SINCE OPENING in Sydney a little under two years ago, Chinatown Country Club has become the place to snatch up pieces from the world’s coolest brands, from avant-garde labels like Kiko Kostadinov and Andersson Bell to menswear crowd-pleasers like Our Legacy. It’s also become a bucket list retail destination for international visitors, including some pretty famous celebrities—when someone big is in town, it’s not uncommon for the store to receive a call about having that someone in for a private shop.
But Chinatown Country Club, which takes its name from the “juxtaposition between the exclusivity and far reaching manners of country clubs and the welcoming familiarity of Chinatown”, has always nurtured ambitions to expand its offering and build its community by bringing something truly unique to the Australian retail landscape. But it was when a loft space above the Chinatown Country Club store in the city became available that the businesses next chapter began to take shape.
“We were looking for a space to connect with our brands and customers more. A good place for us to introduce brands to the market in a more informed way,” explains Oliver Li, Chinatown Country Club’s founder. “We wanted it to be a really multi-disciplinary space, though, with room for a photography studio and space to do private appointments with customers. This was an office space,” he adds, gesturing around the brightly-lit expanse, which feels more like a New York loft than a Sydney office. With herringbone timber floorboards, palatial windows and a view out over the city streets, it ticked all of the team’s boxes.
But before they found the space, Li and his business partner Harry Matthews found the couch. If you follow design media, there’s a very high chance you’ve seen the blue peeks of the modular sofa before. Known as the Dune Ensemble, it was originally designed by French interior designer Pierre Paulin in the 1970s. But a few years ago, the sofa—which was always a bit of an IYKYK piece—found itself in the throes of a popular resurgence thanks to none other than Frank Ocean. The musician and style icon shared photos of himself lounging on his own blue Dune Ensemble to Instagram in 2019 and, as with most things Ocean touches, the sofa became an internet sensation; Architectural Digest even published a story titled: What you need to know about Frank Ocean’s stylish Pierre Paulin sofa.
It was on a buying trip to Paris that Li visited the Pierre Paulin showroom, which is now run by the designer’s son Benjamin, and fell in love with a Dune Ensemble in the same sea blue colour. “We thought it was a nice, vibey, cosy piece for our ‘apartment’, which we want to feel like a home,” he says. With no space to put it—yet—Li placed an order, hoping that whenever the right space did come up, there would be enough room for the conversation pit-style couch, which isn’t exactly small.
The real estate gods must’ve been listening. Today, as we walk around the space, the Dune Ensemble sits comfortably in a sunny corner of APT CCC, as if it was made specifically for the space.
What is essentially one large room with different pockets, including a galley-style library, APT CCC lends itself to a variety of purposes. Li and Matthews are excited to use it as an events space, both for Chinatown Country Club’s own collection launches and parties, as well as collaborative events with other brands and celebrities. The week I visited, Troye Sivan was setting up for the Sydney launch of his Tsu Lange Yor platform, which marked APT CCC’s first official party. While the team didn’t have to renovate the space too heavily, they were able to build their very own photo studio. In addition to shooting their own ecommerce content, Li says he wants to rent the space out to local photographers and stylists, many of whom already lend garments from the store for their photoshoots.
But Li, Matthews and their tight-knit team are most excited to launch Chinatown Country Club’s curated vintage shopping service. Li, who is a big vintage shopper, has always wanted to bring an archival component to the store. But rather than adding a vintage section to the existing retail space downstairs, he wanted to offer a more personal shopping experience. “The vintage market is growing really rapidly, especially for the more fashion-forward customer,” says Li. “We have a lot of customers within our existing community that are big vintage shoppers, so we felt it was a good time to launch.” The by-appointment service is currently open for booking on the Chinatown Country Club website; customers who schedule a shopping appointment can explore a curated selection of pre-owned, vintage, archival and past season pieces all hand-picked by the in-house team.
“We’re focusing on Comme [Des Garçons], Issey [Miyake]… I’d say a very particular fashion design-driven brand. But also, every now and then we’ll have a luxury designer [pieces] as well. We want to cater to all different kinds of vintage shoppers. Some people only want Comme and Issey, for example, but some people might want vintage Chanel,” explains Li. “It’s kind of like our downstairs retail as well. We buy some brands for the very fashion forward customer, but we also need things for the more everyday shopper.”
“We want a more intentional and motivated customer for upstairs. Someone who’s really here to search for a particular piece, and with the one-on-one service we can really help with that. We can help you look for something,” Li continues. “It’s open to everyone and anyone but you just need to make an appointment. Like a restaurant booking, pretty much.”
Can customers lounge in the blue Dune between try-ons? “Of course,” says Li with a smile. “We want it to feel very approachable, like a home.”