It’s on a tiny television screen in the back of a New York City cab that I first get a glimpse inside our very own Dinosaur Designs store in the U.S. It’s being touted as one of the must-visit shopping destinations in the city and I can’t help but feel a serious twinge of national pride. On arriving downtown, I promptly drop by the store, only to discover it is located right around the corner from a slew of other Aussie gems. Aesop, Mud, B Space, Zimmermann and Ruby’s Cafe are all New York neighbours, so to speak, gravitating on and around iconic Mulberry Street in the SoHo/NoLIta area.
Once a locale reserved for cheap, checked tablecloths and delicious bowls of spag bol, Mulberry and its surrounding streets now operate as the epicentre of downtown cool in NYC. “There’s a great vibe,” says Louise Olsen of Dinosaur Designs. “We decided to establish ourselves in NoLIta because we loved the boutique feel and intimate shopping experience it provided. The mixture of cafes and stores make it a fantastic shopping district,” she says.
“The location is perfect,” adds Peter Maiden of newly launched concept store, B Space. A multipurpose retailer exclusively housing Australian products, B Space is the newest Aussie expat in town and sits right alongside the ever-iconic Ruby’s. “Ruby’s café (owned by Nick Mathers and Lincoln Pilcher) has been a home away from home for Aussies for more than 10 years,” says Maiden. “Moving next door just made sense – to plug into Mulberry Street’s pre-existing Australian reputation.”
Whether we have the strength of the Australian dollar or favourable visas to thank, there’s no mistaking the Big Apple’s magnetic pull for the us island-dwellers. “New York has its own style and quality, be it in the fashion, music or design world,” offers Olsen. “It has this enormous energy that gets under your skin and you bond with,” she says.
And James Kirton of Mud Australia tends to agree. Although Mud’s SoHo store has only been open a few months, they have already found the neighbourhood to be extremely welcoming and generous. “Like just about everyone else, we heart NY,” Kirton says. “The overall amenity and energy of the place is definitely contagious.”
So what is it about the sleepless city that attracts Australians so much? “Americans really seem to identify with the Australian culture and lifestyle,” Maiden says. “So I think there is a real opportunity to expose and sell Australian brands, artists, musicians and professionals to the American audience. There are endless opportunities, excitement, fun (and hangovers) to be had; it is intense and addictive.”
As Olsen points out, New York also represents something of a threshold to the rest of the world. “The New York experience has definitely been an energising one,” she says of Dinosaur Designs’ time in the states. “Operating a store there keeps us on our toes, because it is a very fast moving city; very different to the more relaxed Australian culture. It has really opened Dinosaur Designs up to the world.”
But a great sense of community also lies beneath the surface. “I feel we are all constantly looking out for each other and trying to support one other wherever possible,” Maiden says. “The Aussie family tree in the US is a big one! And hopefully we can continue to tell lots of their stories on our media platform, Billabout.” For B Space, the objective has always been to provide a window into the Australian lifestyle. “We try to create an authentic Australian experience, and showcase some iconic and up-and-coming brands,” he explains. Hosting gigs with the likes of Bertie Blackman, or exhibitions by homegrown artists such as Anthony Lister, locations like B Space ultimately contribute to the growing Australian culture blossoming in downtown NYC.
Rest assured, as you wander down Mulberry Street or any one of its fellow friends, you certainly won’t be at a loss for a dose of your homeland. Chances are you’ll attend one of Ronnie Flynn’s infamous parties, or drink at a local watering hole owned by a fellow kinsmen, pick up a bundle of treasures crafted in back home, or bump into someone you knew from high school. It’s that very spirit of camaraderie that makes all things ‘down-under’ so popular with the downtown set right now. One thing is for sure, when Aussie spirit meets New York energy, it makes for one hell of a ride.