For siblings Alex and Georgie Cleary, working together was always written in the stars. The entrepreneurial duo started their first business before they even hit their teens, selling cut flowers on the side of the road, and have since made and sold everything from tea towels to skateboards. This has culminated in Alpha60, an independent boutique and fashion label that, since launching in 2005, has mushroomed into 10 locations across Australia and New Zealand, including their newly opened boutique in Newtown – a few blocks from their Sydney outlet store.
“One night Georgie put a print on a shirt and a couple of friends wanted one, and one turned into three, which turned into 50 and we kept rolling. In a way it was nice because it was so organic, and there was no pressure and we just did what we wanted,” Alex tells Broadsheet.
The spacious new 200-square-metre store in a heritage-listed old post office on King Street feels more gallery than boutique. There are giant iridescent mushroom sculptures (repurposed Christmas decorations made in the same foundry as Jeff Koons’s sculptures) and skewered chequered rugs that look part psychedelic dream. Woven tapestries featuring grotesque depictions of humanoid part babies, part apes by acclaimed Australian artist Patricia Piccinini are used as changing-room curtains and sofa cushions, and are available to buy as a series of limited-edition blankets.
“I love the contrast of the heavy, homey feel of the blankets but with the uncomfortable images. A lot of people get really weirded out by Piccinini’s work, which I really like. Her art draws out emotion in people,” says Alex. “Shopping should be an experience not just a transaction. If you simply just want to buy something you can do that online, but it’s the retail experience that is important to us.”
It’s no surprise this combination of retail and art has seen Alpha60 designs added to the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), as part of the 200 Years of Australian Fashion Exhibition, and has led the Clearys to working with institutions such as NGV and MPavilion, and to curating garments for the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).
The considered approach to the retail experience extends to the collection of women’s clothing and accessories. Nothing is trend-led but rather combines functionality and tailoring, using natural fibres – silk, linen, cotton – when possible, with everything, including most fabrics and digital prints, custom-made and designed in-house at their Collingwood studio. Manufacturing takes place in China, in a family-run factory, with a closed-loop process and limited units.
From their first shop in Fitzroy 15 years ago to now, it’s clear Alpha60 has kept its fiercely independent, highly curated aesthetic while evolving as a brand. And this latest store is testament to its evolution from the moodier and darker “sophisticated quirk” of its previous stores to a swish modern-art boutique.
“For us it’s a shining jewel,” says Alex.