Just look for the red and white pinstripe awnings and you’ve arrived at Athena Levendi’s Axl Bazaar boutique, greeting in-the-know Potts Point locals with a distinct European charm. “I wanted it to feel like a little Paris in Potts Point,” says Levendi.
The Elizabeth Bay Road vintage fashion concept slid into the former Bloodorange site in November this year. It resembles an exotic bazaar and offers a tight, rainbow-coloured collection of fabled, maximalist designs from the likes of Oscar De La Renta, Prada and Chanel alongside eye-catching non-designer garments from the ’60s through to now.
But despite the loud trimmings, from gold lame to polka-dot ruffles, when it comes to marketing, Levendi prefers a more understated approach (including being initially reluctant to talk to the media).
“I didn’t want to advertise, I wanted it to be word-of-mouth. I believe if something is good, eventually people will find out. There’s no need to shout.”
Her long love of scouting for second-hand apparel aside, Levendi is also an accomplished artist, whose 2016 Archibald entry captured restaurateurs Enrico and Giovanni Paradiso of Potts Point institution Fratelli Paradiso. She brings that same artistic eye to her sartorial curation.
“I couldn’t afford the Pucci, the Prada, but I loved it so I had to find a way,” she says. That’s when she had a lightbulb moment that transitioned her hobby into a full-time business.
Searching the world’s fashion capitals – New York, Paris, Milan and London – she ended up in the rural NSW town of Seymour, before returning to Sydney with her treasures, which retail for a fraction of their original prices. (A bamboo-buttoned Oscar De La Renta cocktail dress is a relatively modest $290). Some garments have even undergone VIP treatment, earning a “AXL Bazaar” label, which indicates the vintage piece has been altered or bedazzled by Levendi.
The space evokes a Parisian apartment. There are worn concrete floors, Persian rugs and soaring change-room mirrors festooned with faux fluoro gerberas. The gold-foil framing of Axl Bazaar’s shop windows reference the inlay of the store’s grand antique armoire, and the “The Partner Chair”, which was painted by Levendi, has sobbing faces on it to signify impatient waiting partners.
Among the whimsical one-offs are current-season pieces from Comme des Garcons, Vetements, Dries Van Noten, RM Williams and Issey Miyake. It’s not all ballgowns and fringed pencil skirts, though. There are new shoes from Converse, Alexander McQueen and Puma, and a quirky assortment of vintage T-shirts. One such oversized tee features hand-painted harvest vegetables that Levendi conspiratorially suggests “would look amazing paired with a flowing maxi skirt and Pumas”.
Beyond championing a “one-of-a-kind’ aesthetic, Levendi endorses a sustainable approach to fashion. “I want to bring back that romance women have with their clothes. This notion that, ‘Oh, but people have seen me in that dress, I can’t wear it again’ is tiring. Young girls feeling like they need to buy a new outfit every Friday. I say find a dress you love and wear it another 45 times in different ways; make it your signature.”
35 Elizabeth Bay Road, Elizabeth Bay
(02) 9360 0555
Tue to Sun 10.30am–5.30pm