Miles of southern style

STEPHANIE HOLMES
Last updated 05:00 20/10/2013
Preservation Society

PRETTY IN PINK: Formerly known as Modern Miss Vintage, Violet Faigan's Preservation Society is a must-see.

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I thought  I knew Dunedin style long before I arrived. It was the man in front of me on the plane in the Stubbies and knee-high sports socks.

The woman sitting next to him in the polar fleece and puffer jacket.

The man who, on the pilot's announcement that we could again use our transmitting devices, pulled out a portable radio with metre-long extending aerial.

I had my opinion of New Zealand's seventh largest city all worked out - years worth of uninformed stereotypes about hardy Southern souls, drunk students and terrible weather, embedded in my mind.

So it was a pleasant surprise to discover that actually, there's a lot more style to Dunedin than Speight's ads would suggest.

After an early morning flight from Auckland, my good friend Ruth and I arrive to bright sunshine and a 1970 420G Classic Jaguar waiting to pick us up.

This vehicle is part of the fleet belonging to Classic Jaguar Limousines Ltd, one of nine cars that are often used for weddings, local tours and, in our case, a comfortable ride to our accommodation.

The 420G is part of a batch of 30 cars brought to New Zealand in 1970 - the last of these models to be produced. Our driver Jeff, who owns the car, says the 420s used to be popular with farmers because they could fit a bale of hay in the boot.

With the sleek body, polished burr walnut dashboard, red leather seats, and cigar lighter on the dashboard, it's definitely a vehicle better suited to luxury travel and it sure beats your usual taxi ride from the airport.

Jeff drops us off at our accommodation for the weekend, High Street's Fletcher Lodge, a character building built in 1924 by Sir James Fletcher to serve as his private residence.

We have a quick break to deposit our bags in our large, comfortable twin room and meet the lodge's owner, Ewa Rozecka-Pollard, before we're picked up for our first appointment - shopping: the most essential part of any girls' weekend away.

We're taking a vintage shopping tour with Sharon Bratton, personal stylist and owner of The Vintage Dress Company online store.

Sharon is the embodiment of contemporary vintage style. She arrives wearing a beautiful soft blue striped dress, cropped teal jacket and brown ankle boots with bronze sequin heels, with a Tamsin Cooper silk flower brooch - mixing old with new to create a sophisticated and feminine look.

As well as her online business, Sharon is a personal stylist and helps women make the most of their wardrobes. She offers advice on choosing colour to complement skin, eye and hair colour, which styles best flatter body shapes and how to dress and shop for your own personality and lifestyle.

She began offering shopping tours in March - giving clients the chance to visit some of Dunedin's most stylish shops with Sharon on hand to provide expert advice on potential purchases.

We pop into Rockbourne Gallery. The two-storied building was built in 1906 and once home to playwright Roger Hall.

It's now a treasure trove of costume jewellery, scarves, handbags, giftware and lamps - some made by owner Paul McDowell, others sourced from overseas then adapted.

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I fear I might have to leave Ruth here and pick her up at the end of the weekend. She's like a magpie covered in magnets, so drawn is she to the cabinets and shelves packed with shiny jewels, all exceptionally reasonably priced.

After making a few purchases, we drag Ruth away so we can make a stop at Sharon's house for a quick rummage through her vintage dress collection.

As part of her tours, Sharon takes clients to her home for morning tea, personal styling advice and the chance to try on some of the dresses she has for sale on her website. Her home is perfectly stylish too - it featured in the September issue of NZ House and Garden and is a peaceful environment for some no-pressure trying on of clothes.

We decamp to her styling room and enjoy the fun of trying our pick of dresses off the rack, some of which aren't even available on the website yet. I can't help but take one away with me - a 1950s powder blue shirt dress which has since inspired compliments every time I wear it.

The next couple of hours are spent visiting some of Sharon's favourite and most highly recommended shopping destinations - Tamsin Cooper's showroom where we meet Tamsin herself who shows us pieces from the collections she created in collaboration with the Royal New Zealand Ballet; Silk Body, upstairs from Tamsin's showroom and owned by her dad David and sister Emily; Estelle Flowers, where Sharon often takes her tour groups for demonstrations of how to make beautiful floral centrepieces; and Preservation Society, formerly known as Modern Miss Vintage, where we meet boho-chic owner Violet Faigan who shows us the intricate work involved in the handwoven necklaces from her Prince of Butchers jewellery line.

All that shopping definitely deserves a good sit down and a glass of bubbles, so we head to Ombrellos Kitchen and Bar, which has recently had a style makeover of its own thanks to new owners Josh Clark and Katie Ellwood.

Near the university, it's a busy little spot but a great place for a pitstop. Ruth enjoys her mushroom risotto with rocket, goats cheese and horseradish gremolata, while I am delighted with my light, fluffy house smoked salmon fish cakes.

The bubbles go down a treat, too.

Ready to face the world again, we decide there's definitely plenty more time for shopping so we wander the stores on George St - ethical boutique Cuckoo's Nest, Company of Strangers, Plume, Carlson and Belle Bird are all packed with beautiful designs and we happily while away the afternoon.

