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Ringwood reinvented as a high-end fashion frontier

As far as Melbourne suburbs go, Ringwood has never been terribly sexy.

My childhood memories include cruising up the Maroondah Highway in mum's station wagon en route to Lake Eildon or Mount Buller, past fast-food outlets, furniture megastores and the monolithic Car City used-car yard.

And there was Eastland shopping centre, where we would sometimes stop – for a snack or an item mistakenly left at home – but never linger.

It's this mindset that the brains – and backers – behind Eastland are hoping to change with a $655 million revamp and a healthy injection of top-end retailers.

Names traditionally linked with the inner suburbs and the CBD are moving in: Scanlan Theodore, H&M and sass & bide have all signed on, as well as a brand new David Jones store.

David Jones is ditching its stores-within-a-store concept, with new features including a beauty school, co-founded by Rebecca Judd, and multiple digital screens.

New approach ... an artist's impression of the new Eastland shopping centre.

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General manager of retail operations Aaron Faraguna‚Äč said the top customer complaint in the past was being told by some staff that they belonged to one brand and could not answer inquiries from another.

Chairman Ian Moir hopes the new approach – the model for all future new stores and refurbishments – will bring a new type of customer to David Jones, and Eastland.

He wants customers to go on a journey through the store, which is part of the reason it has no clear aisles, and flexible spaces that can swap brands in and out, depending on the season, and what's selling.

So who is this new shopper the retail czars of Ringwood are hoping to attract to the outer east?

It's everyone, and no one, says Eastland's general manager, Steve Edgerton.

Speaking to Fairfax Media ahead of Thursday's grand opening, Mr Edgerton said there were 2.5 million people within a 30-minute radius of Eastland, ranging from dyed-in-the-wool locals to well-heeled day trippers to the nearby Yarra Valley.

"We're not putting any limits on a customer base. We would expect bleed into areas a shopping centre would normally not be able to draw on," he said.

He's hoping Eastland can bring boutique to the 'burbs thanks to its high-end tenants, as well as its other features, including a town square-style food area, library and herb garden, despite its proximity to Westfield Doncaster and Chadstone.

According to David Jones' research, the new Eastland customer is an early 30s mum with young kids, who is fashionable but not loyal to any particular brands. She doesn't have a huge disposable income but loves nice things, including entertaining at home and eating out at restaurants.

Eastland management's ambition to create a satellite CBD in the east includes gourmet food operators such as Jimmy Grants – the souvlaki chain co-owned by celebrity chef George Calombaris‚Äč – Frank Camorra's Paco's Tacos and cult burger outfit Huxtaburger.

Mr Edgerton said the calibre of food tenants will help shake off any lingering low-rent images of Ringwood.

"You can have a Jimmy Grants [souvlaki] for not much more than a [McDonald's] Big Mac meal. It's certainly not out of reach," he said.

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