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By Barbara Kingstone
Even in the unusual downpour that lasted the entire day as umbrellas turned inside out when the wind picked up, one couldn’t resist walking around this monumentally glorious city.
While window shopping from a van on a city tour in Madrid and seeing great designs, even with only a quick glance, I suddenly had a retail therapy attack which had to wait for the next day.
This urge to shop, yes, it was pouring, was Calle Serrano, Spain’s answer to New York’s,5th Ave., and Paris’, Av. Montaigne. Here on Calle Serrano, the epicentre of high fashion, and happily what I was looking for were items designed and made in Spain. Sure this very long street had the well known designer labels, and where the local fashionistas love to shop. But Spanish shop after Spanish shop was filled with them showing their loyalty to the fine designers of this country. And my jaw dropped when I saw many exquisite items.I was stunned to see so many stores, their decor so elegant, along with clothing that had both style, panache and dazzle. If you know your style and what is appropriate, then Calle Serrano is the place to start.
It’s about 10 years ago while traveling in Spain that I discovered that besides some of the greatest art museums, some considered the best ham in the world, wonderful wine, renovated palaces now exquisite hotels, there was also some great shopping. And above all else, their fashion -take was so refreshing, raising designs to a new level for every age and shape and from funky to edgy. But most were so very wearable for the age-appropriate fashionista.
The first I knew about Adolfo Dominguez was when I noticed a window in Salamanca, not a very large city but a captivating one, where I could have easily purchased every piece I saw. But work, as always, is a priority, so with just about l hour of free time, I was still able to do a bit of financial damage. And I never forgot his name. On another trip to Spain, again with little time, I looked for a shop bearing his name and I doubted that there were any in destinations like Avila and Lagrona and of course, I was correct.
However, in the short time I had in Salamanca, I saw, I stopped,I shopped and at that point without any knowledge of this fine designer’s renown. I hadn’t any idea how popular Adolfo Dominguez designs were but I was soon to discover his fame. The 60-ish year old Dominguez has a huge following and now that includes me.
By far, my favorite was and still is, fashion Adolfo Dominguez, which, for me, has turned into a passionate treasure hunt whenever I’m lucky enough to get to one of his boutiques.
It wasn’t until a recent trip to Valencia that I begged for an hour since I had heard he had a niche in a department store next to my hotel. “ Only a hour,” I begged my guide. I really felt as I had struck oil. However, it wasn’t at all as I recalled his truly fetching collection. With a stunned look on my face, it must have seemed obvious to one of the sales staff since she pointed out that this particular space was dedicated to the larger, older woman. The line that I wanted was just around the escalator, she told me. With so little time, I was overwhelmed by their buying choices, so clean, well tailored, finely made items presented in this small area. After a few purchases…a sweater and blouse, the obviously fashion -conscious soul sister staff member, who spoke English and admired A.D. as I did, let me know that the leather goods-shoes and handbags-were on the floor below. Hustling quickly since I did have a meeting to attend, we rushed down and sure enough there were too many choices but I did manage to see a pair of shoes with burnished round toes and wonderful round wood heel that not only were they stunning but worn that evening were also most comfortable after the stiletto heels that always leave my feet numb after an hour. But what was news for me was to learn that at my next stop,
However, this emporium in Madrid was my first entry into what seems to be an A.D. club with a very large membership. every metre dedicated entirely to the latest collection. The building made me think of the wondrous building choices of American designer, Ralph Lauren.
With the assistance of Christian, who immediately seemed to know my taste, the large dressing room was soon filled with dresses, pants, and tops. And for those looking for gowns and very serious evening wear which I wasn’t aware that A.D. designed, there’s a small area with a few racks of these elegant pieces. After some financial ‘damage’ and a heavy paper bag, I felt it part of my job to see what else there was on this famous shopping street.
And it’s hard not to notice that the men are dressed impeccably and since Boggi, Milan, may not be made in Spain, the shop was busy with ‘peacocks’.
With this being the most up market street and probably the longest, shop-filled area, I discovered some truly wonderful designers and Spanish made products. But getting right along with my original theme of ‘made in Spain”, Holly Bracken, next to Adolfo Dominguez, is the antithesis since her designs are trendy, funky and with the young, affluent young woman in mind. Javier Simorra (33 Serrano) is another surprise with lovely items. One of the oldest and renowned perfume shops just up a the street, is Alvarez Gomez where they will still make a perfume to order and have an extensive selection of hair and jewelry accessories. This is a must-go-to..
For anyone, any age, who loves fun tops made with the finest fabrics and seems to be recognizable immediately, that’s Custo. Then, I walked by what I thought was Boss. But since that is German, I gave it a pass until I looked again since the windows didn’t look anything like Boss. So I retraced my steps and indeed, Hoss, had some of the most exciting designs that are amazingly well priced for their exceptional designs.
