In a sea of discount chemists and kebab shops, it can be easy to forget that Chapel Street, South Yarra, was once the pinnacle of Melbourne fashion.
Among its major players was Rachel Silverman, of Baggy’s boutique, who in the 1980s and 1990s was considered one of the city’s retail trailblazers.
Since it opened in 1972, first as a menswear boutique before relaunching as womenswear a couple of years later, Mrs Silverman supported the emerging designers of the day – names including Carla Zampatti, Trent Nathan and Prue Acton – often before other retailers would stock them.
The store was also a sanctuary for visiting celebrities wanting a low-key shopping experience. Olivia Newton John, Chaka Khan and Alice Cooper had all been customers, says Mrs Silverman’s daughter, Rebecca Leventer.
Following Mrs Silverman’s death in March after a short illness, and the transformation of Chapel Street retail, Ms Leventer and her family have decided to close the store before Christmas, or when they clear the current stock.
Ms Leventer’s sister, Nicole Silverman, said her mother was more than a shopkeeper, and became part of the lives of many of her customers.
“It wasn’t just about selling clothes. This was a bit of a haven,” Ms Silverman said.
“Mum was in their circle but not. She was like their beauty therapist. They knew what they said to her stayed in these four walls
“It’s like she was a celebrity among these people. You don’t associate that kind of popularity with a shopkeeper. It makes you proud. And she was so humble about it.”
Ms Silverman also saw her share of bizarre incidents growing up as a “retail brat” on Chapel Street, such as the time a group of Muslim women rolled out mats and started praying while a party of Orthodox Jewish women hid in the fitting rooms.
“They [the Jewish women] thought, ‘This is our realm.’ They were in shock,” Ms Silverman said.
“[Baggy’s] wasn’t a place to be seen. It was very much a place people could go in their private time,” Ms Silverman said.
“[Chapel Street] was so lively. It was a bit like the Rodeo Drive of Melbourne.”
Named after Rachel’s husband Keith Silverman’s favourite 1960s’ London club, the Bag O’Nails, Baggy’s has weathered the recession and Chapel Street’s decline, as well as its own individual trials.
In 1992, Mrs Silverman was forced to rebuild the business from scratch after a professional burglary emptied the shop of all its stock.
Ms Leventer said the demise of Chapel Street had dented the store’s takings from tourists and passers by but it was not the sole reason it was closing.