A feast for the eager shopper
A total of 225 shops and eateries spread over more than 48,000sqm of retail space, including Melbourne flagships for Nespresso, Muji, Oroton and Guess. The first Australian stores by Japanese giant Uniqlo, New York designer Kate Spade and collegiate brand UCLA, the first Melbourne stores for American labels Michael Kors and Brooks Brothers, and the first stand-alone store outside the US by streetwear retailer Zoo York. More than 20 brands new to Melbourne, a floor dedicated to Australian designers and brands, and a eating options from George Calombaris, Vietnamese-Australian chef Jerry Mai and more.
This is just some of what lies in store — pun intended — for the eager shopper at Melbourne’s Emporium, one of the newest shopping destinations in a city long renowned as such. Launched in April last year with considerable fanfare, including a Baz Luhrmann-directed spectacular, Emporium is billed as the biggest retail development in Melbourne city in a century, with eight levels of places to shop and eat wedged between Lonsdale and Little Bourke streets in the CBD. It is, centre manager Steve Edgerton acknowledges, “a pretty massive undertaking”.
“The piece of real estate we’re standing on is where Sidney Myer started the whole thing, ” Mr Edgerton says, as we stand just inside the main entrance of the centre, outside the elegant Nespresso store, a three-level Topshop and Topman just across the way. He’s alluding to the old Myer Emporium, which stood partly on this site and was the lynchpin of Sidney Myer’s department-store empire. (Myer retains its neighbouring historic Bourke Street property.)
Shopping options include Muji, a flagship store for the Japanese retailer.
In deference to this history, the design of the new Emporium incorporates elements of the old building, including the 75-year-old facade facing Lonsdale Street. The interior also incorporates nods to the past — some original architectural elements have been retained as museum pieces, while the food court has a large mosaic of historical shots of Melbourne — but, mostly, modernity reigns. That said, this is not quite your typical shopping centre.
For one, there’s the elegant design, which aims to draw natural light into the space. Timber is used extensively and Mr Edgerton says the interior is deliberately “not shiny”, by shopping centre standards at least, playing with elements of the city’s laneway shopping experience.
Then there’s the choice of tenants. In addition to the various buzzy brands and other favourites, Emporium incorporates retailers which don’t fit the mould of the usual shopping-centre stalwarts — Finnish brand Marimekko, for example, and Australian design shop Top 3 by Design. The best example of this is the lower-ground floor which includes boutique-y offerings such as a concept store by Swedish brand Dr Denim and Melbourne “gentlemen’s outfitter” Mr Simple, alongside a smattering of food options including Jerry Mai’s Pho Nom, which Mr Edgerton says exemplifies the aim to provide “restaurant-quality food at food-court prices”.
The food court offers a variety of dining options.
There’s also a barber advertising a free beer with your cut, a hairdresser called Biba fitted out with re-purposed wooden pallets and a coffee-shop collaboration between fashion label Autonomy and a local specialty coffee roaster, which strikes me as just about the most “Melbourne” concept I’ve ever encountered.
The services on offer to shoppers are also notable. The concierge desk is headed up by a former five-star hotel concierge and, accordingly, offers the kinds of services you’d expect more in a hotel — making theatre bookings, providing information on local bars and restaurants, even delivering your shopping bags to your accommodation for free. This fits with the centre’s “premium” positioning, articulated in its partnerships with the Melbourne Fashion Festival and the Australian Ballet, which staged a special performance here for loyalty-club members.
Then there’s the way the centre fits into the cityscape. A key element of the design has been connecting with the surrounding retailers and it’s now possible to walk all the way from the Melbourne Central shopping centre on the other side of Lonsdale Street through Emporium to Myer and David Jones (fronting the Bourke Street Mall) and The Strand (on Elizabeth Street) without braving the elements. There are now more than 1000 retail shops in these two city blocks — what Mr Edgerton describes as “the biggest retail offering in the country”. Since Emporium opened, its neighbours have reported growth in their own businesses, he adds.
Before I leave, I take a look around the stylish atrium-style food court, which has options ranging from burgers to Mexican to Shanghai-style Chinese, including an outpost of the famous South Melbourne Dim Sims. It’s well after the lunch rush but there’s still a queue at Calombaris’ contribution, an outpost of his Fitzroy souvlaki restaurant Jimmy Grants.
And as I make a last, lingering lap of the centre, I’m already planning my return visit for a serious shopping session. I can’t wait but I suspect my credit card is quaking at the prospect.
•Emporium Melbourne is open 10am-7pm Saturday to Wednesday, and 10am-9pm Thursday and Friday. emporiummelbourne.com.au.
•For more on visiting Melbourne and Victoria, go to visitvictoria.com.au.
© The West Australian
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