Centre Place, Melbourne
Written by Mark Eveleigh Illustration by Marion Vitus
Pooja Sharma is one of many shining young stars in Melbourne’s galaxy of outstanding fashion designers. “This city certainly has its traditions,” she says. “People from other states point out that Melburnians like [wearing] black and, because of our changeable weather, are dedicated to layers. But this is actually one of the most excitingly diverse and open-minded cities you can imagine for artists of any sort.”
“I think it would be safe to say that Melbourne is pretty much defined by two things: food and fashion,” says Pooja Sharma, founder of the prestigious Melbourne-based clothing label that bears her name. “With that in mind my favourite street is a particularly hustling and bustling, cool and cute little stretch of alleyway. It is actually two laneways but little Degraves Street runs end to end with the even tinier Centre Place. They pretty much sum the city up in less than a hundred paces!” Follow the flocks of tourists and commuters out of the lovely old Flinders Street railway station and onto the broad, sunlit thorough-fare outside, and it can be very easy to miss the narrow entrance to Degraves.
On a particularly sunny day it can even take a moment for your eyes to get accustomed to the shadows. Then you realise that half of Degraves and all of Centre Place are entirely filled with cafй tables. “This is about the best place in the city to take a quick break from shopping – ooh, there’s another thing that defines Melbourne. Shopping! I wouldn’t say that these terraces are the most relaxing place to sit but it’s not about that: they are so busy and lively that there is always something to look at.”
For people-watching, this little stretch of lanes might be the best place in Australia. Melburnians are renowned for their dedication to fashion and, as you sip your cappuccino, you can enjoy sights that in many other cities would only ever be apparitions on the catwalk.
“All sorts of people are attracted to the cafйs and bars down there,” Pooja explains, “and apart from the bars and cafйs there is also a fantastically eclectic selection of stores and boutiques. Pretty much every establishment in Degraves and Centre is stylish and cool!”
People will travel right across town just to make special purchases at favourite little spots, like the gorgeous Il Papiro (2) (a unique Italian writing and paper shop). They will pop into Little Cupcakes for homemade desserts…or Smitten Kitten for quirky designer lingerie. There are several designer shops including Kinky Gerlinki (3) (described as ‘shabby chic’), Body (4) (‘clothing inspired by movement and dance’) and Fokus (5), which specialises in sunglasses and watches.“I tend to go mostly in the daytime to enjoy the cafes, or maybe for lunch,” Pooja explains, “but in the night-time a couple of famous places open their doors. The Louvre bar and Hell’s Kitchen (6) both have their share of regulars.”
Degraves and Centre Place seem to get cooler as you progress up the street with the most ьber-cool spot probably reserved for the far end where a couple of cafйs and a little crкperie are tucked into the corner. Next to the crкperie is a tiny alcove. Occasionally bands – perhaps jazz, rock, or blues – are squashed into the little space (drum kit, double-bass and all) and, if they are good enough, they will often pack quite a crowd into the little dogleg of alleyway opposite their diminutive ‘stage’.
For the unsuspecting visitor this little vacant area at the end of Centre Place (7) is one of the most startling things you will see in Melbourne. Every inch of wall – plus every static object, including wheelie-bins and fire escapes – is covered with a permanently evolving display of ‘street art’ in the form of vibrant and vivacious graffiti. This is part of the city’s Laneway Commissions and it is an area officially dedicated to artistic exploration and expression.
“Good music and art!” laughs Pooja “– turns out that there are a few things that define Melbourne!”