Art & Design
Posted by Tacey Rychter
08. Aug, 2012
Nestled on Smith Street, Fitzroy is Smart, Alec, a gentleman’s hat shop. It’s hardly out of place considering the vintage-adoring neighbourhood, but passer-by commonly find themselves snagged at the window, cracking a curious grin as they peer within.
Inside, your eyes leap to the obvious delights. The wooden shelves lined with inky-black bowlers and shadowy akubras. A mariachi sombrero hangs majestically overhead. An airy white panama fastened with a tropical ribbon. A small stack of Moroccan fezzes of the softest felt.
Then you absorb the little things. Moustache wax. Handmade brass pins. Cufflinks featuring tiny street-maps of Fitzroy.
A hugely popular item is a walking stick with a screw-off handle, revealing a hidden flask inside.
“We always sell out of those,” laughs Smart, Alec owner, Michael Albert.
The store is about much more than men’s hats, although they do that exceptionally well. It’s riding the swelling resurgence in classic couture, specifically for the modern gentleman.
A self-described ‘serial dandy’, Michael wants to help other Melbourne fellows discover their inner chap.
“A lot of young men, some old men too, are just desperate for advice,” he says. “The problem is, most men who think hats don’t suit them have had a poor selection. Either that, or bad advice. I think it’s like anything – when well selected any couture always compliments the wearer. I’m a zealot in that regard.”
Michael is encouraging men to take pride in their appearance through a classic approach.
“I think a lot of men think that being a dandy is being feminine. And it’s not. It’s actually a masculine elegance.”
Besides being a bastion of old-fashioned masculinity, Smart, Alec is also a reaction to the generic, mass-produced attire flooding our markets, as well as enormous waste that comes with it.
An avid vintage-collector, it pains someone like Michael to watch gorgeous garments binned just because they’re past someone else’s use-by date.
Smart, Alec stocks an eclectic mix of unworn vintage and current styles, but also carries a small range of second-hand wear that they are happy to restore as good as new.
But if you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, don’t be afraid to ask. These mad hatters can roll their sleeves up and customise a hat just for you, or even create one from the ground-up.
“I love the ones that come into the shop and say, ‘Right. Michael York. Opening scene of Cabaret. That hat he’s wearing. Can you get me one of those?’ Michael recounts, laughing. “I love my clientele. They’re a funny lot.”
Michael is used to the strangest of requests, but is more than happy to oblige in a bit of silliness. Looking ahead, he’s planning to rejig the shop with even more oddities and whimsical, quirky pieces.
“Sometime we take ourselves way too seriously. Why not have a bit of fun with it?”
Smart, Alec is at 71 Smith St, Fitzroy.
For more information visit smartalechatters.com.au.
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