveling from interstate or from overseas to discover all that Fitzroy has to offer might try staying at the Brooklyn Arts Hotel, located in George Street. More like staying in someone’s home rather than just a generic hotel, it’s ideal for those looking for a comfortable stay without all the latest trappings a large hotel generally offers. And if you are thinking of heading north, jump on the number 86 tram in Brunswick Street and head towards the Edinburgh Gardens. The streets fronting this parkland are another reminder of the great Victorian architecture in Melbourne. Start with Alfred Crescent before exploring the many leafy streets leading to the Gardens. If you are walking in the Edinburg Gardens, you can’t help but notice the striking new award-winning house, designed by Baracco & Wright Architects, recipient of the prestigious Harold Desbrowe Award from the Australian Institute of Architects (Victorian Chapter) in 2017. Appearing as a pavilion in the park from the distance, this curvaceous brown brick home appears as a sculptural object.
Fitzroy started its gentrification process in the early 1970s, as those with foresight rescued these fine Victorian terraces from demolition. Thanks to their efforts, and those who have more recently moved in, Fitzroy has become one of Melbourne’s most desirable suburbs, even if there is still a little bit of grit and attitude!