Melbourne style, fashion and culture guide: The style capital of Australia - no it's not Sydney

Sydney, forget about it, it's never going to happen. Melbourne will always be Australia's style capital. From the "Paris end" of Collins Street to the labyrinth of laneways, style is inherent in the city's design and psyche.

"Right from the get-go the city's planners ordered a clever base that promoted endless encounters with culture, be it fashion, food, architecture or art," says Christine Barro, owner of iconic Flinders Lane accessories boutique, Christine. "Cities try to replicate that energy, but they can't."

It was back in 1885 when London Telegraph journalist George Augustus Sala declared Melbourne to be "marvellous". "I found Melbourne a really astonishing city", he reported, "with broad streets full of handsome shops and crowded with bustling well-dressed people".

That statement still rings true. It's the city couture house Dior chose to exhibit the world exclusive The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture at NGV International on St Kilda Road (on until November 7).

"The creativity, imagination and elegance of Christian Dior could find no better city and no better gallery for a retrospective display than Melbourne and the NGV," says Martin Foley, Victoria's Minister for Creative Industries.

And every year since English model and actress Jean Shrimpton turned heads in her mini dress back in 1965, the Spring Carnival Fashions on the Field has almost eclipsed the main spectacle of the Melbourne Cup. For the chic, it's the real race that stops a nation.

For those of us north of the border, Australia's style capital has no shortage of inspiration; from the boutiques in the many laneways to bespoke tailors; from classic restaurants to cutting edge cuisine and from the arts precinct to street art.

But if you really want to know where to go to be stylish like a Melburnian, you really need to follow these suggestions from some of the local leaders in the field.

THE EXPERTS

VIRGINIA MARTIN, FOUNDER AND FASHION DESIGNER, BUL

MY DEFINITION OF MELBOURNE STYLE IS… that is very diverse. Some would say black is a staple for Melbourne, but if it black is worn, it is always in a cool effortlessness. No one is afraid to be different and we constantly like to challenge the norm.

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MY BEST TIP FOR HOW TO DRESS IN MELBOURNE IS… you can be struck with four seasons in the one day, so you must be prepared for anything and everything. If you're a Melbourne local, you definitely have the art of layering down exceptionally well to never be caught off-guard.

THE MOST STYLISH PLACE IN MELBOURNE … would be the restaurant The European (theeuropean.com.au) situated right in the heart of the city. It has beautiful food, an extensive wine list and a wonderful Spring Street Grocer (springstreetgrocer.com.au) next door, complete with a spiral staircase leading down to a cheese cellar – simply divine.

THE ONE QUINTESSENTIALLY MELBOURNE THING TO BUY IS… coffee. Although Melbourne is known for its great shopping and boutiques, it also has a very strong coffee culture. You can never be far from good coffee (or tea) and interesting conversation.

THE ONE MELBOURNE LANEWAY TO BE SEEN IN IS… Hosier for the incredible street art and Union Lane for its Euro-style. And then there's Degraves Street which is a hub for coffee and eateries.

THE BEST FASHION TIP FOR SPRING CARNIVAL IS… with warmer days ahead, to embrace the sunshine in something bold and bright. We have some lovely pieces this season from our S18 Balearic Islands collection.

THE REASON I LOVE MELBOURNE IS… it has so much to offer culturally, from the amazing food, great coffee shops, on-going events, street art and the many multicultural fashion and art festivals throughout the year. There is always so much to do, see, learn and inspire, it truly is a unique city.

See bul.com.au

CHRISTINE BARRO, OWNER OF BOUTIQUE, CHRISTINE ACCESSORIES

MY DEFINITION OF MELBOURNE STYLE IS… Intelligent. Melbourne is a can-do place that sets its own agenda. Melbourne laneways buzz with a determined design energy.

MY BEST TIP FOR HOW TO DRESS IN MELBOURNE IS… to remember that Melbourne is famous for loving black. As I like to say, you can appear or disappear in black. Also be sure to have weather-perfect layers with the addition of a long line trench and an urban hat. The hat has become the new tattoo.

THE MOST STYLISH PLACE IN MELBOURNE IS… the Royal Botanic Gardens (rbg.vic.gov.au) The Botanic Gardens have a history of talented creative directors. Or a day at Flemington (flemington.com.au), it's an easy train ride to promenade on the members' lawn.

