“Opening a bricks-and-mortar store in Melbourne right now feels like a rebellion,” designer and musician Anna Cordell says of the Northcote boutique she opened in December. She says it felt like an act of defiance against lockdowns and the impact technology has had on human interaction these past couple years.
“My business was so tied to the internet during lockdowns, I desperately wanted to bring my designs to a space in the real world. I want my customers to have a human experience, and after we’ve all been artificially separated for so long, it’s giving me endless energy to make this a really special space.”
The vintage-inspired clothing boutique is on High Street near the Wesley Anne, where Cordell played her first shows as a musician. “[The space] called to me because it’s right next door to the first place I played a full-band show,” she says. “As soon as I saw it was for lease I just jumped in.”
Inside, you’ll find racks filled with ready-to-wear and one-off pieces, all informed by the music of the ’70s, as well as Cordell’s background as a vintage buyer and retailer (which included creating vintage collections for companies such as General Pants and Sportsgirl).
Think suits and waistcoats channelling Mick Jagger and John Lennon, jumpsuits worthy of David Bowie, and flowing sheer blouses and velvet dresses perfect for Stevie Nicks. There’s a wide-legged silk suit with a pleated top for extra drape; a stretch-velvet jacket and pants in deep burgundy, green and navy with a soft belt; very cute high-waisted shorts with matching vest and wide-lapelled jacket in pastel corduroy; and a simple T-shirt available in linen or velvet.
These are outfits made for making entrances; they’re confident and beautifully put together. Which is exactly why they’ve found favour with modern-day musos including Courtney Barnett, Ella Hooper, Sharon Van Etten, Tim Rogers and Missy Higgins (who wore Cordell's pieces for her entire recent tour). “I love the way musicians dress, because there is so often a confidence and freedom, and also a playfulness, that I would love to encourage more people to embrace,” she says.
Cordell doesn’t adhere to seasons, and makes all her garments from locally sourced fabric, or vintage materials for one-off pieces. All production happens in her home town. “I’m determined to keep the creative spirit of Melbourne alive,” says Cordell.
Her own creative journey was more by accident than design. “I didn’t study fashion: I fell into making and selling things at the Camberwell markets after I had my first daughter at 22, so I learned completely on the job,” she says. “I began altering vintage clothing, and it slowly led to creating pieces from scratch.”
She didn’t launch her own label until 2017, after raising five children. It was demand for Cordell’s made-to-order suiting that gave her the confidence to open a boutique. “Custom suiting is still available by appointment, but as things are growing it’s allowing me to make small runs of ready-to-wear,” she says. “I love slow fashion, but sometimes it’s a long wait for my customers so it’s nice to think they can come to try things on and walk away with them on the day.”
The shop will also allow Cordell to spend time on her other love: music. She always thought she was going to be a musician but dropped out of music school when she fell pregnant with her first daughter at 21. “At the time I somehow believed that meant music was over for me,” she says.
But in 2020 she released her first full-length album Nobody Knows Us, and she wants to host regular shows in the Northcote space. “I’m planning to keep them 100 per cent acoustic, as the tall ceilings in the shop make for really good natural acoustics,” she says. “There’s also a little platform in the shop window that will double perfectly as a little stage that can fit up to three people.”
Having begun as a musician before pursuing a career in vintage clothing, things have now come full circle for Cordell, who says fashion and music are today equal expressions of her creativity. “I’m working on some new material now with a little more of a psychedelic rock bent, and my music and clothing seem to be evolving in a similar direction. One informs the other, which is pretty fun.”
246 High Street, Northcote