The talk is of intangibles, the value that is placed on something that can’t be measured. Jacqueline Fishman knows it when she sees it – it’s a switch, a click, a planet alignment, something right. But in the rah-rah, air kissing, clichéd world of fashion, that click is everything, the timing maybe more so. And that’s what Fishman prides herself on.
“I don’t really know what I’m buying [on a trip] ‘til I walk in the door, but I know I can pull a range in the showroom and can have every shoe and bag I need in 30 minutes.”
The store is a who’s who of current fashion darlings. Some are here because you’d be crazy not to stock them (like Hedi Slimane’s recent work for Saint Laurent and Phoebe Philo’s Celine coolness), but others (like Giuseppi Zanotti and Sergio Rossi) are relationships that have been built on confidence, success and loyalty for years.
We sit in the Westin lobby, feeling like well-heeled tourists in our hometown. Having relaxed into the interview, Jacqueline calms and sips her tea. She’s been in bad shape, having twisted and contorted herself in a boxing class and she walks slowly but is now ready to talk.
“I started pretty much when I was 18,” she says, though she remembers being around earlier. “That was my first trip.”
In 1964, Morry Fishman and his wife Louise bought a shoe store on Howey Place in Melbourne and started selling shoes. They were locally made shoes, crafted by a bustling local manufacturing industry, and for the next few years Miss Louise sold shoes this way. A decent business, except everyone was selling the same, locally made shoes. So in 1971 or thereabouts, the Fishmans embarked on their first trip. Louise is no longer involved with the company, but a good name is a good name, so it stayed as it was.
Morry Fishman walks into the lobby and takes a seat, picking up our conversation. “We had a friend in Rome at Enzo of Roma boutique, Charles Bronson and Sophia Loren and Raquel Welch would go there,” but digresses: “and [from the store] we took a walk around the corner from the Via Veneto to a stockroom with thousands of shoes.
“I bought the lot,” Morry says without batting an eyelid, “for the new store in the Southern Cross [Hotel]. [When we got back] people were queuing.”
And this became the formula for Miss Louise: two trips every year to Europe. Jacqueline now takes a trip every quarter, but they are still located in a hotel. The Southern Cross is long gone but the Westin is a worthy heir.
There are some unique charms to the Miss Louise retail experience. For one, as Jacqueline testifies, her father Morry – well dressed today in a pinstriped suit and scarf – sitting in his chair in the back corner of the shop, surveying his land like a well-shod Mufasa. Despite having stepped aside to let Jacqueline run the day-to-day, old habits die hard and every day he’s here making sure the pride is working together. He can still pick the hits, getting up to show me a short boot from Giuseppe Zanotti and a piece from the polarising return of Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent. “This one,” Morry says as if to imply that it will be the hit.
Back in the 70s, unless you were a traveller, these great Italian shoemakers simply didn’t have the exposure they do today, so the foundations for the future were laid then in a largely parochial Australian market. But nearly four decades on, this consistency is a calming and reassuring influence, especially in the context of a swarm of fly-by-nights and internet ‘experts’.
On a recent trip to Italy, the buzz about Gianvito Rossi, son of Italian master Sergio, was palpable. Like Giuseppe Zanotti, a long-term company favourite, being in the right place at the right time is crucial. “We have been stocking Giuseppe Zanotti since his beginning and now we’re the exclusive stockist for Gianvito,” Jacqueline offers excitedly. Timing is everything; luck plays its part and knowing when to strike imperative. These are the intangibles – you pick them up and eventually you get it.
So with the store’s 50th anniversary looming, Miss Louise could be considered a Melbourne institution. Jacqueline quietly boasts that she still helps some of the same clients that her parents once did at the original Howey Place site.
There’s an acknowledgement of the online world, but it finishes in customary Miss Louise gusto: “You don’t get the full experience online,” says Jacqueline. “I think if you want to have a shopping experience, you need to come to the city.” Perhaps a little old school, but retail is an experience and Jacqueline stands by what her store provides.
With that, we return to the marble and mirrored lined store. There isn’t a surface that is without a shoe, bag, scarf or belt, except for the silver, 10-foot long Chesterfield-like bench that runs the centre of the store. A quick scout, a shake of Mr Fishman’s hand and the heady world of international designer footwear is gone but not forgotten.
The Westin Hotel
205 Collins Street, Melbourne
(03) 9654 7730
Mon to Thurs 9am–5.30pm
Sun Closed/By Appointment Only