THE ONE QUINTESSENTIALLY MELBOURNE THING TO BUY IS… Aesop products (aesop.com). Headquartered in Melbourne, they have the best face cream, as well as post-poo drops (for the bathroom). Melbourne, of course, is also famous for good coffee.

THE ONE MELBOURNE LANEWAY TO BE SEEN IN IS… Flinders Lane is now such a destination for good food. Walk the city and take any turn, you can fall into many of the unexpected hidden secrets.

THE BEST FASHION TIP FOR SPRING CARNIVAL IS… to go super chic in a long dress, shoes to go the distance and a perfect hat in proportion. Who does it better than Philip Treacy (philiptreacy.co.uk)? Fine dressing is about attention to detail, head jewellery and bare skin is for the after party, not Flemington.

THE REASON I LOVE MELBOURNE IS… We are lucky in Melbourne to have a great depth of culture in the arts and sport, so there is a constant offer of experience. The National Gallery of Victoria, or NGV (ngv.vic.gov.au) is alive with changing beauty and stories, I love the Queen Victoria Market (qvm.com.au) and diversity in our fine restaurants including Supernormal (supernormal.com.au), The European, MoVida (movida.com.au), Flower Drum (flowerdrum.melbourne), Cutler and Co (cutlerandco.com.au), and Bamboo House (bamboohouse.com.au)

See christineaccessories.com

VIRGINIA DOWZER, CREATIVE DIRECTOR/STYLIST

MY DEFINITION OF MELBOURNE STYLE IS… that its roots are based in culture. The home of the Australian Ballet, the oldest gallery (the NGV) and the oldest exhibition pavilion (Royal Exhibition Building) in Australia are just three of a plethora of historical artistic and cultural hubs in Melbourne.

MY BEST TIP FOR HOW TO DRESS IN MELBOURNE IS ….with many seasons in a day, dressing can only be effortless in layers of beauty. A long, lightweight coat is essential and comfortable shoes for exploring the city's many cobbled laneways. Melbourne loves interesting and intelligent fashion, it's a bit more Comme des Garcons and Discount Universe than Donna Karan.

THE MOST STYLISH PLACE IN ALL OF MELBOURNE IS… the Arts Precinct where you will lose yourself in a labyrinth of reflections in the House of Mirrors and just next door find the NGV's gorgeous Dior exhibition. Across the road is the incredible pop-up Globe Theatre (popupglobe.com.au) and in-between is the MPavilion (mpavilion.org) by the brilliance that is Rem Koolhaas and David Gianotten.

THE ONE QUINTESSENTIALLY MELBOURNE THING TO BUY IS… Fashion. Fashion in Melbourne is not necessarily about off-the-rack clothing. Behind nondescript facades, up flights of stairs, and along corridors lie studios where talented designers work on small collections or one-offs. Make an appointment with Kara Baker (karabaker.com), Material By Product (materialbyproduct.myshopify.com) or Anastasia La Fey (anastasialafey.com).

THE ONE MELBOURNE LANEWAY TO BE SEEN IN IS… still Flinders Lane. After all this time it is consistently the princess of laneways, guiding us in with a diverse range of diamonds such as Andrew McConnell's Supernormal, Christine Barro's Christine Accessories, Anna Schwartz Gallery (annaschwartzgallery.com), the vast and very beautiful flagship store of Chanel (chanel.com) designed by Peter Marino and Ross House, an important community-owned non-for-profit heritage building supporting social justice and environmental movements in Melbourne.

MY BEST FASHION TIP FOR THE SPRING CARNIVAL IS… to wear heavy flat shoes with beautiful longer line whimsical dresses for a more unorthodox approach to pretty. Invest in a great hat. Be elegant. Have fun.

THE REASON I LOVE MELBOURNE IS… because it is a culturally aware city. In general its people read books, they go to exhibitions, they collect things, they engage great architects, they travel extensively, they follow their dreams and they show an interest in how they present themselves. It's the people that make the place.

See VirginiaDowzer.com

FIONA SWEETMAN, OWNER, HIDDEN SECRET TOURS

MY DEFINITION OF MELBOURNE STYLE IS... double-sided. Melbourne style is a clever mix of opposites … we love to mix vintage and local design, outrageously beautiful handmade shoes with a plain simple suit and all black with a touch of colour. I love this sense of "I made a choice today".

