April 2024

One Of A Kind

One Of A Kind One Of A Kind One Of A Kind One Of A Kind One Of A Kind One Of A Kind One Of A Kind One Of A Kind Text: Millie Stein Images: Rene Vaile

Here is what I have learned from Dion Kovac: retail is a tricky business, clever people are softly spoken and James Cameron is a Freemason. He knows a lot, and will tell you as much as you care to hear. Even his shops speak volumes.

Take One of a Kind, for example. It is Dion’s third shop in eight years, situated in Darlinghurst’s Darley Street. The small, vine-covered space holds a few pieces of vintage furniture and a well-edited selection of menswear labels, including Vanishing Elephant, Rittenhouse, 3/1, Generic Surplus and B Store. The shop feels carefully curated, but decidedly informal. It speaks of someone who has experimented with many ways of doing what they do, and has finally settled on the one.

Dion opened his first shop, Our Spot, in 2002 with his wife Claire Cooper Kovac. It had a gallery in the front and a shop in the back, and an entrance in a laneway off Crown Street.

“I was heavily involved in the skate scene in Sydney, then moved to London where I was working in Soho, managing a skate shop,” he says. “I came home, took a walk down Crown Street and went, ‘Nothing’s here’. Because of skating, I had so many friends who were creative, into photography, painting, music, so Claire and I thought, ‘Why don’t we do something a little different?’”

Ask anyone who went to that first shop: there was something right about it. What Dion and Claire were doing was reminiscent of another time – a few years in the future – and place – New York, or even Melbourne. Eight years later, it seems that having a beer at a gallery opening and buying skate brands for regular wear has caught on fast.

“With every store that we’ve ever done, our primary concern has been to concentrate on something that isn’t happening,” Dion says. “For some reason, people in Sydney think differently about retail. Don’t get me wrong; there are people out there who are in to it. The first store was like a melting pot for art dudes, skaters and Asian kids who collected sneakers.”

In contrast, Our Spot’s second store, opened in 2007, was a step up. Dion’s tastes had changed, and brands such as APC, Nom de Guerre, and Robert Geller would sell out within days. The space was an homage to clean lines and a subtle kind of taste, and the store received international attention and patronage.

Come 2009, the Global Financial Etcetera was in full effect and, most unfairly, Our Spot closed. It wasn’t so much about why the shop shut its doors. Instead, it made people (me for one) question how receptive Sydney really was, and is, to the kind of thing Our Spot was trying to do.

“It was definitely a disappointment,” Dion says. “It was a big part of our lives but we had to let it go. I don’t think people realise sometimes how tough owning your own business can be. You’ve got to really work your butt off. But look, we’re still here, and we’re still doing stuff. There was a lot of talk for me to do Our Spot again, but I wouldn’t like to bring anything back. Once it’s done it’s done – move on to the next one and start again.”

And that brings us more or less up to date. With two stores down, One of a Kind is indicative of where Dion’s interests and energies are at now. He doesn’t really know, or care, whether it’ll be for open for six months or six years. Brand exclusivity and competition are non-issues (“I’m not fussed with that shit anymore”). There is talk of a book fair and hanging friends’ photographs on the walls of the shop. When he speaks about his aspirations, they are mostly in theme – magnanimous and community-oriented. It’s just the way he is, and it makes you want to listen.

“I think it’s only a small little town, and everyone knows everyone’s business,” he says. “It’s so much easier when everyone can come together. And that’s what I want to do now: I don’t want to strictly run One of a Kind like a traditional store. You need to keep moving. Once you do, it opens up so many other possibilities and friendships and all the good things in life. It’s boring otherwise.”

“If I didn’t do this, I guess I could get on the dole and become like The Dude out of The Big Lebowski. This business is stimulating, but it’s hard. I enjoy the game, though, I think it’s fun. I do it for the same reason anyone does what they do – you have to keep on going.”

One of a Kind
114 Burton St (enter on Darley St)
Darlinghurst NSW

Open Tuesday to Friday, 12 to 6pm and Saturday 11am to 5pm.

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