William Street, in the heart of inner-city Paddington, is a charming, historic area famous for its Victorian terrace houses. It attracts an eclectic mix of bohemian artists and those who are wealthy enough to afford the astronomical house prices, and the combination of the two has created an unusual shopping district.
“This shop has existed here for almost 20 years,” says Victoria Barber, the owner of Di Nuovo, one of the most iconic stores in the area. “William Street used to be mostly residential and there were only a few street fronts.” Little by little, designers looking for new and interesting places to show their wares edged into the area. “The terrace houses made it conducive to young designers with a cutting edge.” William Street became something like a secret village that offers a completely different shopping experience. “It has so much atmosphere,” says Victoria. “It’s become a place for people who are looking for something different and not just brand names.”
One of the big draw cards is that the people who live in the area are the type who buy international labels and wear their new clothes only once or twice before discarding them. A group of vintage shoe and clothes shops, of which Di Nuovo is the best known, have sprung up to take the overflow. As one frequent shopper put it, “it’s like visiting the world’s most up market Salvation Army store”. That’s probably not how the owners of the stores would like to be seen, but Victoria does say that a never ending supply of great clothes comes through Di Nuovo, making it a place where you might be lucky enough to find a barely-worn Hermes scarf, or a Chanel suit, at knock-down prices. “I have almost 5,000 clients who consign clothes here,” she says. “It might be someone wanting to offload one pair of jeans, or a perpetual shopper who buys a new wardrobe every season, who gives me 80 or 90 pieces per drop.” The beauty of this is that “we get new stock every day. Most fashion stores get their winter collection, or their summer collection and that’s it, whereas we get new things every day.”
There are several other recycled clothes stores on the street, including Pelle, which specialises in recycled designer footwear, bags and accessories.
Presumably, however, when celebrities like Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon shop on William Street, it’s not recycled clothes they’re after. They may instead be heading to the contemporary boutiques, which also draw fashion stylists like Maia Liakos. She recommends a visit to the store Poepke, for its “eclectic edit of local and international labels” and to The Corner Shop, which “stocks great Australian and international labels for the slightly cooler and younger crowd.”
A number of designers have also set up shop on the street, such as Sylvia Chan, known for her extraordinary formal wear and accessories. In her current Egypt Collection, for example, she has a dress that looks like silk, but which is actually composed of a metal fabric. There are also two bespoke shoemakers nearby, as well as lingerie specialists, a bespoke menswear shop and a number of small bridal wear stores tucked away in the terrace houses.
Sydney’s high flyers don’t just come to William Street for their clothes. The Body Beautiful Beautician is frequented by A-listers, who appreciate the management for being discreet enough not to sell stories about their cellulite to the tabloids, while the professionals at the Brow Bar are famous for being able to snip, primp and wax the hairiest eyebrow into a thing of perfection.
There’s also the eclectic I Like Birds, where you can find everything from a set of flying ducks to $600 Brazilian cow hides; an art gallery; and Just William chocolates, known for its hand made chocolate coated jelly frogs, rum plum truffles and liqueur Bombes, has been feeding Sydney’s chocolate addictions for 27 years. More recently, a tiny wine bar called 10 William Street has opened, offering a sophisticated wine list that, while leaning towards Italian, also offers sherry and sake, among other delights.
But by the time you’ve covered the street and admired the discount designer clothes and shoes, the hand-made wedding gowns, and the vintage home wares, and you’ve said hello to one or two passing celebrities, the place you need more than anything else is Russo Alimentari, a café/delicatessen. This is the coffee shop where many of the early designers and artists attracted to the area used to congregate, drawn by the rich and fortifying coffee. It’s still the right place to sit, sip and watching the passing parade.
This was originally published in Where magazine, probably around 2007. (I can’t remember! And the original website no longer exists.)