What is Melbourne’s identity? What is its style? When flicking through a magazine or watching a film – or, better yet, travelling – Parisian, Belgian, English and New York style is quite discernable despite the multinationals trying their darnedest to create a homogenised, generic global look, whether they know it or not. But how does Melbourne fare?
I know I have been spotted before. A perfect stranger in Sydney told me I must be from Melbourne. I didn’t know what to think. He went on to say that he liked it and wished Sydney had a bit more of it. Lovely words and nice for the ego, but what did he mean? What did he want more of?
All cities have their fair share of the well dressed and not so well dressed, but Melbourne and Melburnians enjoy a reputation as a bit of a stylish city. It’s justified too. Melbourne’s history as a rag-trading town is illustrious and it could be argued that our mainstream retailers have contributed more to the Australian landscape than most. Think about Saba, Calibre, Scanlan and Theodore, Bettina Liano, Arthur Galan, Roy, Country Road and Jag. Saba can also claim the next generation having nurtured the talents of Michael Angel and Yeojin Bae.
We must be doing something right if these businesses are the commercial standard that the industry measures itself by.
You could argue that Melbourne is afforded the luxury of seasons. A heavy knit and trench coat would rarely be seen on the backs of a Sydneysider, let alone anyone from further north. That’s not to say that those from the warmer states lack style, but Melburnians may have a greater dependence on a wider variety of clothes and thus a greater interest in what they will put on their back.
Then there is Black. Unduly dubbed the Melbourne uniform, I think, but at the same time I understand where it might come from. Despite our hot summers, Melbourne is familiar as a winter town – the dark streets and laneways, and the grey European buildings give our town a sombre note and (for those inclined to do so) a chance for reflection, for introspection and time to think.
But Melbourne, rightfully or wrongly, is often known as Australia’s number two city. As if to make up for this it definitely has a tendency to bat above its average. The sheer amount of events, restaurants and retail that the city embraces is remarkable, but does give it something of a schizophrenic personality. The city longs to be considered one of the big boys but, perhaps ironically, it’s when Melburnians are thoughtful and aloof that we’re at our best – and local designers do their best to reflect this in their own vision of home.
Designers like TV, Toni Maticevski and Arnsdorf are showing the world that we can still get attention, we just don’t need to shout about it; it can get done without alienating their creativity or misunderstanding their commercial reality. At the same time, and as Melburnians, they subtly and subversively tell our story. So as of next week if you find yourself in town, make sure that it’s at one of the shows or events planned as part of the 14th L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival.
Melbourne is at its absolute best when its surface is scratched. That’s when it reveals itself as proud and self-aware, when all things come together and our own little town rises to the top. If others wear their heart on their sleeve, we play it a little closer to the chest and ask the visitor to take a closer look.
Seek and you shall find.