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Offbeat shopping: Melbourne has it in the bag

We’ve all heard about Melbourne’s high-end shopping, but where do the locals go to find hidden gems away from the big malls? Melbourne’s well-deserved reputation as a shopping destination is built around some amazing fashion, homewares and accessories stores in the CBD.

The famous Bourke Street pedestrian mall that sits between Swanston and Elizabeth streets has the major department stores – Myer and David Jones – and a wealth of interlocking lanes and arcades that can make finding the right shop a little like discovering Narnia.

Back from the mall is the mega-mall that is Emporium Melbourne (287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne; emporiummelbourne.com.au), a space that is equivalent to six football fields of shopping and dining. Taking over the space that was once the Myer Emporium for seven decades, Emporium has high-end retailers, Australia’s first store for Japanese fashion giant Uniqlo, but it also has some quirkier offerings like Pigeonhole (Level 3, Shop 50; pigeonhole.com) a perfectly pitched lifestyle store that aims to bridge the gap between the current obsession with retro and more modern style. This ends up with knick knacks like neon-lights in the shapes of lawn flamingos, cactus candles and reproductions of old-skool Polaroid cameras.

Also bringing some retro style to the CBD is the low-brow art gallery Outre Gallery (249 Elizabeth St, Melbourne; outregallery.com) just outside of Emporium. This gallery features art that exists at the intersection of design, pop and counterculture where you might find expertly crafted tiki mugs from the US, and original prints from alternative artists like Shag, Coop and master of surreal nightmares Mark Ryden.

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Go off-beat

It is this shopping beyond the mainstream where Melbourne really earns its stripes as a place to give your credit card a work out and earn those reward points. . While you can get lost on Bourke Street, Emporium and the third major mall Melbourne Central (211 La Trobe St, Melbourne; melbournecentral.com.au), the alternative shopping will uncover the best bargains and quirky gifts.

Get beyond the CBD and explore some of the more offbeat shopping strips, such as the new Australian designers that line Gertrude Street in fashionable Fitzroy. This shopping street is a destination in itself with hidden speakeasy bars, en pointe fried chicken shops and modern homewares. But make sure you check out retro wonderland Tarlo & Graham (202 Gertrude St, Fitzroy; tarloandgraham.com) where owners William Tarlo and Phillip Graham unearth vintage treasures from taxidermy to old medical equipment.

Local fashion label Obus (226 Gertrude Street; obus.com.au) sees designer Kylie Zerbst and her team get creative with a decidedly pastel palette, while things take a stylish turn at The Signet Bureau (165 Gertrude St, Fitzroy; thesignetbureau.com) that calls itself a “gallery space for shoes and clothes”. And no outfit is complete without the right hat, so check out the range of haute headgear at Smart Alec (235 Gertrude St Fitzroy; smartalechatters.com.au) a no-nonsense gentleman’s hatter.

You will have plenty of options for a quick rest stop too with Melbourne celebrity chef Andrew McConnell offering two great options for lunch. For the full Melbourne experience head to Cutler & Co (55-57 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy; cutlerandco.com.au) a fine diner situated in an old metal factory, or for a more casual vibe try McConnell’s newly opened (and still hatted) wine bar Marion right next door.

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Brunswick grunge

If Fitzroy is alternative style then the busy strip along Sydney Road in the northern suburb of Brunswick has a more anti-establishment vibe. It could be the fact this is a student-heavy suburb, a live music hub and a newly emerging style centre but this is a decidedly grungier aesthetic.

Here you will find Kinki Gerlinki (209 Sydney Road, Brunswick; kinkigerlinki.com.au) that makes young women’s streetwear with some retro flourishes like their locally made earrings made from Glomesh. Sort through the old vinyl, industrial furniture and vintage hi-fis at Melbourne Vintage (351 Sydney Road, Brunswick; melbourne-vintage.com) a fantastic collection of ephemera that has led the vintage scene in Melbourne for over a decade.

And while this might seem a strange strip for designer jeans you will often find queues outside Dejour Jeans (542 Sydney Road, Brunswick; ) a non-descript shopfront that produces jeans that have a devoted following amongst in-the-know Melbourne shoppers. Once a local secret but now being dragged into the mainstream by its own killer reputation, the denim material is sourced from a local textile mill that has been in operation since the 20s and the service is timeless too with onsite alteration a big draw. Meanwhile women can channel their inner rockabilly with the corsets and baby doll dresses at Vicious Venus (155 Sydney Rd, Brunswick; viciousvenus.com.au).

If you want to take a pause here you can skip the white tablecloths and try a drink in the beer garden of the much-loved rock pub The Retreat Hotel (280 Sydney Rd, Brunswick; retreathotelbrunswick.com.au) or head next door to Huxtaburger at Joey Smalls (284 Sydney Rd, Brunswick; joeysmalls.com.au), a small bar that serves up Daniel Wilson’s famously messy burgers.

Melbourne really does have some of the best shopping in Australia, and you will be rewarded even more if you head away from the big malls.