In a world that is constantly changing, retailing styles, and brand and store design are leading the charge. In place of the ubiquitous department store of past decades, there is a new breed of retail participation – the carefully curated art and design offering where food, wine and sociability are an extension of the buying experience.
One such retail venue is Franque in Melbourne’s chic inner city destination of Hawksburn Village in Toorak.
Franque is the brainchild of Sarah Hook, a woman who has seen the future of retailing and is making it today’s reality. As a child Hook was surrounded by art, having the opportunity to explore the world of the Heide Museum of Modern Art where her father was chairman for a period. She subsequently studied fine art, majoring in painting at the University of Melbourne and the Victorian College of the Arts, before travelling to Italy where she fell in love with the city of Florence and remained for five years.
Returning to Melbourne to raise a family, Hook commenced work as a manager for Manon but, after some years, decided to create her own more holistic retail experience that would incorporate fine art into her offering.
She began hosting soirées for friends, exhibiting artists’ work at home and then, when demand dictated, moved the enterprise to a warehouse apartment space in cosmopolitan St Kilda. Here she showcased paintings and sculpture in a very ‘at home’ style through vignettes of furniture, accessories and art arrangements styled in a contemporary way.
The venture was so successful that Hook decided to open her doors to the public, establishing a retail store, Franque, in upmarket Armadale in 2011. Five years later the business required
a move to larger premises – a double-fronted Heritage building in Hawksburn Village, with more space, many more artists, products and furniture pieces, plus a large event area.
The spatial footprint of the premises is large at 400 square metres and Hook has retained the spirit of the building’s period leaving Heritage doors, windows, cornices and interior ornamentation untouched.
The space has been opened up and the layout is perfectly utilised through an endless variety of movable settings of furniture, art and product. The front half of the building is given over to retail and there is a special area that showcases the main brand of the store, Santa Maria Novella.
French and Italian antique furniture pieces are scattered among the sculptures and artworks, chandeliers, mirrors and display cabinets. The Baccarat crystal glassware sits next to Lucy Folk eyewear and jewellery, bowties from Mani del Sud in Florence, Cire Trudon candles from Paris and many other products too numerous to mention.
It is the art that shines, however, as the eclectic works complement each other and the entire setting. With more than 26 artists collaborating with Franque, the variety is exceptional and includes such artists as Bruce Armstrong, Richard Stringer, Peter D Cole, Carlo Golin, David Ray, Liz Williams and Greg Wood.
At the back of the premises is the dining area and kitchen, and this is where things become interesting. Fluidity is everything and change is constant. One day the long French oak tables can be configured for a dinner for 40, the next for a lunch for 10, or cleared for a stand-up cocktail party for 60.
Luxury and authenticity are the order of the day and tables are set with Astier de Villatte flatware, Baccarat and antique glassware, and Bernardaud porcelain dinnerware. Silver candlesticks and crystal vases filled with flowers are perfectly placed on the French or Italian antique linen and seasonal produce is served from the commercial kitchen in this very luxurious communal space.
Beyond the kitchen and through the side and back doors is the access to the orangery and sculpture garden. This is an idyllic setting for champagne at six or lunch at one and the surroundings present sculpture in a location that is beautiful and real.
There are many different ways that Hook envisages the retail role of Franque. It’s all about enhancing the buying experience and simplifying and demystifying the purchase of major art, furniture and lighting pieces – quite a change to the rarefied environment of galleries or the uncertainty of an auction house.
To this end, Hook has developed relationships with like-minded partners and one such collaboration will be with Leonard Joel Auction House showcasing jewellery prior to auction. Hook has agreed to open the doors of Franque to Joel’s potential buyers for a ‘live’ viewing of the jewellery displayed on models. This is a new initiative for Leonard Joel that is pure theatre, emulating the salon experience and creating client interaction at its best.
The future is bright for Hook with a calendar of events at Franque, including special dinners and product showings, cocktail parties, evening drinks for patrons and lunch served three days
a week. The merging of retail and event spaces is not new, but the way that Hook visualises the future of Franque is.
With products displayed within a beautiful Heritage interior, modern art and sculpture from some of the best artists in Australia and authentic furniture and objets that are world’s best, retailing should be a breeze. But add in a glass of champagne to sip in the sculpture garden or a sumptuous dinner in the event space and retailing is forever changed for the better.
Photography by Dianna Snape.
Interested in art? Read our interview with art adviser Barbara Flynn here.