Be forever known as the person who gives awesome gifts with our guide to Melbourne's weird and wonderful specialty shops
We all know someone whose taste is so unpredictable it feels like you’ll never catch up with them. Finding the right gift for that one-of-a-kind friend can be a challenge, but never fear: we’re here to help you turn the tables. Promote yourself to top banana in the shock department by getting something mighty strange here:
This objets d'art emporium is your one-stop awesome gift shop. Starting out 10 years ago with a range of artist-commissioned tea towel designs (which you’d keep in the third drawer down, naturally), this Collingwood joint is now a design studio, museum and shop all in one. As well as the works of art, it's a great source of random gifts. There are the straight and gay confirmation couples to put atop cakes; a magazine from Berlin called Mono.Kultur that interviews one person (for instance, Tilda Swinton) per issue; solar-powered rainbow makers, a nose soap dispenser that squirts soap out of one nostril; David Shrigley’s ‘cocaine’ and ‘heroin’ salt and pepper shakers; a Gummy Bear air freshener… really, there's an endless array of goodies that would mark your card as an excellent gift giver. Fitzroy.
Shortly after artists Gonzalo Varela and Lucy Parkinson arrived from Barcelona, they took over a small shop near the foot of Smith Street. Over the course of the next year, the front window gradually filled up with a mysterious miniature landscape of plants, plastic animals and tiny dolls. Finally, they unveiled the Magic Lantern Studio, selling ‘pre-cinema toys’ like marionettes, stereoscope cards, zoetropes and hand-coloured slides. You’ll also find new editions of forgotten and peculiar books, with titles like Why Not Eat Insects?, and art by Varela and Parkinson including hyper-detailed custom pet portraits and a range of hand-painted bicycle seats. Fitzroy.
Amor y Locura (Love and Madness) has all your papier-mache skeleton needs covered. Every day is Dia de los Muertos at the Gertrude Street store, which celebrate the eerier aspects of Mexican culture. Think sugar skulls, retablo paintings, models of Frida Kahlo and the grimly humorous nicho boxes which depict skeletons eating, playing guitar and generally behaving like living people. Imported Mexican crafts and folk art is the primary draw, but the store also sells antiques and a smattering of furniture, alongside a few items which defy any attempt to describe them sensibly – look out for the antique mechanical sleeping puppet. Fitzroy.
Sure, gag gifts are juvenile. And there’s always a chance they’ll backfire on the giver. There are those who would appreciate a pair of x-ray specs for Christmas, and those who, to put it mildly, would not. But if you’re in the market for anything from an exploding pen to a ventriloquist’s dummy, there’s no finer purveyor of toys that seem to have fallen from the back pages of an old comic book than Bernard’s Magic Shop. Founded in 1937, it also stocks costumes, stage makeup, and magician’s supplies from beginner to professional level. Melbourne.
Polyester, the self-proclaimed “world’s freakiest bookstore”, is always worth a visit. A bookstore for adults, as opposed to an adult bookstore, it specialises in the strange and provocative – here you’ll find political tracts and religious titles rubbing covers with burlesque photobooks, hand-printed 'zines and tongue-in-cheek porn. At least we hope it’s tongue-in-cheek – if Girls and Corpses is for real we’d rather not know. There’s also a selection of cult DVDs, ranging from B-grade horror to goofy anti-drug movies in the vein of Reefer Madness. Fitzroy.
Wunderkammer, or ‘wonder-chamber’, deals in scientific curios and antiques. The objects on display all fall somewhere between the educational and the artistic, marking the place “where art and science meet” in the words of proprietor Ray Meyer. Highlights include: old-timey scrimshaw, ancient fossils, vintage laboratory equipment, life-size phrenology models, emu eggs, storm glasses and Foucault’s Pendulum. There’s also a range of animal taxidermy, priced from $5 for a tiny puffer fish to $1,650 for a peacock. Melbourne.