Of course, there’s the world -wide known, Spanish manufacturer, Zara and further down Serrano, is Zara Home-ware, both are stand alone shops. Take time to investigate the great side streets with many fine items. e.g. Calle Goya, which is just off Calle Serrano. There are several smaller streets in Madrid that entice the locals. One is August Figueroa Street, not too far from Serrano St. where the shoe shops, shop after shop, are in great abundance and the prices often less than half the price… a true shoe-lovers paradise that all the locals know about and where many shop for the less hefty prices footwear.
With a heavy bag filled with purchases from A.D, I decided it was time to head back to my centrally located hotel.
I had to unload my bag, seemingly getting heavier every minute De Los Letras, on via Gran, is a triumph of what a well renovated old building turned ultra modern hotel should look like. The architects have kept the integrity of the building retaining the original with mosaics, tiles and molding while establishing an extremely well modern interior, even keeping the wrought iron (non working elevator) from the days when it was an apartment building. But as coincidences always seem to happen when I travel, the staff member at the desk, seeing the name on the bag, had a big smile as he mentioned that the hotel’s restaurant/bar, opened until a few years ago, had, in fact, been Adolfo Dominguez’s large shop.
Ah, I sighed gratefully that the shop had been relocated to Calle Serrano otherwise, I’m sure I would never had been able to concentrate on the work that brought me to this majestic city, with green spaces, monumental buildings, gracious people, super food and wine, palaces and museums that rate among the best. And it’s a place where the streets are filled with young people, perhaps because the economy is so bad and with no work to hurry off to in the morning, they stayed on the streets,bars and cafes well into the early morning. Everyone seems to be texting and so much smoking among the young who were wearing the most up to the moment ensembles and most surprisingly, openly smooching on benches, in parks, on the street, which is such a departure from the less tactile North Americans. But the true activity is and always, will be soccer. And you know there’s game when there are clusters of people outside a bar, standing in front of a TV store or their own computer, watching and listening to the hoots and hollers of the score. So shopping may be big but, trust me soccer is bigger.
Food is always on the mind of Spaniards.
So where to eat in Madrid…tried and true.
Lunch is usually after 1pm and could go on for 2 hours.
Dinner, don’t go before 8.30PM and expect to still be there at 11.30PM
One of my favorites for lunch is the avant garde decor of Iroco, Calle Velazquez, 18 Tel 34 91 431 7381
2. See San Anton Market below.
3. Estado Puro Palacio de Tepa , Plaza Del Angel. A bar which serves tapas and larger portions of food.
4. Cafe de Oriente, Plaza de Oriente 2 34 91 547 15 64. It may be located in a 17th century vaulted basement but there’s never been a venue where one can taste some of the most creative cuisine and still enjoy the transparent floor which showcases the former wall of Madrid
1.Don’t miss out on San Anton Market, Calle Augusto Figueroa. From the first floor on, the locals love this venue and if it’s a casual stand-up ‘nosh’, hang out on the 1st. But for local, specials head to the top floor where there’s a terrace and tables or enclosed room. La Cocina de San Anton, in the Chueca neighborhood area offers daily set lunches also and do’t miss out on the best bellota (corn fed)ha which was been hand carved.
2.La Capilla de la Bolsa, Calle Bolsa 12, 34 91 521 86 23,is located in the historical centre next to the Plaza Mayor. The re-design of the former Madrid Stock Exchange has not destroyed the integrity of the architecture and the Mediterranean Haute cuisine in this environment, is exceptional
3. Spain is tapas bar as it is for sun, fun and sights. La Camarilla, Calle Cave Baja 11, 34 91 354 02 07, bases the meals on seasonal, local produce. Light and modern, it’s usually filled with chic locals.
by Barbara Kingstone
There is much to do and see in Beijing but certainly one of the captivating activities is shopping… the mecca for anything you want to own.
It could be for a jade object, jewellery especially pearls or a canvas, painted by one of the up and coming artists. Those artists who have already arrived are now costly and much in demand. Try The Red Gallery and Beijing Central Art Gallery at the Kempinski Hotel for top rated artists.
But if there is a time limit on your shopping spree, be aware that each stop could take hours. A good tip is to know what you should be compared with auction-credo. Know how much you want to pay, stick with that amount and learn to walk away.
Finding the item may take time unless you know exactly where the shop or the stall in a market, is located and leave time for haggling – an expected art- which could take as long as choosing your treasured find. If you don’t haggle, and even the locals do, you’d be considered foolish since this is part of the tradition of the deal. Often the shop keeper will mention that since it’s early morning, you’re his first customer, it’s someone’s anniversary or the stars are lined up properly, he’ll come after you and accept your price.
The Pearl Market is certainly a good place to start since the signage and directions are good. You’ll discover many locals are there as there are tourists, although many nay sayers will say it’s a place only for tourists. But know that the don’t only have pearls but floors filled leather goods, glasses, handbags, electronics as well as many other selections. But, if pearls are your choice of the day, head to the 6th floor where you’ll find the best quality.
Then, of course, there’s the famed Silk Market. Once, an outside area devoted to hundreds of stalls selling everything from silk to fur, from leather to jewellery, it is much more convenient now. It’s centrally located near a subway stop, in a smart, though extremely busy, multi building on the same site as the old Silk Market.