If it's vintage you're looking for, the best finds are about 15 minutes out of the city in Port Chalmers. With a main street of cute and quirky stores and a sprinkling of cafes and bars, it's a place you could easily spend the best part of a day.

I discover vintage heaven in Box of Birds - a compact store that has a mish-mash of amazing finds. A box of postcards is a real eye-opener - erotic prints from the 19th century and 1950s which would make Miley Cyrus blush - as well as vintage men's magazines which would make great quirky gifts.

The clothing racks are packed with treasures - I walk away with a stunning 1960s lipstick-red dress, made in New Zealand, beautifully cut and preserved, for only $26. At this rate I'm going to need a bigger bag to get my haul home.

With our new purchases burning a hole in our suitcases we need no further excuse for a good night out and there are some new hotspots a new old red dress needs to make a debut at.

Mexican restaurant Del Sol has been open only a few weeks when we visit but it's already hugely popular. It's packed and while the complimentary sombrero might clash with your outfit, you're guaranteed a fun night.

The food won't break the bank but working your way through the double-sided tequila menu might - shots range in price from $9 to $90.

There's no better place to follow that up than Pequeno - if you can find it. This bar is reminiscent of the coolest spots in Melbourne - down anondescript alleyway, you'd have no chance of stumbling upon it unless you knew it was there.

In the basement of the grand Savoy building, it's got a great feel inside with red brick walls, an open fire and plenty of nooks and crannies for romantic dates or raucous nights out.

Waking with heavy heads on a drizzly Sunday morning, we enjoy a cooked breakfast at Fletcher Lodge before jumping in a taxi and heading to Roslyn.

The old fire station building is now home to Erban Spa, where our tequila fog is soothed into submission thanks to a blissful full body massage and an Antipodes mini spa facial.

We emerge feeling like new people, ready for a leisurely brunch at Dunedin's infamous Plato restaurant. While the mildly pornographic wooden table decorations can't strictly be described as stylish, the restaurant is definitely worth a visit for any first-timers to Dunedin.

Situated in the old Seafarers hostel at the harbour, the outside gives no clue as to what you'll find inside - every shelf, ledge and windowsill is crammed with curios and kitsch collectibles, owner and executive chef Nigel Broad has accumulated over the years.

It provides plenty of talking points over our lunch of Thai fishcakes and a deep, hearty bowl of seafood chowder followed by decadent sticky date pudding and rhubarb and berry crumble.

Needing to amble away our full stomachs, our final stylish stop is the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. At the time of our visit, the beautifully presented space features collections ranging from Ukiyo-e: The Floating World, At Your Leisure: The Pleasure of Idleness and the Art of Taking Time Out and Frances Hodgkins: Kaleidoscope.

It's the perfect end to a pleasantly surprising weekend. We came, we saw, we shopped, we ate, we drank, we relaxed. And we leave full of praise. For while Dunedin might only be New Zealand's seventh biggest city, it certainly punches above its weight in the style stakes.

Fact file

Where to stay: Fletcher Lodge, 276 High St, ph 03 477 5552, fletcherlodge.co.nz

Where to eat/drink: Ombrellos, 10 Clarendon St, North Dunedin, ph 03 477 8773, ombrellos.co.nz

Del Sol, 12 Moray Place, ph 03 477 7560, delsol.co.nz

Pequeno, 50 Princes St, ph 03 477 7830, pequeno.co.nz

Plato, 2 Birch St, ph 03 477 4235, platocafe.co.nz

What to do: Classic Jaguar Limousines, 561 Kaikorai Valley Rd Balaclava, ph 03 488 5961, classicjaguar.co.nz

The Vintage Dress Company, ph 027 421 0146, vintagedress.co.nz

Erban Spa, 295 Highgate, Roslyn, ph 03 470 1919, erbanspa.co.nz

Dunedin Public Art Gallery, 30 The Octagon, ph 03 474 3240, dunedin.art.museum

Where to shop: Rockbourne Gallery, 298 York Place, ph 03 474 5511, facebook.com

Tamsin Cooper, Level 1, Moray Chambers, 30 Moray Pl, ph 03 471 9090, tamsincooper.co.nz

Silk Body, Level 2, Moray Chambers, 30 Moray Pl, ph 0800 745 526, silkbody.co.nz

Estelle Flowers, 26 Moray Pl, ph 03 479 2662, estelleflowers.co.nz

Preservation Society, 21 Moray Pl, ph 03 479 0031, on facebook.com

Cuckoo's Nest, 324 George St, ph 03 552 0989, cuckoosnestboutique.com

Company of Strangers, 320 George St, ph 03 471 8969, companyofstrangers.co.nz

Plume, 310 George St, ph 03 477 9358, plumestore.com

Carlson, 1 George St, ph 03 477 5899, tanyacarlson.com

Belle Bird Boutique, 327 George St, ph 03 477 1036, bellebird.co.nz

Box of Birds, 2 George St, Port Chalmers, on facebook.com.

Stephanie Holmes travelled courtesy of Tourism Dunedin. See DunedinNZ.com for more information.

- Sunday Star Times

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