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Masons' smooth fashion move in Flinders Lane

The Property Addict / Architecture & Design

Jun 12 2017

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Masons was THE name in high fashion from the 1970s through to the mid-1990s in both Sydney and Melbourne. Its founder, designer Piero Gesualdi, was the first to import the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier and other leading European designers to Australia. Fast forward a couple of decades and Masons, the name only, has resurfaced in Flinders Lane, Melbourne. Formerly the home of New Zealand fashion label Zambesi, the impressive 430-square-metre footprint, at ground level, has been cleverly fitted out by Cox Architecture (coxarchitecture.com.au). Marble welcomes visitors to the Flinders Lane store. Interior designer Anthea Leydon, an associate of the practice and Gesualdi's stepdaughter, headed the project. The impressive arts and crafts building, with its highly decorative facade, is also the Melbourne head office of Cox Architecture. While Masons' story provides a link to the past, so does Flinders Lane's history as the centre of Melbourne's rag trade in the post-war period. "Flinders Lane has an important fashion heritage. It was a hive of activity for both suppliers, showrooms, as well as tailors," says one of Masons' owners, Marco Siracusa. "We saw this place as a destination point, attracting fashion-savvy men, from sons to their fathers," says Siracusa, who was keen to have a bricks and mortar store. "It's that ambience and service that you don't find online," he says. Unlike many retail stores that show a high degree of transparency from the pavement, this elevated ground-floor boutique is accessed from within the building, up a few stairs. Rather than opening the glass doors and seeing through the entire space, Cox Architecture inserted a monumental marble wall, with the Masons insignia framed within. "We wanted to slowly reveal the four main collections," says Leydon, whose team created four neighbourhood-style quarters under the one roof. "We saw the space as containing a series of 'objects', almost minimalist sculptures," she says. The younger "neighbourhood", catering to guys from 18 years old onwards, is at the front of the store, while the adjacent precinct is for the more mature clients. The pod-like timber display contains shelving and mirrors, together with well-lit timber alcoves for hanging garments. When it comes to luxury, the devil is in the detail and so it comes as no surprise that the change rooms are finished with leather hand-wrapped handles. With a limited but refined use of materials such as marble, stone and steel for the clothing racks, Cox inserted into the predominantly grey palette a "carpet" of glazed herringbone timber in the centre of the store to act as the "runway" (mannequins lined up to show the latest collections). Towards the rear of the store is the lounge and bar area, where clients can enjoy the ambience as much as handling the fine merchandise, predominantly fashion labels from France, Italy and Japan. Those old enough to recall the groundbreaking store Biba in London in the early 1970s will appreciate the idea of creating an experience rather than just a quick shop and wrap. "The design was directed towards clients coming back, seeing new things all the time and the way the shop evolves," says Leydon, who included a "classic room" at the end of the "journey" for the tailored suits and more classical collections. While finishes and fittings need to be of the highest standard for such an operation, so do the amenities, such as bathrooms, beautifully clad in black tiles, as well as storage and office areas for staff. The current window display, with its vibrant angular fixtures, recalls the Memphis period, popular in the early 1980s. For those who shopped at Masons at that time, there's a strong sense of deja vu of one of the greatest fashion stores Australia has seen. Masons provides a breath of fresh air on Melbourne's retail scene, showing that the retail experience of walking into a great store can't be substituted by online trading. "People need to be excited, whether it's by the level of service or simply discovering this space," Siracusa says.   Stephen Crafti, The Sydney Morning Herald  

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