MY BEST TIP FOR HOW TO DRESS IN MELBOURNE IS… textures are such a wonderful starting point for a Melbourne outfit. Layering textures is such a stylish way to manage the Melbourne black. My other tip is to have one bold accessory (shoe, bag, brooch, hat, scarf, jewels) that can be moved if the layers change.

THE MOST STYLISH PLACE IN ALL OF MELBOURNE IS… the new Mayfair restaurant (mayfairrestaurant.com.au) in the forecourt at the Sofitel Melbourne Collins (sofitel-melbourne.com.au) – we all love a dimly lit place where the memory of the 1930s inspires a bit of frocking up.

THE ONE QUINTESSENTIALLY MELBOURNE THING TO BUY IS… Jewellery – there is so much of it and plenty made locally. From the fabulous Iced Vovo earrings at Clementine's (clementines.com.au) in Degraves Street to the incredible work by Anna Davern at E.g.Etal (egetal.com.au) in Flinders Lane.

THE ONE MELBOURNE LANEWAY TO BE SEEN IN IS… Crossley Street. It's an oldie but a favourite; the '50s steps, the red chairs of Becco (becco.com.au), the glory of Lucy Folk (lucyfolk.com) and Blonde Venus, and of course the gorgeous dog, Maude of Madam Virtue & Co.

MY BEST FASHION TIP FOR THE SPRING CARNIVAL IS… about colour, so opt for a splash of colour on a lapel, a hot pink moment on a red hat – just a small token contrast to add to make the outfit. Get some advice for hats. I can recommend Milliners Serena Lindeman (serenalindeman.com.au) and Louise Macdonald (millinery.com.au)

THE REASON I LOVE MELBOURNE IS… the veins of passion run through the many diverse activities we love to do; sport, theatre, jazz, foodie festivals, cafes and more. I love that you can always find your own corner – loud, quiet, high end or quick casual.

See hiddensecretstours.com

TENEILLE OAKLEY, BUYING MANAGER, WOMENSWEAR, DAVID JONES

MY DEFINITION OF MELBOURNE STYLE IS... understated and effortlessly cool. It's very fashionable and on point without trying too hard.

MY BEST TIP FOR HOW TO DRESS IN MELBOURNE IS… learning to layer is important, given the unpredictable weather. I would also recommend wearing black and lots of it and avoid wearing anything too blingy or obvious.

THE MOST STYLISH PLACE IN ALL OF MELBOURNE IS… the "Paris end' of Collins Street is one of the most stylish places in the city. I love the European vibe with lots of luxury boutiques, cool bars and fab restaurants that attract a very fashionable crowd.

THE ONE QUINTESSENTIALLY MELBOURNE THING TO BUY IS…a great coat. Investing in a really versatile long-line coat is essential to help battle the cold snaps.

THE ONE MELBOURNE LANEWAY TO BE SEEN IN IS… Hosier Lane – it's probably the one of the most well-known laneways and it is definitely my favourite. The graffiti art is quintessentially Melbourne and it creates a beautiful pathway to one of my favourite restaurants, MoVida.

MY BEST FASHION TIP FOR THE SPRING CARNIVAL IS… Have fun with your look and try something that you wouldn't ordinarily wear. Spring Carnival is all about dressing up, so look further than your go-to look or colour and let fashion and make style your priority.

THE REASON I LOVE MELBOURNE IS… because there is always something fabulous happening, whether it be a new restaurant opening, an art exhibition or the Spring Carnival.

See davidjones.com.au

For more information on planning a holiday in Melbourne see visitvictoria.com

FIVE OF THE MOST STYLISH STAYS

QT MELBOURNE

Taking design cues from the local neighbourhood, the QT Melbourne has an industrial chic feel, courtesy of Indyk Architects. Check in then head directly to the award-winning Rooftop bar or the Pascale Bar to enjoy one of their seasonal selections of Spring Carnival cocktails. See qtmelbourne.com

MANTRA SOUTHBANK

A new arts-inspired refurbishment has placed this hotel, with apartment-style guests room, in a new league. Expect custom-designed wallpaper featuring some of Melbourne's city locations and the very-Melbourne monochromatic colour scheme with tasteful bursts of brights. See MantraHotels.com

