Besides the Olympia Milk Bar, one of Parramatta Roads enduring mysteries is Ligne Noire perfumerie at number 247 Parramatta Road, Annandale. An 80s time capsule, Ligne Noir has never, in the time I have known it, been open, although if the shop were functioning as normal, going inside would perhaps be less exciting than peering through the bars.
Inside are displays of stagnating bath salts and perfumed lotions, soaps decaying from the heat of many summers. One cabinet is filled with the signature Ligne Noire products, in black packages with the name embossed in silver. Other products remind me of the scents sold in chemists in the 1980s, which give them, in my mind, a kind of medicinal aura: Old Spice, Drakkar Noir, Royal Navy. Beyond the bath goods are racks of bright 80s clothes, handbags, glomesh purses, and cases of costume jewellery, most still displayed on the racks as if one day the owner might wake from a twenty year sleep and open up shop again.
A pile of clothes is draped over one of the counters, as if in mid-stocktake, and a pile of never-opened mail grows more faded and dusty, their messages long expired. The displays are as they were, cellophane collecting dust and signs fading to nothingness while the windows are zigzagged with graffiti.
Last week another masterplan for turning Parramatta Road into a tree lined boulevard and “liveability corridor” was unleashed. The plan, as many of these plans do, aimed to return the road to its days as a retail and residential strip rather than a thoroughfare lined with decrepit buildings and flagged with for sale signs. Before the construction of shopping malls in the 1970s, Parramatta Road was lined with businesses of all kinds; this was where people came to buy clothes, have their hair cut, buy electrical goods, all the things that are now agglomerated into malls. Parramatta Road is now regarded as one of Sydney’s ugliest places, a varicose vein in the body of the city, a problem to be fixed.
While no one could argue with descriptions of its congestion and deterioration, it is equally a place that rewards the curious. It’s decay has transformed it into a place of unexpected treasures, there to discover until the day the demolition team arrive.
As I stand peering through the windows of Ligne Noir, in a reverie about a black and white gingham Miss Shop bodysuit, someone walks past behind me and I jump. Staring through the window at the objects inside is to enter into a different world, and it is easy to forget the real one outside. The person who surprised me slows down, curious about what I am looking at, before continuing on to the kebab shop a few doors down. It was not, as I had for a moment thought, the owner come to claim their shop. Whoever they are we are free to imagine, and this is the reward of such mysterious places, the web they cast of memory and fiction. We can imagine it as a crime scene photograph, a movie set, a portal into another time, or just a dusty abandoned shop.
Near the door, in front of an 80s air conditioner, is the stalk of a fake plant, festooned with pastel ribbon rosettes. In the corner of one of the displays, a soft toy koala wearing a straw hat stares out mournfully. A Snap Printing calendar visible behind the counter shows 1996. This is my favourite Sydney museum, a slice of retail past preserved from the days of gift boxed bath salts and talcum powder, there for anyone who cares to peer through the windows.
I dedicate this post to Emily and Raquel, once of Duke magazine, who wrote about this store in their magazine – it was nice to think that someone else had noticed, and they with their amazing home museum of everything would be the natural inheritors of Ligne Noir. . .