When architect Arthur Blake proposed a mall in Melville it was no surprise that residents were less than enthusiastic. Melville has a Bohemian vibe with its high-street shops and restaurants that spill onto the sidewalks. But Blake wasn’t after a commercial venture that would destroy the suburb’s uniqueness. 
What he had in mind was a shopping experience that has nothing in common with the oversanitised fluorescent brightness of the malls.

Instead he proposed an idea that has taken off in cities like Buenos Aires and London’s Shoreditch district – a mall made of old shipping containers. 
Blake insists it’s not just a mall of old crates and that he’s used the crates like bricks to give it character. ‘‘I’m a local resident, so I would never propose to put a big concrete structure at the heart of Melville.” Now that the mall is up and running, people who thought he was building a China mall and were concerned about losing the park feel placated.

Piera Guglielminotti’s shop, Piera
Piera Guglielminotti’s shop, Piera
Image: Aubrey Jonsson & Annalize Nel

There are no chain stores, but instead a well-curated mix of eclectic shops, restaurants and food vendors that you can’t find anywhere else in the city. 
Some, like local clothing design stalwart Black Coffee, have been in the area for years.  They see 27 Boxes as a funky new opportunity that will draw patronage from locals and tourists. Unusual shops include ToePorn, a range of brightly coloured socks; Galago, luxury sandals with interchangeable straps and 
PremiumFrench, a range of home scents and body care. 

Adiambo Mula at her shop, Galago
Adiambo Mula at her shop, Galago
Image: Aubrey Jonsson & Annalize Nel

‘‘The creation process is fun,” says Adiambo Mula, a model and fashion show producer who came up with the concept and design of the interchangeable shoes. ‘‘Customers get to pick and choose from a variety of luxurious leathers and vibrant fabrics to instantly build their own sandal.” Mula says her store has been a big success. ‘‘Being part of the cool artisanal stores in the centre adds to the customer experience.

Black Coffee
Black Coffee
Image: Aubrey Jonsson & Annalize Nel

They love the concept and novelty of 27 Boxes.” She recommends Kuna Kids, her neighbouring store for children’s clothes in bright African prints, and Yivani’s African oil natural skin care range in the centre. PremiumFrench sells eau de toilette, candles and aromatic room fragrances from plants that grow in the French countryside. Bloc Hyalin from Feret Parfumeur has been their most 
successful product so far, a deodorant that’s 100 percent natural and good for treating ingrown hair.

Sean Ackermann from Ritual Food Bar
Sean Ackermann from Ritual Food Bar
Image: Aubrey Jonsson & Annalize Nel

‘‘I’ve no doubt that 27 Boxes will become a destination for tourists because of its unusual retailers,” says PremiumFrench director Paul Cabane. ToePorn socks are made by the Scottish group, created locally with the finest cotton blend. Marketing assistant Derynne Klaver says: ‘‘ToePorn socks allow you to rebel in a way that doesn’t endanger your life, made for the gentleman rock star and the person who dares to dare — a nod to their tag line: we’re probably not for you.” 

Helene Cabane from PremiumFrench
Helene Cabane from PremiumFrench
Image: Aubrey Jonsson & Annalize Nel

They based their decision to open at 27 Boxes on the success of BOXPARK in Shoreditch, London. Derynne recommends Hunter Cycling and Philly Cheesecake in the centre. And on the subject of food, visitors to 27 Boxes are spoilt for choice. Alongside Juzi Juice Bar, Curry in a Box, delicious sea food from Prawn Stars and vegetarian dishes from Ritual Food Bar, the centre is also home to one of the most sought-after lasagnes in Joburg, made the real Italian way by a real Italian, Piera Guglielminotti.

BonBons from PremiumFrench
BonBons from PremiumFrench
Image: Aubrey Jonsson & Annalize Nel

‘‘I made lasagne with my grandma and my mom every Sunday, and after getting many compliments decided to share it with others as a symbol of my passion for this country.” She’s become equally well known for her bolognaise, tiramisu, outstanding orange cake, pineapple and grapefruit jam and marmalade made from her mother’s recipe. Camilla Coertse of Camilla Macaroons sells out her wide variety of macaroons with unusual flavours like champagne and coconut ice every weekend. ‘‘Every week we introduce new flavours and every weekend we have special-edition macaroons like Minions, Batman and Spiderman.” 


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