We sat down with Kuwaii ahead of their VAMFF runway show to chat about all things eating, drinking and shopping on the north side—and ask them what we can expect to see from one of our favourite Australian labels on the runway this week. Of course, with Brunswick being "the spiritual home of Kuwaii"—as designer Kristy Barber tells us—we met at Wide Open Road to chat about the burgeoning food scene in Brunswick and surrounds.
"We started here seven years ago—and actually, Wide Open Road has a very special sentimental value, because before it was the cafe it was artists' studios. We had our very first workspace here, so there are real ties to this place. In a way I feel like Brunswick's progress has tracked our progress—the way the suburb has developed... but it's still got those gritty roots."
Brunswick really is the right fit for a label like Kuwaii—a suburb that is 'cool', without crossing the line into self-conscious hipsterdom. Barber's guide to her favourite north side hotspots perfectly reflects this fine line: amongst the casual chic of suggestions like Bar Idda and Rumi, and the traditional Mediterranean classics like Hellenic Republic and La Paloma, she throws in (with a laugh) her fondness for down to earth falafel joints and local favourites like Tiba's. "It's no alcohol—and it's amazing. I've kind of overdone it in my seven years here. It's nothing fancy, but it's delicious! And another favourite I have is Half Moon Bakery—a falafel place I love."
Kuwaii is certainly a shop we love to pop into when we're in Brunswick, but we were interested in where Barber shops when she's not gracing her own store. "Mr Kitly is an incredible gift shop—it just blows my mind everytime I go in there... Monkhouse Design is also a really good one-stop shop—[a great place for tourists] to see what the aesthetic is for Melbourne."
"I don't do a lot of shopping—I spend a lot of time outdoors. I have a horse that lives in Kangaroo Ground, and just down the street is a beautiful swimming hole... There's also the Fairfield Boathouse—you can hire a rowing boat there on the Yarra. It's just a really magical experience, you feel like you're in the middle of the Australian bush, but you're not far from the city."
Ah Melbourne: always a secret park or surprise zen spot somewhere. But what about back in the city: where does Barber head to for a big night out on the town? "My #1, top, all time favourite bar is in North Fitzroy, and it's called LongPlay. It kind of reminds me of Wide Open Road, in a way: when you walk in, it's like walking into a friend's loungeroom—with an amazing wine list and an amazing cocktail list."
"I do see a lot of live music—so The Tote and The Gasometer. I also go to Howler a bit for live music—but the bar is sometimes a little crazy! If you go there on a Tuesday or something it's amazing." I make the point that the first time I went to Howler I couldn't find it: you know, because it looks like an abandoned warehouse in a carpark beside a train station. "It's so funny—it's kind of like someone opening a little eye slot [like a secret club]!"
Gigs, secret warehouse venues, and a laid back bar with amazing cocktails? That's about as Melbourne as it gets, right? "People all around Australia and the world say that Kuwaii is really 'Melbourne'," Barber tells us. "I don't know exactly what that means, but I think I take it as a compliment!"
I tell Barber that the runway she's a part of at VAMFF this year is definitely the 'Melbourne' runway—paired, as always, with labels like Limedrop and búl—which is interesting, considering Kuwaii, Limedrop and búl are all known for their amazing use of colour. "I just find the colours in nature, there's so much to be inspired by. People love it, which is amazing—because when I started, people thought that everyone in Melbourne wore only black! But often at sale time, all that's left is the black."
"This season we've had a lot of greens and colour block—the runway will be styled a lot like, jackets upon jumpers." So... perfect for a Melbourne winter then?
Of course, Kuwaii IS iconically Melbourne: that delicious combination of alternative and effortless; its sleek sillhouettes and trademark colourways translate across borders via a strong aesthetic that is instantly recognisable.
They may even be solely responsible for getting a few black-loving Melburnians into colour... maybe.
Photo credit: Gareth Sobey for The Urban List