From picking up one-off souvenirs to no-holds-barred splashing out, the market for high-end shopping is stronger than ever, says Alex Coxon
“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.” When actress Bo Derek uttered these famous words, it was pretty clear she wasn’t talking about Walmart or Target. There’s a certain thrill most women, and a lot of men, get from buying luxury goods — even more so when they make their purchase on a shopping tour in a different state or country. The appeal of the high-end shopping excursion is palpable — especially when it comes to an overseas vacation.
“Many travelers love finding special items that can’t be found anywhere but their travel destination. They see this as part of their cultural touring — buying items used in the daily life of local people in the destination,” says Ashley Isaacs Ganz, founder and CEO of luxury tour operator Artisans of Leisure.
Afshan Poona-Alibhai, junior vice president, operations, at Dubai specialist operator HTT Holidays & Incentives, agrees.
“When people book a vacation in Dubai, they tend to want to have a minimum of a half to a full day visiting its malls, where they’re able to buy the very best international brands. But many are also interested in cultural shopping experiences — in visiting souks where they can purchase jewelry, homewares or perfume they can’t find at home.”
According to both Ganz and Poona-Alibhai, the majority of luxury clients tend to build shopping experiences into a wider vacation, although there are exceptions to the rule. “Some travelers have very specific shopping interests and requests that require very focused shopping tours and specialists,” Ganz explains.
It’s for this reason that many operators offering high-end shopping breaks will customize tours to suit clients’ needs, liaising with them in advance to determine what kind of items they want to buy and the best locations to meet those needs. That said, even scheduled half- or full-day luxury tours tend to have an element of tailoring, ensuring those indulging in a little retail therapy as part of their vacation are taken directly to their chosen boutiques — often with a personal shopper and private driver — rather than simply being bussed to a destination and left to their own devices.
Despite straining economic times, the appetite for luxury shopping remains. And with fashion centers like Milan, Paris and New York; specialist furniture and soft furnishing hubs such as Bali, Morocco and Dubai; and jewelry and antiques districts the world over, the options are vast.
We suggest: Fifth Avenue, New York.
Why: For the ultimate in homegrown shopping destinations, nowhere quite compares with the stretch of Fifth Avenue running between 49th and 60th Street. The variety of boutiques and fashion and jewelry flagships on offer here have ensured Fifth Avenue ranks number one on lists of ultimate shopping destinations time and again. But it isn’t only elite names like Louis Vuitton, Chanel and BCBG Max Azria ensuring vacationers splash their cash in this Upper East Side slice of the Big Apple. Other draws include the prestigious Apple Store — now an icon in its own right, as the fifth most photographed building in the whole city — and luxury department stores Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman.
Buy: Designer jewelry. Fifth Avenue is perhaps as famous for its chic accessory stores as it is for fashion. Tiffany & Co, Omega, Cartier and Swarovski are just some of the leading brands found here.
Where else: Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. Your client can combine an upscale shopping excursion with some celebrity-spotting in this three-block shopping district. Favored by Hollywood A-listers, Rodeo Drive features an array of sophisticated boutiques, with designer brands including Dolce & Gabbana, Tod’s and Herve Leger.
We suggest: Via Monte Napoleone, Milan, Italy.
Why: Vacationers are spoilt for choice when it comes to chic shopping options in and around Milan, the design capital of Europe. The outskirts of the city are renowned for their top-brand outlets, where visitors can pick up designer pieces from the likes of Gucci and La Perla at a considerable discount. But for this season’s must-have sartorial trends — not to mention the creme de la creme in leatherwear and jewelry — nowhere beats Via Monte Napoleone in the heart of the fashion district. This famous boulevard and its maze of side streets are home to the flagship stores of most of Italy’s leading brands, including Armani, Missoni, Bottega Veneta, Fendi, Valentino and Versace.
Buy: Shoes. Via Monte Napoleone may be best-known for its collection of elite fashion stores, but it also serves as a shop window for some of Italy’s most exclusive and desirable shoemakers, including Silvano Lattanzi, Tanino Crisci and Fratelli Rossetti.
Where else: Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, Paris, France. No fashionata’s trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to this narrow street in the eighth arrondissement, housing boutiques for virtually every one of the world’s major fashion houses. Classic labels include Yves Saint Laurent and Hermes.
We suggest: Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Why: The former British colony of Hong Kong is renowned as a shopper’s paradise, but nowhere is this reputation more appropriate than in Tsim Sha Tsui. Located at the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula, Hong Kong’s best-loved shopping district is almost as famous for its Asian boutiques as it is for its international fashion brands. Encourage clients to visit The Rise Shopping Arcade on Granville Road and nearby Beverly Shopping Centre on Chatham Road South to pick up designer pieces from the city’s top young talent before heading over to Harbour City — Hong Kong’s biggest mall — and the ultra-fashionable Canton Road. Here, shoppers will find an array of luxury stores, including Hermes, Chanel and Louis Vuitton’s largest Asian store.
Buy: Tailor-made suits. Tsim Sha Tsui is renowned for its high-end Shanghainese and Indian tailors, with top names including Punjab House, Raja Fashions and Sam’s Tailor. Be prepared to make time for three to four fittings over one to three days.
Where else: Orchard Road, Singapore. Some of the world’s best-loved luxury brands have flagship stores here, including Prada, occupying 12,917sq ft within the fashionable ION Orchard mall, the retailer’s largest store in the Asia-Pacific.
We suggest: Wafi, Dubai, UAE.
Why: Widely considered to be one of Dubai’s most stylish shopping malls, it isn’t only Wafi’s ancient Egyptian theme — complete with pyramid-shaped atriums — that makes this a great destination for luxury vacationers. There’s also an impressive choice of exclusive brands, including classic fashion, and jewelry retailers such as Chanel, Escada, Chopard and Rolex, and a range of up-and-coming designers like Ginger & Lace and Tiger Lily. Other features include a beautifully remodeled 14th-century style souk, selling all manner of Arabian handicrafts, a nightly Light & Sound Show, regular exhibitions promoting both local and international artists, and fabulous discounts during the annual Dubai Shopping Festival (January 3-February 3 2013).
Buy: Designer goods and artisan Middle Eastern furnishings, including Persian rugs and gemstone jewelry. The combo of mall and souk means you can purchase all of these under one roof.
Where else: Khan el-Khalili bazaar, Cairo, Egypt. Dating back to 1382, this souk is more rustic than Wafi’s, but is still widely regarded as one of the best places in the Middle East to pick up Bedouin wool rugs and hand-crafted jewelry.
We suggest: Jardins, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Why: This central, leafy district of Sao Paulo is South America’s most prestigious shopping destination — and growing in repute, thanks to the burgeoning Sao Paulo Fashion Week, in January and June. Key streets here include Rua Augusta and Rua Oscar Freire — the latter often compared to Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive — where upmarket labels include Dior and Marc Jacobs. The area is extremely compact — shoppers can easily traverse Jardins by foot, and if tired, can seek sanctuary in one of its many exclusive restaurants, bars or nightclubs.
Buy: Latin American couture. Brazilian fashion designers like Alexandre Herchcovitch are becoming increasingly popular in the US. But while supplies of their ready-to-wear and tailor-made ranges are frustratingly limited here, you’ll find much larger collections in Jardins.
Where else: San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina. This picturesque barrio in the south of the city may not have the high fashion cachet of other districts, like Palermo, but it’s the place to go for South American antiques. Advise clients to visit on a Sunday so they can experience the weekly antiques fair.
PUBLISHED IN THE WINTER 2012/2013 ISSUE OF ASTAnetwork