As you would expect from someone selling one of the world’s top brands, Paul is deferential and discreet.
“Would you like to see our viewing area for… ahem… special customers?” he asks in a hushed whisper. Who could refuse? We had already been plied with champagne and canapes. Of course, we’d love to be taken into the secret world of the VIP shopper.
Behind a mirrored door in Sydney’s new and swanky Fendi store on the corner of Elizabeth and Market was a world of special designs – including a politically incorrect but utterly gorgeous $38,000 mink coat that glowed blue in the light.
“Try it on,” Paul suggested. So sorry, Mr Mink, but we did. Vogue trilled the store is “an Italian oasis in downtown Sydney”. And being waited on hand and foot is indeed a lot of fun.
In store after store, we were greeted with all the reverential courtesy that’s accorded to the super-rich. It sure beats sitting hunched over a laptop in my trackies. And if you love fashion, it’s as good as a tour of the city’s chic galleries. Just keep your card in your branded, snakeskin wallet.
We’re having a weekend away in the centre of Sydney. Our Hilton hotel suite is literally a runway away from the best in high-end shopping. It’s all about as far from Zara and H&M as Paris is from Paramatta.
The city has become a centre for haute couture thanks to the influx of Asian tourists that swooned over big brand names before the pandemic. Now we have these fabulous stores all to ourselves.
Well, not quite. Gucci in Westfield mall still attracts such a crowd that admission is limited, while the Hermès store (make that maison!) in the Trust Building is so gorgeous there’s a constant line waiting to enter. And it is indeed a magical design. An astonishing riot of beige and signature orange.
In the words of Hermès, it’s a “sensory journey of space, light and charm, the store’s arresting architecture blends the patina and authenticity from the original 1930s interior with a modern allure inspired by the light and the landscape of Australia”.
And in truth, the new 800-square-metre store is swanky. Every Hermès store is designed by Paris-based architecture firm RDAI, and the star of the Sydney boutique is a large, organically shaped timber-clad staircase. Denis Montel, RDAI’s artistic director, had to design the store by video thanks to COVID-19.
The balustrade of the staircase was created from batons of ash timber by a team of boatbuilders from Brisbane. It took them almost a year. The slim stretches of timber were fed into a steaming machine on site and shaped by hand.
Montel said: “Australia is a place where nature is very strong, and we looked at photos of huge trees, banyan trees, for example, with these extremely curved and beautiful roots. We then worked on fluidity and an organic shape became the staircase.”
Ironically, the Trust Building was once the home of The Daily Telegraph. The presses were where Hermes’ equine collection and menswear now stands. Today, the streets are groaning with similar brands and Dior and Chanel are neighbours.
The newly renovated Hilton was the perfect hotel for our shopcation. The glass-fronted building fronts both George and Pitt streets, and Hilton has just spent $25 million refurbishing its 547 rooms and 40 suites.
The hotel has two new offerings: the Corner Room and Family Room. The first offers two extra square metres and an extended view of the CBD’s spectacular skyline. Family Rooms are made up of two connecting rooms.
We loved that we were greeted in our suite by fruit, desserts and champagne. We had a stirring view of the city’s skyscrapers – and a jacuzzi bath that fronted amazing vistas across Sydney. There was loads of space, three TVs and, at night, the joint definitely rocks. There were queues for both the Marble Bar and the amazing Zeta, which featured dancers on the bar and a disco. As hotel guests, we thumbed our noses at the crowd and just swanned in.
A Hilton highlight is Luke Mangan’s Glass Brasserie. Sit by the window with a view over the QVB and marvel at how the newly recreated George Street, complete with light rail, could so easily be a European capital.
But it definitely isn’t. And that’s good news. Luke’s kingfish sashimi, signature crab omelette with enoki mushrooms and miso mustard broth and liquorice meringue roll with lime and mint are as Aussie as Vegemite and a lot better tasting.
What we loved most was that Luke, resplendent in apron and sneakers and fresh from the kitchen, arrived with the dessert to say hello.
How to be treated like a rock star on a shopcation
• Wear at least one branded piece – it will instantly earn respect. It doesn’t have to be big on bling.
• Don’t wear fakes. Staff at these stores can spot a bogus Birkin at 1000 yards.
• Don’t worry about trying things on. That’s why they are there. Enjoy yourself.
• Take lots of selfies. It’s the norm for customers to send pics of potential purchases to friends for a style check.
• Don’t be surprised if a polo shirt is $2000 or a Lady D-Lite bag is $6800.
• Look for bargains – you won’t find posters screaming 50 per cent off, but there might be a discreet rack of pieces that will make a good investment.
Take me there
Drive: Sydney is just a three-hour drive from Canberra and two hours from Newcastle.
Fly: Virgin has Book Early fares from Hobart for $129 one way; Rex is offering Promo fares from Canberra for $99 one way.
Train: From Newcastle, the train to Central takes 2.5 hours.
Stay: The Hilton is smack in the centre of the CBD and 30 minutes from Sydney Airport. The executive suite is from $514 a night, but rooms range from $264 to $1244 per night. See hilton.com
Explore more: sydney.com