The barriers are down, the floors are polished and the escalators are running. Admittedly, builders are still busily finishing things off, but hey – the organisers of Emporium Melbourne always said that April 16 would be a ‘soft opening’.
Of the 225 shops, 170 are now open. By now you’ve probably heard about the big guns: there’s Japanese casualwear giant UNIQLO, Topshop’s (unfinished) new Melbourne flagship and the oh-so-fancy café court. But if you’re going to do Emporium, you might as well do it properly, because there are lots of little surprises hidden within its six floors and 48,000 square metres of retail space.
Our tip: start at the Lonsdale Street entrance. You’ll get a little pang of nostalgia as you walk through the grandiose 1911 Myer façade, chased with a futuristic hit from the monolithic concierge desk devised by Qantas A380 interior designer David Caon. This is the ground floor, and it’s home to a mixed bag of old favourites like Nine West, Peter Alexander and Swarovski, as well as newbies like Austrian enamel jeweller FREYWILLE. You can breeze through the western wing of this floor – stores including Victoria’s Secret, Oroton, Furla and Chanel are yet to open.
As it stands, the lower ground floor is bit more exciting. As a hub for youth and urban wear, this level is part hipster-tastic, part sport-chic. Delve deep into the darkly-lit Superdry store for some Americana-meets-Japanese-graphics street wear. Turn right toward David Jones, where you’ll find Industrie, Capsule and Mag Nation. The Waiting Room by Dr. Denim – the first stand-alone store in Melbourne from the Swedish jeansmiths – will deck you out in clothes befitting a morning spent with a long black and a Moleskine notebook. Next you’ll find Zoo York – here in Australia for the first time in all its grungy, graffiti-inspired glory.
Just around the bend, you’ll find the usual sportswear suspects, including Surf Dive N’ Ski, Rip Curl and Adidas. You’ve also got UCLA, the collegiate-style shop by the brand Lonsdale. The clothes are comfortable and well made, but the downside here is that you can no longer wear a University of California jersey and say you did the 'whole college thing'. People just won’t believe you.
When you get to the first and second floors, you’ll really start to notice the difference between the disorienting mall maze of old and Emporium’s vertically-oriented network of bridges and tunnels. You’re constantly aware of what’s above and below, and you can nip to other levels easily. Level one provides a mix of middle to high-end brands including Diesel, Aesop and Calvin Klein. There’s a big gap where Topshop will soon be, but on the western side, you’ll find German designer Marc Cain’s elegant first Melbourne store.
The second floor is home to the largest collection of Australian designers under one roof. Even the well-loved Zimmerman, Jigsaw, Saba, Jac + Jack have upped their game with cleaner and more modern layouts. The Japanese minimalist homeware and clothing store MUJI is adjacent the Melbourne Central bridge link.
Still up for more shopping? We’re impressed, but we do suggest a break. On the third floor, you’ll find what management have dubbed the ‘café court’. They've eschewed Starbucks and Subway for the local charms of Earl Canteen, Jimmy Grants (this one isn't actually open yet, but soon), South Melbourne Dim Sim, Chinta Ria Soul, I Love Pho, Becasse Bakery and Charlie & Co. Burgers.
And that’s all, shoppers – for now. Myer is about to open on the fourth floor. Over the next few months we’ll see all the final shops slot into place, just in time (hopefully) for Baz Luhrmann’s mysterious ‘opening ceremony’ in August. Even if you try to wait until then, Emporium takes up so much of the CBD that we’d challenge you to avoid it. It’s here, and the best thing to do is get involved.
Our top five shops at Emporium Melbourne
Camilla: Emporium Melbourne
Sydney designer and artist Camilla Franks has spent the last ten years forging a brand that is now worn by fashion leaders and celebrities all over the world. Known for its colourful, free-spirited designs, Camilla clothing draws inspiration from tribal and spiritual motifs. Women's, men's and kids' wear is available, but the brand is undoubtedly most famous for its oversized kaftans, which come in a range of necklines, lengths and colourful designs. Level 2.
UNIQLO: Emporium Melbourne
Melbourne – welcome to the Japanese kingdom of high quality, low cost basics. Australia's first UNIQLO has spread its super-comfortable 'Life Wear' range across approximately 3,000 square metres in the heart of Melbourne's CBD, taking up three floors. Think non-branded jeans, cashmere jumpers, vests and T-shirts, all presented in meticulously-folded rows. The effect is like an endless display of paint swatches, and it's easy to get lost in the mix-and-match vibe of the collection. Ground floor - level 1.
MUJI: Emporium Melbourne
Japanese homeware and clothing retailer Muji has nestled into Melbourne Emporium. With a strict no-brand policy and a focus on environmentally conscious yet affordable products, MUJI offers quality, well-designed products without the hefty price tag. Despite the large size of the store, you'll feel at home in the Zen-like fitout filled with simple, functional accessories, furniture, electronics and fashion. Level 2.
Marc Cain: Emporium Melbourne
Designed and made in Germany, the intense colours and unusual textures of the brand's Autumn/Winter collection embody European elegance at its finest. Class is key here, but in addition to tailored blazers, vests and skirts, you'll also find breezy button-up tops and cardigans. And while you'll expect to pay high-end dollars here, you can be sure that this is the place to go for basics that will last forever and for the occasional special dress. Level 1.
Zoo York: Emporium Melbourne
Paying homage to the skate scene of New York, the Manhattan-based brand's flagship store is its first stand-alone shop outside the US. Rumour has it that Zoo York were attracted to Melbourne's vibrant street art scene, reflected in the graffitied designs on their men's sweaters, T-shirts and caps. Ground floor.