As vaunted fashion brand Alemais tries to convert a historic pub into its flagship store, some very fashionable neighbourhood NIMBYs came out in force.
When Alemais owner Lesleigh Jermanus and her retail veteran husband Chris Buchanan set their sights on converting a historic pub into the fashion brand’s first store, the pair kicked a hornet’s nest of community opposition.
Almost immediately after the plans went public last week, the development application sparked a groundswell of community activism opposing the brand’s plan to convert the $6.2 million Village Inn in Sydney’s Paddington into a retail outlet and co-working space. Locals seeking to preserve the well-heeled inner-city suburb’s history and character are not impressed.
Theo Onisforou outside The Intersection shopping precinct in Paddington: “I’ve created a precinct here with strong marketing and I give really strong support to my tenants.” 
The anger has many wondering why Alemais, which has enjoyed an almost universally positive reception since launching in 2020 – including opening this year’s Australian Fashion Week – would bother with the financial and reputational risk involved in shutting down and renovating a 172-year-old watering hole in one of Sydney’s proudest and most protective communities.
But this is more than just a property stoush between developer and NIMBYs. In fact, it is a tale of fashion ambition, the lure of a location and the power of a growing crop of deeply committed – and intensely selective – retail landlords.
Theo Onisforou has spent 25 years buying up frontage around the corner of Oxford Street and Glenmore Road in a bid to build the precinct now known to retailers and shoppers alike as The Intersection – housing fashion powerhouses such as Sass & Bide, Scanlan Theodore, Aje and, crucially, Zimmermann.
Onisforou is a former fashion entrepreneur himself, previously owning stakes in pioneering Australian retailer Marcs and Italian denim empire Diesel, and has been single-minded in his creation of a strip that he describes as the country’s best showcase of home-grown fashion.
He says Alemais, with its boho chic-meets-garden party aesthetic, is just too close a cousin to the older, more established Zimmermann, which has built an international following on collections of balloon-sleeve and flounce-skirted frocks in luminous bohemian-inspired prints.
“For my purposes, [Alemais] knew I wouldn’t have them in the area,” he tells The Australian Financial Review. “If you have a standing tenant like Zimmermann and then someone comes along who is similar or a follower of that label – I wouldn’t lease them a shop, I [wouldn’t] do that to any of my sitting tenants.”
Source: AFR AFR
Onisforou owns a swag of properties around what is one of the country’s top outdoor retail strips, alongside Armadale High Street in Melbourne and Brisbane’s James Street, largely locked up by the Rich Lister Malouf family.
Retail leasing expert Zelman Ainsworth says planting a flag in one of these enclaves represents more than an opportunity to sell frocks. “If you’re lucky enough to get a shop on one of these high streets, it means you’ve made it,” he says.
“These high streets have the romance of these older buildings, and just by the nature of their location – they’re surrounded by the city’s wealthiest suburbs – they’ve got the shoppers they want right on their doorstep.
“It means you’ve got currency and influence in the industry and that you’re a success.”
Bold ambition: Alemais founder Lesleigh Jermanus with models after winning the National Designer Award, sponsored by David Jones, last year. Eddie Jim
For Alemais, whose representatives did not respond to requests for comment for this article, Zimmermann might be an obvious example of success to aspire to. The brand, started by sisters Nicky and Simone in the 1990s, this week signed a private equity deal that valued the company at $1.5 billion. It pushed the siblings’ stake to $615 million.
Jermanus previously worked as head designer at Zimmermann, in a 20-year designing career that has also included Marcs, Nicholas and Tigerlily.
And taking a plot across the street from the fashion giant would make business sense.
“When Zimmermann started, the rule of thumb is that they wanted to plant their flags near Scanlan Theodore,” said a retail consultant who declined to be named. “What we see here is the same thing, just a decade or two later.”
Gary Theodore recalls the difficulty his label had in securing the right sort of space as it started out in the late 1980s, as it deliberately targeted a handful of well-heeled strips over malls. The decision wasn’t purely a branding exercise.
“What we did was niche and there were only potentially a handful of strips – the shopping centres, they were pretty ugly malls,” he says. “But the benefit of the strip over the mall is that the landlord doesn’t know your turnover … malls aren’t looking at a per metre rate, they are looking for a cut of your business.”
A piece of history: Paddington’s Village Inn. Oscar Colman
All of this is moot for the Paddington burghers. Residents will converge on the Village Inn today for an in-pub rally or “lock in” protesting against the redevelopment. The plans will be on public notice until the end of the month before Woollahra Council makes its decision.
For councillor Harriet Price, the biggest concern is the building’s heritage as a watering hole and social fixture.
Onisforou knows where he stands, with a view to protecting one of his best tenants.
“It’s also well known [The Intersection] is one of Zimmermann’s best performing stores, they sell more $2500 dresses there than anywhere [else] in the country, and that’s because of what we’ve created.
“I’ve created a precinct here with strong marketing and I give really strong support to my tenants. There are a lot of brands who try to get in on that … but I don’t think a Zimmermann copy coming in would help.
“If it wasn’t for what we’ve created at The Intersection, that pub would be safe.”
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