Billionaire fashion house owners buy ex-Church of Scientology HQ

The Royal Bank of Australia building prior to an extension.

The billionaire owners of fashion powerhouse Chanel have quietly bought the c1923 ex-Royal Bank of Australia building, in Melbourne’s exclusive east end, from their landlord.

The Chanel store, opposite a red brick building Christian Dior bought last year.

The $75 million off-market deal for 42 Russell Street, on the north east corner of Flinders Lane, has been a long time coming, with the occupier said to have negotiated a first right to purchase in its initial 2014 lease.

The Hour Glass paid $68 million for 139 Collins Street in 2020.

Theatre owner and property investor David Marriner will bank the windfall – he paid the Church of Scientology $7.4m in 2009; it was a counter-cyclical decision, the sector reeling following the (late 2007) Global Financial Crisis.

The vendor was also readying to move to a larger, replacement facility, in Ascot Vale.

Fourteen years ago, Mr Marriner sought to extend the four storey, 1377 square metre modern Italian Palazzo building by 21 levels, for a c100-suite hotel accessed from the fourth floor.

In an Australian first, that predominantly glass structure would have been laminated with an abstract image.

Deal a decade in the making

Mr Marriner renovated and extended 42 Russell St two storeys to lure Chanel.

The sale late last year was to Mousse Holdings, controlled by Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, the grandsons of Coco Chanel founder Pierre Wertheimer, each worth $57.2 billion – equal 37th on the most recent Forbes Billionaires List.

It comes eight months since we reported Christian Dior outlaid $39m for the c1902 ex-Metcalfe & Barnard warehouse, later the Ivy nightclub, at 145-149 Flinders Ln, opposite the Chanel building to the south, with plans to occupy.

In 2020, meanwhile, Singapore listed The Hour Glass paid $68m for 139 Collins St, on the south east corner of Russell, also with plans to move one of its retail brands in.

Shortly after, it spent $35m for a two level strata at 181 Collins St, occupied by a rival, Balenciaga (story continues below).

The Rolex store opened late last year at 104 Exhibition Street – the ex-Liberal Party of Victoria headquarters.

Rolex also owner occupies in the pocket – six years ago it paid the Liberal Party of Victoria $37.1m for Centenary House at 104 Exhibition St, which recently reopened as a store following a swank renovation.

Daniel Wolman and Oliver Hay, now with Cushman & Wakefield, brokered the Christian Dior, Rolex and 139 Collins St deals.

Vinci Carbone’s Frank Vinci and Joseph Carbone marketed 181 Collins St.

Another owner-occupier deal

The Church of Scientology held 42 Russell St since paying the Royal Bank of Australia $720,000 in 1979, settling the year later.

On 346 square metres, it abuts the Grand Hyatt Hotel, on the same block as Collins St, walking distance to Parliament station.

Elsewhere in the pocket, Chris Lucas last September paid $23.5m for a Flinders Ln building part utilised by his Kisume restaurant.

Sydney hotelier Justin Hemmes meanwhile has also recently bought Melbourne CBD properties to occupy including Tomasetti House (277 Flinders Ln) which cost $43m, and Kantay House, in Meyers Place, behind the Windsor Hotel (c$15m).

Mr Wolman and Mr Hay brokered the Chris Lucas and Meyers Pl deals too.

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Marc Pallisco

A former property analyst and print journalist, Marc is the publisher of