Try and get a serious fashion statement from Karen Rieschieck, owner of iconic Melbourne boutique Alice Euphemia, and she’ll playfully wave her finger and blurt out an American-accented quote from an Oprah fashion segment. “No-thing goes with paisleeey!” A pause, a shrug. “But I like paisley!”
Behind the humour, however, is a serious fashion futurist. Rieschieck possesses an acute sixth sense for spotting, connecting with and nurturing creative talent. Always a step ahead, she is followed and admired by many in the Australian (and New Zealand) fashion landscape and has always held something of a distinct edge over her competition. It is a testament to this that in July, Rieschieck will celebrate the 15th anniversary of her Melbourne boutique Alice Euphemia – no mean feat in a tumultuous fashion retail environment.
“I was 22 years of age when I started,” she reflects. “I do remember at the time being upset that I hadn’t done it by the age of 21 because I thought I'd be too old. Alice has grown up since then, and so have I."
Right from the start, Rieschieck had a firm business plan for Alice, which was to house the most innovative collections designed and manufactured in Australia and New Zealand. Such an approach had many of the larger and more mainstream retailers scratching their heads about the economics of an idea that went entirely against the fashion grain. But in a time in which pundits have proclaimed the impending death of retail over and over again, Alice has flourished and helped to contribute to Melbourne’s unique style vernacular.
Rieschieck is quick, however, to downplay her role in setting the city’s fashion agenda. “I don’t really see myself as a ‘tastemaker’,” she says. “I’m more of a facilitator – I love the meeting and connecting, getting all these great talented people together.” As a mentor and guest lecturer to RMIT fashion students, Rieschieck takes this further, sharing her retail expertise with the next generation of designers.
In this sense, Alice Euphemia is more than just a shop; it’s also a fashion beacon with a heart embedded deeply within Melbourne’s cultural psyche. Alice is an important part of a now thriving Flinders Lane community. Rieschieck reflects back on the changes since she first set up shop. “When we first opened, the area was so divey and unappealing that the rent was $90 a week in a shop twice the size,” she says. “But I’m really feeling nostalgic about Flinders Lane, seeing where it came from and it’s kind of exciting to see where it will go, hopefully keeping it fresh and independent.
“Melburnian’s have a soft spot for Flinders Lane now, but 15 years ago they hated it. There were a lot of empty stores back then. Things are different now and everyone wants a piece of the street. But places like Jungle Juice are still here and John’s still here, who runs Journal. There are still places like that and Shag; there’s still a beautiful little culture about with those great, fun stalwarts that keep the place alive.”
To celebrate Alice’s 15th birthday, Rieschieck gave the store an anniversary makeover. After spotting the work architecture studio Edwards Moore did for an Arnsdorf pop-up store – effectively transforming a bland space with stretched stockings – she knew they were right for the job. The architects, who have also designed several Aesop stores, were given almost free rein to do something special with the Cathedral Arcade store.
The old, slightly tired fit-out has been transformed, making full use of the high ceiling. The centrepiece of the store is ‘the mountain,’ a vertical staircase-like feature spanning the entire store, creating a massive display area with a ‘cave’ underneath housing clothes racks.
The renovation sparks both nostalgia and ambition in Rieschieck. “There have been no lowlights since starting Alice Euphemia,” she declares. Recalling the highlights, however, is easy. “Working with all the clever people like the Alice Euphemia alumni and designers, having the store internationally recognised for its design work and [meeting] those that really appreciate what Alice does.”
Indeed, Alice has helped launch some of the country’s biggest labels, long before anyone else was taking notice. Lover, Ellery, Josh Goot, Dress Up, TV, and most notably, Romance was Born, were all stocked by Rieschieck in their early days. She also relishes the chance to host in-store residencies with clever talent like Mauscatberlin, Herbert & Mason, Lover and local artist Nathan Grey.
“For me, it’s all been about working with really great people,” says Rieschieck. “To have one independent business working in collaboration with a lot of other independent businesses to me is bit of a positive. There’s a bit more autonomy to be able to steer my own ship in any direction.”
Shop 6, Cathedral Arcade (Corner Flinders Lane)
37 Swanston Street, Melbourne
(03) 9650 4300