SOFITEL ON COLLINS

As NGV's official accommodation partner, the always-stylish Sofitel is celebrating by offering signature "Code of Conduct" cocktails including the Parfum, inspired by the original Miss Dior Eau De. It arrives in a frozen perfume bottle made entirely of ice. They're also offering a special deal, which includes entry to the exhibition. See sofitel-melbourne.com.au

LANGHAM MELBOURNE

Resplendent with generous touches of on-trend pink, this grand dame is the perfect venue to take in views of the Melbourne skyline from the rooftop Chuan Jacuzzi before slipping off to the spa for a Spring Glow for Two treatment package designed to pamper before Cup Day. See langhamhotels.com

PARK HYATT MELBOURNE

Surrounded by the verdant Fitzroy Gardens, the Park Hyatt has long been a sleek choice, and now there's more reason to check-in as a new permanent guest has taken up residency; namely a labrador named Mr Walker. The canine ambassador, trained by Guide Dogs Victoria, will welcome guests in the lobby. See melbourne.park.hyatt.com

FIVE MORE STYLISH THINGS TO DO

DINE AT KISUME

From the restaurateur that brought us Chin Chin comes this tri-level Japanese restaurant on Flinders Lane. There's a sushi bar and restaurant on the basement and ground floor, a chablis bar and a 12-seater called The Table, for an omakase-style dining experience. Staff wear custom-made uniforms designed by Melbourne fashion designers Alex and Georgie Cleary from Alpha60. See kisume.com.au

SHOP AT MASONS MENSWEAR

Targeting the dapper gentleman, this Flinders Lane emporium features suits by Corneliani as well as underground brands such as Ami, OMC, Maison Kitsune and Resolute denim. You can sip on a selection of whiskys while you shop. See masonsofficial.com

BUY MUSIC AT ROCKSTEADY RECORDS

This passionate platter palace from longtime record store aficionado, Pat Monaghan, housed in the CBD's art-deco Mitchell House is a visual and aural revelation. Not sure which vinyl to buy? Pat will steer you in the right direction. His taste, from local new releases to obscure soul, hip-hop and reggae is peerless. See rocksteadyrecords.com.au

DINE AT CICCIOLINA, ST KILDA

This Acland Street institution serving authentic Italian cuisine has long been a favourite with locals. The wine list numbers around 150 and the kitchen is open until late, so you're likely to bump into actors and musicians sharing a nightcap and enjoying exceptional service after performing.

See cicciolina.com.au

GET THE LOT AT CAPTAINS OF INDUSTRY

Want leather shoes repaired or made, a haircut, contemporary jewellery, as well as lunch and a cup of coffee? Here's your one-stop shop. This outfitter and cafe tucked upstairs on Somerset Place is a must-stop for the discerning connoisseur. See captainsofindustry.com.au

FIVE OF THE MOST STYLISH EVENTS TO ATTEND

THE NGV GALA

If this year's inaugural black-tie ball fundraiser in August was anything to go by, with elaborate gowns on parade and international stars walking the red carpet, 2018's National Gallery of Victoria event promises to be one to mark on the calendar. See ngv.vic.gov.au

WHITE NIGHT MELBOURNE

A cultural and visual spectacle, White Night Melbourne will take over city streets and cultural institutions of Melbourne's CBD, from the National Gallery of Victoria to the Melbourne Museum and Carlton Gardens on February 18, 2018. See whitenightmelbourne.com.au

VIRGIN AUSTRALIA MELBOURNE FASHION FESTIVAL

View the best from Australia's established and emerging designers on the runways at this premier fashion festival. The 2018 program runs from March 1-18. See vamff.com.au

OAKS DAY

The Melbourne Spring Carnival features the black and whites of Derby Day, the colours of the Melbourne Cup and the finale, Oaks Day, aka Ladies Day provides the final opportunity to flaunt your best style. Oaks Day is November 9, 2017. See springracingcarnival.com.au

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL OPENING NIGHT GALA

Walk the blue carpet and then mingle with film industry greats at this opening gala. This year's event at the Plaza Ballroom featured the world premiere of Wolf Creek director, Greg McLean's Jungle. See miff.com.au

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