St Kilda has long enjoyed a place in Australian popular culture and in its very psyche. The 1985 Paul Kelly song ‘From St Kilda to King’s Cross’ praised and immortalized the beachside suburb; Kelly states that he is willing to trade all the land and water of Sydney Harbour for that ‘one sweet promenade.’
And no wonder. It has been a home to the homeless as well as the famous, a place where the melting pot of Melbourne converges in the most contrasting and colourful of ways. Artists rub shoulders with sun-starved Brits, Yentas walk their poodles, sex workers slink around on Grey Street, children build sand castles in front of the Sea Baths as a thousand yachts glint spectacularly on the ribbon smooth Bay.
Not long ago, the ominous clouds of progress darkened the palm tree-lined streets. Seemingly ancient establishments like café Sheherazade closed up shop, Jews and Eastern Europeans evacuated to Caulfield and beyond, leaving chain stores to proliferate. At moving-out garage sales in St Kilda you hear the inevitable lamentation that the town has become generic. One lady was even sailing to China.
(pictured left, carousel at Luna Park, St Kilda)
As a local, it was with a negative outlook I arrived at the Kookai store opening on Acland Street. Kookai is the equivalent of French fast-food in the fashion stakes, the Francophile version of Target (albeit, they have runway shows). For what seems like more than a decade, they’ve been flogging the same cotton tees with round necks available in a variety of cute candy colours. Traipsing up the red carpet into the ensuing din I recognized the Kookai staples; sales assistants as slight and effervescent as Perrier, tutti frutti hues of cotton and jersey and sample sizes in 6-8. A VIP sample sale soon descended into a snatch and grab affair. Luckily I reacted in time and picked up a crocheted necklace I was eyeing, eliciting a cry of defeat from a middle-aged lady. Onto the Napoleon Perdis make up chair to recover and an ‘almost’ graduate make-up artist gave me a Hollywood complexion. I liked it. Also I liked a ‘black widow’ handbag, almost like a vintage Chanel except in patent leather with a jewel spider. The dresses that the models paraded were also rather lovely, feather light like puffs of meringue.
R.I.P St Kilda. Viva La France.