It's been a while since I've interviewed a creative local retailer.. but as we're all going a bit retail crazy at this busy time of year, it seems PERFECT timing to feature one of Melbourne's most beautiful retail stores - just in case you needed further reason to part with your hard earned cash this season!
The store in question, of course, is Fenton & Fenton - a truly unique interiors shop owned and run by the very dynamic Lucy Fenton!
In only a few short years, Lucy has established her store as a force to be reckoned with amongst Melbourne's established (and highly competitive!) retail market. After a fleeting 'apprenticeship' of sorts with renowned Melbourne antique dealer Graham Geddes, Lucy took the plunge and started her own retail business, launching her very own brand of eclectic interior eye candy - with a distinctly youthful and feminine edge. Her store is characterised by it's sheer variety of stock - with overseas buying trips every few months, Lucy fills her store with unique finds from India, Morocco and Europe. Somehow, everything in there just looks unfalteringly good at ALL times. Lucy just has the most impeccable eye.
Lucy's expert styling skills were put to good work recently as part of a unique project in Hawthorn. High-end residential boutique development 33 Wattle Road launched in October this year with a special Designer Showcase that saw three Melbourne designers each style a display apartment in a different way. This project gave Lucy the opportunity to go a little crazy, re-working her signature style within a liveable residential environment. The results speak for themselves - BRAVE and beautiful! (And what a brilliant concept in the first place!).
Huge thanks to Lucy for her time with this interview, and all the stunning new shots of her store! Do pop in to Fenton & Fenton when you are next in the area ... you will not be disappointed!
Fenton & Fenton 471 High st PrahranOpen everyday from 10.00 - Sundays from 12.00
Tell us a little about your background – what did you originally study and what career path has led you to what you’re doing now?
I have always loved travelling so I wanted to find a job that enabled me to travel wherever possible. When I got home from backpacking across Europe for a few years I did a travel course and started working for a luxury travel company. However I found that was actually really frustrating because I was always getting so jealous of my clients’ exotic trips.
Then a few years later I was working for Graham Geddes and was lucky enough to accompany him on a buying trip to India. It was very eye-opening to realise the endless amount of opportunities there are to source such a diverse range of objects, most of which I wanted to bring home for myself. It was on that trip over a few drinks that I decided that I was going to open a shop where I could house all the beautiful pieces that I was discovering on my travels. Six months after getting home fenton&fenton was opened and things have just grown from there.
Fenton & Fenton have very quickly gained a stellar reputation as a ‘must visit’ shop for interior design enthusiasts – no mean feat in Melbourne’s competitive retail market! What do you think it is that really sets Fenton & Fenton apart from other retailers?
I am constantly trying to source items that are unique, one-off, or at least trying to put a twist on the more classical items. It’s about trying to think outside the box and my clients appreciate that. I often find people come to fenton&fenton when they want to be inspired. The store has an unusual mix of different styles, eras and origins but they sit side-by-side and still work together. The shop’s always full of colour and that’s hard to find these days.
It must be so hard starting out in the antiques / retail game in Melbourne - what challenges did you face when first setting up your business? Did you have a mentor or any key advice which helped in the early stages of the business?
When I first opened the shop, I just threw myself in the deep end so there were constant challenges (there still are) but that’s what keeps things interesting. I don’t think anything can prepare you for how much work is needed to run a retail store, especially when you are trying to source unusual products that are not everywhere, that’s a full time job in itself.
Graham Geddes was like a mentor to me, he offered me a lot of great advice when I was first starting out and I was able to learn a lot from him. Graham has survived in the antique business longer than anyone I know, and that is because he has been able to reinvent himself and move forward with new trends, he always says to me ‘the minute you sit still Lucy, you're dead in the water’ and I think in this competitive industry that is very true.
Do you travel regularly to source new pieces? What are your favourite international destinations when sourcing for Fenton & Fenton?
I travel overseas on buying trips every couple of months. I love going to India, there is always so much to see and of course buy. They are such talented craftsmen over there so it’s always exciting, you never know what you’re going to find. I always come back from India really inspired, it’s a crazy place and it’s bursting with bright colours. I was in France and Morocco a few months ago and that was a fantastic trip. I spent a few days at Maison Objet in Paris; it was incredible to see what people from all over the world are doing in design. Every destination offers different opportunities and styles and I always try to delve beneath the obvious when it comes to shopping overseas.
How would you describe the Fenton & Fenton aesthetic? Is this a good reflection of your personal sense of style in your own home?
Fenton&fenton’s aesthetic is an eclectic mix of old and new, it’s constantly changing and evolving depending on moods, seasons, and where I’ve been travelling. It is definitely a reflection of my style; my general policy when I am sourcing is if I like it and would have it in my own house then I'll buy it. I have to love it otherwise I cannot sell it. I live above the shop so it’s a fine line between what’s mine and what’s for sale. I try not to get too attached to items because if I do that then nothing would be for sale, I like to enjoy it for a few months but then I am happy to see things go to a good home.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
I’m usually up early checking emails and writing long lists of all the jobs I want to achieve that day. Then I am either working in the shop, rearranging things, planning new window displays, liaising with suppliers overseas and talking to clients. Or I am running around visiting my local suppliers, checking my upholsterers are keeping up with all my work, dropping things into the framers, choosing fabrics, visiting clients, there is an endless amount of work but its always different so it keeps things exciting.
Where do you turn for creative inspiration – books, magazines, the internet, your environment, travel, nature, family or friends… etc?
All of the above!! I spend hours in the evenings on the internet, discovering new websites, blogs, reading magazines & books, often by the end of the night I will be so excited about a new idea that I'll be awake half the night trying to work out the logistics of making that idea a reality in the shop.
Obviously travelling is also really important for me, sometimes you need to get away from the shop for a few weeks to be able to see straight again, usually when I come home from a trip I have heaps of new ideas going through my head and I am always really excited about the next container heading our way.
Which other stylists, designers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
US designer, Kelly Wearstler, she has an amazing style, her attention to detail and her ability to mix classical items in modern settings is so unique.
Melbourne artist, Miranda Skoczek, whose works hang in the store, I want to keep every piece she brings into the shop, I love her use of colour, she’s very talented! (and she makes a beautiful new mum).
What would be your dream project?
I am desperately searching for an old warehouse that I can convert into my new home as well as use to store all my extra stock. When I finally find the right space and have the time to concentrate on my own place it will be very rewarding.
What are you looking forward to?
Spending a week in Kerala, relaxing on the beach on my way home from India in a few weeks.
I also cannot wait for the new fenton&fenton website, its going to be up and running at the end of Jan and then about 6 weeks after that we will launch our on-line store, stay tuned…
Melbourne Questions –
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
I have to say Prahran/Windsor, mainly because I don’t get enough opportunities to venture out of here. I live and work in Prahran and most of my friends live near by so we can just walk down to the bars in Windsor and catch up after work.
Which home interiors shops do you frequent in Melbourne (aside from your own!)
Guy Mathews, Smith Street Bazaar, Angelucci, Chapel Street Bazaar, The Junk Company… just to name a few.
Where / what was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?
Soft shell crab at Wabi Sabi in St Kilda.. It’s always delicious.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
Half price Thai food at Revolver on Thursday nights if you live in the 3181 postcode – and it’s actually really good!!