How One Store Brought Back My Past Joy of IRL Retail Shopping
When I was a little girl, my favourite outing was a trip to David Jones. I can still remember the smell of different perfumes, bleeding together like a colourful bouquet of glamour and beauty, the shop assistants with their perfectly drawn-on eyeliner and sparkling smiles, the warm jazzy music, the bright lights, the adverts of the world’s most beautiful people plastered in life-size form to each shopfront. To me, it felt like the promise of things to come.
I loved the sound of heels on the marbled floor, and the way that adults would address me as though I was one of them, offering me a card with some perfume on it, or a new hand cream sample. Sometimes, my mum would let me try on a little bit of blush or a soft lip gloss and I’d let the ladies with the black fitted jackets and silk neck-ties fuss over me with glee.
Afterwards, we’d go up to level three and sit at the cute little in-store cafe. I’d get a hot chocolate with extra marshmallows. Mum would get a strong, extra hot latte, and we’d judge everyone’s outfits as they walked past. Sometimes the barista would wink at me. I couldn’t wait to be a grown up with a signature scent and a unique sense of style. David Jones always inspired me to dream big, that the world was my oyster, that there was so much to express and discover within the fashion and beauty worlds.
When I reflect on those days we spent in shopping malls, I struggle to imagine that experience playing out today. While shopping retail in real life used to be an immersive experience, the rise of online shopping has slowly killed the in-store industry. Not only do I never seem to find things I need and/or love in-store, but it’s also rare to have an actually nice experience.
When was the last time you went into a store and were treated like they were thrilled to have you?
My recent shopping outings have ended in stress and disappointment. At make-up counters, no one seems to know the answers to any product-related questions and, furthermore, they seem to feel as though your presence is a nuisance rather than their entire job description. Many times, you can’t find what you want, and no one can (or wants) to help you. You leave, feeling disheartened. Well, that’s been my experience.
But then, just a few weeks ago, I walked into a store in Albert Park that restored my faith. Stable, situated on Bridport Street in Melbourne’s leafy Albert Park, brings the magic of IRL retail back to life. And thank GOD.
“Going into a beautiful retail store should be like going on a really good date,” says Bella Hart, the buying assistant at Stable. “Like you know instantly that they get your vibe. You really hit it off. They’re into good music, have good energy and make you feel like your best self; but they still leave you with a little bit of mystery, wanting more. That’s how we want people to feel when they leave our store.”
For the girls at Stable, it’s not all about buying something. Stocking a range of Australian and overseas designers, plus a dedicated space for sunglasses and fine jewellery (that ranges from affordable to premium prices), art director Nicole Williams says that it’s more about community than anything else.
“We’re all on this journey together. It’s not about spending heaps of money or even about buying anything at all, it’s about building relationships, and community, and supporting each other to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be,” she says.
“We want our customers to feel like they’re a part of something. We want to be their friends, confidantes and yes, of course we want to get them jazzed up about some fab new things we have in store… but that’s not the ultimate goal.”
Not only does being in a beautiful store give us a sensory experience of belonging but, for me, it’s also about the nostalgia; the emotional association I have to being in a shop as a child and feeling totally in my element.
And, according to Clinical Psychotherapist and Director of Rough Patch Affordable Counselling, Amber Rules, this is pretty common.
“It’s common to feel nostalgia when shopping in a familiar place,” Rules says “For better or worse, retail spaces are part of our cultures way of socialising and entertaining ourselves, especially for young people. Most teenagers will go to the mall to hang out, and a lot of us use shopping as a way of self-soothing or boredom-busting.”
While this nostalgia could be seen as capitalism bootlegging us — yet again! — much like going to our favourite bar or restaurant; it can also be seen as a measure of self-care; if done in a balanced way.
I can’t pretend that my joyful experiences of shopping as a child fulfilled an emotional need I had to feel beautiful and express my creativity — but I don’t think that these are necessarily negatives, as long as you’re aware of them. I could definitely be addicted to spending money on beautiful things (or delicious wine), but I exercise enough control to still enjoy them.
And besides, I’ve been shopping predominantly online in the past few years — thanks to COVID. Why not spend that money in an actual store that makes you feel good and brings new friendships and community?
“Community is a hugely important part of the human experience,” says Rules.
“We’re pack animals who need connection and community to feel safety, security and meaning. You may not be best friends with your barista, but knowing there’s a friendly face at your local cafe who knows your name and maybe even your coffee order is warm and affirming.”
Having recently been refurbished, with an inclusive, immersive and downright aesthetically gorge overhaul in mind, Stable’s Studio Manifold make-over is a representation of the need we have for experiential shopping moments.
Leaving there, I did feel like I’d just been on a date. With myself, and some new stylish friends. It was that same feeling of hope that comes from a really good date; that there are beautiful things to come.
Because, we might be comfy ordering glam shoes online from our beds, but who doesn’t want a glass of champagne and a peruse in a beautifully curated space? That will never go out of fashion.