In the new store cliental pass through a travertine passage (walls and floor) and arrive at what Barro refers to as her ‘welcoming room’, the lower level of a two-storey fit-out reworked by architect Simon Greenwood in consultation with heritage architect Bryce Raworth (the building was originally designed by Peebles Smart in 1913).
“This space offered more than 100 square metres more than my previous boutique. People have commented that this place is more like a miniature department store,” says Barro, who worked together with the design team, along with her later husband Peter, whom she fondly refers to as the ‘Minister for Detail’.
Reminiscent of a time when stores offered a sense of intimacy, it’s like walking through a private home, filled with the owners’ unique personality.
Barro is certainly a great ‘host’ and personality, showing people through the jewel-like rooms filled with an eclectic arrangement of objects and artifacts, not to mention the store’s raison d’etre, some of finest British and European fashion on offer.
Simple steel racks display Suzie Cave’s ‘Vampire’s Wife’ clothing (Suzie is partner to the legendary singer Nick Cave), and Martin Grant, Australia’s Parisian fashion success story.
There’s also Etro from Milan and milliner Philip Treacy from London is also represented along with local indigenous jeweller Grace Lillian Lee.
Greenwood removed a number of internal walls, leaving others with simply window-shaped openings to allow unimpeded views to various nooks and crannies, as well as bringing in additional natural light.
“One of the things I’ve noticed most about the move, apart from the quietness, is the quality of light, both from Collins Street and the original lightwells,” says Barro.
Some rooms are given over to accessories, all displayed in vintage cabinets, while other nooks, complete with original leadlight glass, now function as spacious change rooms with an old world feel.
What’s so pleasurable about visiting Christine’s new location is the juxtaposition of objects and curiosities collected over the years, all coming together in the store with either a great story or a history, often leading back to Paris or London.
“This Blackamore (a statue) came from Venice, as did some of these gilt mirrors,” says Barro, who has placed many of her mirrors to extend sight lines as well as reflect light.
Other objects, such as an early 20th century cabinet filled with taxidermy birds, still give her great delight.
As unexpected is a portrait of Marilyn Monroe, in the style of Andy Warhol, adorned with graffiti.
It seems that the only rule to creating this fit-out was to completely abandon any design rules and follow Barro’s instincts in creating a magical jewel-box of fashion, furniture and object d’art concealed behind a formal facade.
The idea of ‘vertical retailing’ hasn’t really been established in Melbourne, but, hopefully, Barro will encourage others to head upwards, rather than simply outwards.
“Retailing is about creating an experience. The idea of vertical retailing seems such a natural fit for Melbourne, creating that element of surprise,” she adds.