By Elizabeth Valerio
As New Yorkers, we are spoiled by our shopping. It seems that no matter what section you’re strolling through, there’s always a store worth spending at. In fact, it’s hard to believe that there are other cities with different—maybe even better—shopping options. Overseas cities offer vintage threads, high-end electronics and everything in between. These urban shopping scenes could give you a run for your money – literally.
The obvious shopping capital of the world is Paris, with its coveted fashion week and stores like Chanel and Jean-Paul Gaultier book-ending the cobblestone streets. Paris has long been number one in high-end fashion but is also noted as a top spot for small and chic boutiques, which are often harder to locate. Tour companies like Chic Shopping Paris (chicshoppingparis.com) offer guided tours for out-of-towners, revealing which stores are cheap, which are pricey and which are the best for snagging one-of-a-kind treasures that will more than likely merit the exclamation, “did you get that in Paris?!”
To the west, London also houses its fair share of couture fashion. But more importantly, this capital boasts numerous markets, perfect for snatching that vintage dress, an antique pendant or an old teapot that reminds you of your grandmother. Portobello Market is favorable for clothing purchases and is located in the trendy Notting Hill section of London on Portobello Road. Jewelry and antiques can also be found there. Portobello particularly thrives early on Saturday mornings (while the merchants set up their booths you can usually bargain for a great deal) so get there as the sun rises for optimal browsing. Another known area is Camden, home of Camden Market, with a rather unique collection of items. Tattoo parlors and piercing shops line the streets and cramped booths filled with antique pocket watches, Beatles handbags and “mind the gap” merchandise attract tourists and Londoners of all ages. With this kind of variety, there’s no need to lose your pounds at Harrods.
It would be a feat to memorize all of Milan’s designer stores. After all the fashion week fuss over underweight models on the Italian runways, it’s worth it to see what the press was really writing about. The Fashion Quadrilatero is outlined by six major streets you won’t want to miss if you’re serious about European fashion: Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, Via Sant’Andrea, Via Manzoni, Via Borgospesso and Via Santo Spirito. These roads enclose what is regarded as one of the most expensive and exclusive high fashion districts in the world. Brands like Gucci, Versace, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Fendi, just to name a few, all have large showrooms with hefty price tags. It is common for designer shops to jack up their prices for the eager tourists they love to sell to.
Sun worshipping shoppers might want to consider. St. Barts, a popular island in the sun that boasts not only frozen cocktails and palm trees, but upscale boutiques as well. Tod’s and Hermés feature exclusive items not available in other stores and they’re tax-free. Cigar shops are also top notch as are the art galleries that sell the works of local artists.
Tokyo is arguably the most expensive city in the world, so if you’re going to drop some yen skip the European designer shops and head to Akihabara, the district crammed with electronics shops. Everything high-tech can be found embedded in these blocks, which are usually clogged with shoppers. Cell phones, computers and cameras are the main attractions, but generally, anything that beeps or buzzes is highly attainable. Often, newer models of gadgets can be found that have not been released in the U.S. yet, so you’re sure to return home with something that’s one-of-a-kind. In the realm of fashion, take a stroll through Harijuku, the part of Tokyo that has come to inspire Gwen Stefani’s popular clothing line, L.A.M.B. The stores are a mix of cheap boutiques and brand name labels, but who knows, you may find Stefani herself browsing through the racks.
Photo: Women test fragrances at Sephora on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. AP Photo