Monday, September 7, 2009
Fat Helens, Prahran
Fat Helen's on the Windsor end of Chapel st is one of my favourite vintage stores in Melbourne. It's an opulent, pre-Stalinist gem, a crowded but well thought out shop where you are likely to find a smurf in snow ball next to a religious icon from Belorussia.
The sea of vintage goods starts from outside with a jumble of vinyl chairs, floral luggage, old fashioned trunks, tennis racquet's and cushions on the sidewalk. Almost every inch of the space within Fat Helen's is used to store some sort of obscure, wonderful item. Cabinets are lined with collectibles, religious statues and artifacts, accessories, old make-up, cloth patches from the 1980s, vintage wrapping paper, paintings, a box full of mosaic pieces ($35 for the whole box) and vintage crucifixes ($1 each). The glove collection is impressive, a little while ago I bought a pair of brown felt gloves with the softest faux fur lining for $5. A great selection of gloves hang from the ceiling a little further back in the shop, dangle above a small rack of men's vests and shoes.
Fat Helen's is pretty active in its collection of vintage garments and items. The owner (a lovely, but brisk lady with bright hair) takes appointments with people wanting to sell clothes. Be warned though, she has an extremely critical eye and this great sense of garment quality. This well-thought out selection process was evident in quality of the clothes in the store. Most were extremely well cared for, with very little evident damage or wear to the garments. They were seasonally chosen, with lighter fabrics replacing the heavier winter ones from a couple of months ago. In the women's collection there was a good range of 60s shirt dresses with stripes, bold diagonal patterns, more abstract prints (think Jackson Pollock), floral, leopard print and a good mix of fabrics (lace, velvet, sequins etc.) Oddly there was a rack at the very back of the store lined with ankle-length tartan skirts with pleats in red, blue, tan etc.
The range of coats at Fat Helen's is something fantastic. There are softer fabrics like a cobalt blue wrap round coat, a faux fur thigh length jacket, suede jackets with fringing with an impressive selection of leather jackets ($65-$160) in black, patterned, tan and cream. A pair of roller-skates was the highlight of the shoe selection, there are plenty of mens boots and vintage shoes for women.
Because this is a privately owned and run vintage store the prices are higher than what you'd expect if you walked into your local op-shop. Though there is no substitute for the quality and uniqueness of garments, accessories and items available at Fat Helen's. Dresses and tops will put you back around $25-$70 and jackets around the $70 mark. Though, if you look carefully you are likely to pull out something magnificent and pretty reasonably priced. The crowded space makes it a little hard to browse while elbow to elbow with other customers while the store is full.
The "dressing room" is something else. I assume it once was an old, cylindrical hot water heater that has been hulled out. It's extremely difficult to get in and out of and there is no mirror! So to avoid frustration and sweatiness - you may have to try items on over your clothes.
Staff are delightful and you can purchase items on EFTPOS ($15 minimum.)
where is it? 78 Chapel St, Windsor
how do i get there? The Sandringham train to Windsor station
will i have to wait for a change room? ** see above
whats on the stereo? Think Copacabana
i'm hungry? Again its Chapel St, so there is lots of food - but I would definitely recommend Tyranny of Distance just opposite the Melbourne Bowls Club. Its open air (so you can smoke) and there is a bar. Good range of tapas and tea and other good stuff
address: 147 Union St Windsor
can I get a park? It is Chapel St, so its a bit of a nightmare. All around are permit zones and paid parking. Though if you go up the side street just before fat Helens (heading toward Dandenong Rd) and take the first right there is a little side-street with 2 hour parking most days.