“My husband is a minimalist,” says Brenda as she scans the living room. At first sight I would agree with her. The apartment is fairly plain and fundamentally practical. There is a couch where a couch is supposed to be, a stove in the kitchen and a bed in the bedroom. Nothing out of the ordinary. But when I look through my lens to frame a picture, I notice all kinds of stuff, under, behind and on top of said decor. Coloring books, a folded stroller, a box of clothes, toys, books and a collection of records, giving the illusion that some other, not-so-minimal force is at work here. “I am the opposite,” she finally reveals without any noticeable sign of regret. “I love trinkets and ‘organized clutter’. Over the years we have come to a nice medium though. I’m more ruthless with my de-cluttering and he’s more accepting of my array of trinkets. But that’s not to say that every now and then I’ll come home to find a nicely curated box of items that apparently need to be dealt with i.e. thrown away…”
Brenda Briand has a healthy Ebay and Etsy obsession. Over the years she’s collected just about anything, whether it’s tiny vintage clothes for their 3-year old daughter Milla, or fine jewelry, or fabrics, glassware, Bakelite cutlery, vintage denim or 70s Phool hippie dresses, whatever rocks her boat at that instant. “I obsess over certain things for a while and then move on,” she laughs. “I’m definitely an emotional shopper and most items I just fall in love with straight away. I have to have it! It could be a $1 crazy print T-shirt or a beautiful 30s beaded dress. Price doesn’t really come into it. Sometimes it’s fashion; sometimes it’s other things. My current obsession is rare out-of-print books. I’ve currently got my eye on a Bruce Davidson ‘Brooklyn Gang’ first edition.” I look at Ben’s worried face and can’t but wonder if he is thinking of a suitable place to ‘hide’ them…
Bellevue Hill is just up from Bondi Beach. It’s a lush neighborhood, with grand views, huge villas and private schools. “But also nice Art Deco apartment buildings, which is the category of residents we fall into,” declares Brenda proudly. “I love the parquetry flooring, the fact that there are no common walls and that we are surrounded by greenery and nature. Some parrots have just started visiting us which Milla loves! It’s secluded and very close to everything.” But Milla is growing out of her teeny baby clothes and soon the family home will bust at the seams. Though contrary to what you might think, the idea of moving is an exciting topic and discussed at length during our lunch at Bread & Circus. They’re even considering moving overseas. “Ben is a film director so it’s the natural progression with his career. The northern hemisphere is definitely calling as Ben has representation in LA and Paris. Plus all my manufacturing is done in Europe; all the leather goods in Turkey. So it makes sense. Also being my tenth year here in Australia I’m getting itchy feet!”
Oh yeah that’s right! Brenda is from New Zealand, not Australia. And she designs bags. She trained as a hair dresser first, then started to work for various Australian brands as a production manager after she moved. “I currently teach manufacturing and production at FBI Fashion College, and do consulting and freelance for brands like Dion Leein production capacity, as well as running Benah (her line of bags) full-time; I’m a busy lady.” I learned about Benah last year. The bags are chic, well-made and fairly timeless, though there is a hint of Celine I would say. “Benah will be 4 years old at the end if this year” she smiles. “She is my other baby.”
I spent my first day in Sydney with Brenda, Ben and Milla. We shopped, ate, drove, talked, laughed and watched the sunset at Rose Bay. They were the perfect hosts for a jet-lagged, hyper-active traveler like me. And I leave you with some tips from Brenda, to do Sydney, better:
1. Visit the corner of Glenmore and Oxford street for a good dose of Australian fashion. (Some photos and a review of the ‘Intersection’ here)
2. Mitchell Road Auction house is a crazy emporium filled with vintage EVERYTHING. Don’t forget to look upstairs. (It’s the yellow building and crazy mini-livingrooms you see in this post.)
3. Experience the coffee! The Shop on Curlewis Street in Bondi makes the best cup. Ask for Mikey, he will sort you out.
4. Relax. Enjoy the laid back style and let your skin breathe. Visit the beaches, even if it’s just to people-watch, soak in the salt air and watch the world go by.
5. Eat your way around Sydney. It has some of the best food and restaurants. The Corner House on Bondi Road and Panama House just a few doors up are great laid back joints. Bread and Circus in Alexandria has the most amazing tea selection and the most extraordinary chai. And Kitchen By Mike in Roseberry has a wonderful communal lunch.
6. Always plan to stay longer than you think. You will thank me for it.