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Boom in designer retailing leaves fashionistas sitting pretty

The Sunday Age

Sunday March 27, 2011


MELBOURNE'S retail precincts are refashioning themselves to meet a growing demand for designer clothing and accessories.This demand, from an increasingly younger clientele, has led to the opening of a "luxury precinct" at Chadstone; the addition of Pucci, Balmain and Versace to the David Jones stable; and a designers-only floor at the newly refurbished Myer Melbourne.So what sort of customer thinks nothing of bagging a Balmain jacket with gold military buttons for $7000, a pair of Jimmy Choo python-skin stilettos for $1000, and Alexander McQueen's skull-print scarf for $200?According to boutique staff, "don't ask, don't tell" is the golden rule when it comes to who buys what, and for how much.Yet women who opened their wardrobes to The Sunday Age say they regard luxury labels as investments even artworks."Fashion is like art: there is so much skill and creativity that goes into producing it," says Anna Mott, a 38-year-old mother of two, who recently wore a Dimitra Couture ballgown worth $8800 to a fashion festival event.Ms Mott, who produces the Racing Fashion Australia website and TV show, says while the Dimitra dress was discounted, the important thing is that she paid."Something I find really hard to take is how celebrities who go to the Brownlows just loan the dresses . . . Why not buy and support the designers? Their souls are in those clothes."Melburnians may not need the encouragement. The city's renowned Le Louvre a fearsome, yet awesome, designer boutique has expanded since moving from Collins Street to South Yarra.It now has clothes on the bottom floor for customers to browse through, while its trademark "private client salon" is housed upstairs."We are getting more women in their 20s coming through downstairs and buying their first little designer piece," buyer Amelia Coote says.But, she says, her clients are mainly "professional women, social women, usually 30-plus. Women who spend money on fashion for the right reason."Paige Fitzroy, 42, wife of Victorian Racing Club chairman Rod Fitzroy, reflects this sentiment."If I was just going out and buying whatever's hot today, wantonly, I would feel guilty," she says."But I always buy classics that are beautifully made and are going to last."She has several classic suits in her wardrobe, including her new favourite: a Dolce & Gabbana floral dress and jacket, with intricate black trim, that cost about 3000 ($4800).Ms Fitzroy is aware of the stigma of spending money on clothing, but says there is value in designer garments beyond the prestige of the label. In her wardrobe is a still-fabulous black Christian La Croix suit, bought on sale at David Jones 20 years ago.Crown's head of public relations, Ann Peacock, says fashion-conscious women have to be savvy shoppers."S-A-L-E. If I see those four letters, I just go, right, I'm in." Ms Peacock describes her look as "corporate-to-cocktail".She occasionally buys full-priced garments from Versace at Crown, provided they are staples, such as her "fantastic dinner suit". ML Vintage in South Yarra, which sells unworn designer pieces from the '60s and '70s, is another favourite: she bought six items there recently."I'll buy a lot in one go, but then that's it, I'm done," Ms Peacock says. "I don't have time to shop."For jewellery designer Megan Castran, 44, wife of real estate agent Paul Castran, high-end fashion is a creative outlet."I love bright colours," she says. "I'm a happy, outgoing person . . . I do think my clothes express who I am."Her walk-in wardrobe is an Aladdin's cave of colour. While most garments are designer, she says she buys whatshe likes, from Sportsgirl toSass & Bide, as long as it's comfortable.Like the other women, she is reluctant to discuss prices, fearing judgment. But Ms Mott says cultivating a wardrobe is justified."Some people, they're mad on their gardens, or classic cars, or stereos . . . I have beautiful couture gowns, and I'm lucky enough that I can afford them. It doesn't make me a better or worse person."

© 2011 The Sunday Age

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