Look-back in time gives a fresh take on style

A Fitzroy barber's and menswear store is old-world cutting edge, writes Stephen Crafti.

A Fitzroy barber's and menswear store is old-world cutting edge, writes Stephen Crafti.

Pickings & Parry, in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, is a fresh addition to this fashionable shopping strip. Originally a grocer's store, it's now dedicated to men's clothing and a barber shop. Hand-painted signs on the front window, by graphic designer Gavin Downey, announce the goods and services on offer: workwear, overalls, jackets, shirts, shoes, boots, as well as haircuts and shaves.

The Triumph motorbike, circa 1969, in the front window, is also for sale. Chris Pickings, the owner of Pickings & Parry, had toyed around with the idea of opening a menswear store since coming to Melbourne from South Tyneside, England, in 2004. Both his father and grandfather were butchers who ran stores. His late father was also interested in motorbikes, as well as clothing, many pieces of which Pickings inherited.

The other impetus to open the Gertrude Street store was the London-based magazine Men's File. The grainy sepia-coloured pages, with men wearing utilitarian-style clothes, seemed appropriate for leaner economic times.

"I call the clothes 'heritage fashion', but it's difficult to pinpoint one era, anything that could have been worn from the 1890s to the 1960s, but all with a slight contemporary edge," says Pickings, who stocks jeans by Pike Brothers and undergarments from Merz b. Schwanen, both based in Germany.

There are also leather jackets by Aero, a Scottish-based company that had the military contracts during World War II.

While Pickings kept the store's polished concrete floors, he added a lick of paint, choosing cream and military-style green, the latter commonly found in mechanics workshops. He also scoured second-hand stores for shop fittings.

The reception bench, a nickel-and-glass display case, once graced a cake shop. But instead of cupcakes, the displays now include old-fashioned-style notebooks, pens, sunglasses and grooming products, as well as books on vintage menswear.

A railway rack, which once belonged to Pickings' grandfather, is now used to display leather jackets. Other shop fittings include a climbing rack, used to display denim overalls, and a science cabinet, thought to be from the 1940s. And for those who have time to spare, there's an original Faema E61 coffee machine to make the shopping experience more memorable.

"This place is about creating memory and a certain feel for the past, when quality and workmanship meant everything, whether it's a pair of boots or a simple undergarment," says Pickings.

He also included two change rooms in the store fitout. And rather than just two rudimentary curtains strung up for privacy, he found two timber doors from the '20s, stripped them of paint and added gold lettering, evocative of a more genteel time in retail.

Getting the right feel to the barber's domain was similarly important for Pickings.

As well as laying mosaic tiles on the floor he searched endlessly for two original-style barber chairs. As well as finding two chairs from the 1950s, he discovered an old cash register, thought to be from the early 20th century. While money wasn't discovered in the till, Pickings found a number of signs, many displaying prices from the 1900s, now displayed on shelves.

And while the store showcases products that continue to stand the test of time, Pickings is probably the best advertisement for Pickings & Parry. His handlebar moustache is as immaculately groomed as his pressed jeans and jacket.

"I'm interested in things that last, whether it's clothing or this great coffee machine," he says.

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