Thinking and hoping that it would be open at 9AM (it opens at 9.30AM) and perhaps that was wishful thinking since I had to leave the hotel and get ready for a long bus trip to The Three Gorges on ship H.S. Yangtze 2, I only had a two hours to find far too many items on my list. Two hours is like a nano second for even the most knowledgable shopper in this market place.
While sitting on a step waiting for the doors to open, a young man with bleached blond hair sat down and told me he was studying English and wanted to speak with me. He was going to the art
school just across the wide street. We spoke about his life in Beijing which he loves, his desire to travel to the west when his English improves, where he would continue to study art and refused my offer to buy him a cool drink in this already sweltering day. That was one of the many encounters and the kindness of the strangers, and the unexpected willingness to speak about how the country has changed, especially for the young people.
Silk Market now opened, the first sighting are active wear, cashmeres for men and women, silk clothing on the main floor. But it was a time issue for me so I had to forego the search. Another problem is trying on clothing for size – another story. There are no dressing rooms and since most Chinese sizing is smaller than for the Western body, it’s a good idea not to believe the sales person who, always has a tale about someone the same size as you are and everything fits perfectly
Dresses, ties, scarves, fabrics, knock-off watches and purses (beware, that if the have the Chanel or Hermes stamp, the savvy custom officers know the real from the fake. The best outcome is having the goods confiscated, the worst scenario is a very costly penalty and having your name on the computer for a very long tim).
As go from floor to floor, I found the merchandise increased in quality. For instance, just by instinct, I went to Katherine Jewelry #5037) since I liked the window presentation, designs and the interior. Items went from traditional pearls and semi precious stones to more modern baroque and button shaped in various sizes and nacre. And if something doesn’t fit, right on site, within minutes, the practiced crafts women manage to get it right. Prices are not set, nor do the tags give you a hint of price. But it’s assumed you would bargain, which I did, and came away with a earring that suited my price limit and quality.
However, feeling really great about my purchase, I stopped at a nearby leather shop that had very trendy, well designed leather goods and watches. Thinking that I was a big ‘catch’, they took me to a back room where all the fakes are hidden (though I’m told that the police person know of these “secret rooms”). But beware, when my watch never started and I tried to exchange it, I was blatantly told me that they didn’t sell that type of watch,as I stared at it in one of the showcases, that they had never seen me before, even though I had filled my Visa with several of their goods. Their stone faces told me, I hadn’t purchased what I had told them…a belt, handbag and another watch for my husband. When I told them that a door at the rear was where I was taken and made my choices, they just starred. I also mentioned that in this secret ‘hideaway for big shoppers’ a few other shoppers were there too. Stay away from the no-name but #2056 shop, although it’s on the 5th floor.
But what isn’t a secret, however, however not well known to tourists, is, 798, a huge series of streets and often compared as the New York Soho of Beijing. Out of the way in Dashanzi Art District in Chaoyand District and since taxis are inexpensive, it’s worth the approximate $8-$10 trip. It’s a large pedestrian area and was initially a factory area now known as it has become, as an art centre with very fine galleries (I wish I had had more time since I was looking for the “new” Chinese art) and all sales staff seemed very knowledgeable. There are also terrific, trendy, shops from men’s and women’s designs that aren’t the usual ‘oh hum’ styles but with edge to unique designer. Also designed are kitchenware, furniture and just a pleasant place to spend several hours. Besides, there are so many outdoor cafes, that any choice would be a good one and the perfect perch to watch the wonderfully fashion forward outfits that the young, hype women, obviously aware of their creativity. At the same time you can get a great cup of coffee or tea. You might even want to stay for lunch. It’s a perfect day’s outing away from the “madding crowd” of huge, busy, traffic filled Beijing central.
Another grand walking area is the pedestrian street in the old Hutong area. It was my my favorite destination just to see the traditional lifestyles and very old and complicated living arrangements and architecture. However, the condo market crept in and alas, in their stead, there are now high rises and the development of this swell but so expensive pedestrian street. I think back and what I really liked best were the umbrella,parasol stores which women and now some men, use to block the sun. Inserted lace, sequined, brilliantly and artistically painted, some with deluxe, shiny fabrication, they are art pieces and very tempting but would look a bit strange in the rain at home. The other stores from stationary to clothing are all very special but seemingly overpriced (no haggling here). However, this is a well-known tourist area with interesting side streets and lanes to explore.
Even though I had hired a driver for my short time in Beijing, I was left for over two hours wondering if I’d ever locate him again. With it being the busy traffic time, which seems is always but worse at about 4PM, I stood at the designated stated area in 40c (over 100F) and then decided to find a place to sit.
Although, in Western lingo, it would be considered a ‘greasy spoon’, considering the circumstances, I had no choice and went into Nice Rice on South Jiaodaokou Street. The kindest young servers insisted that I have a cool drink, they tried to phone (and they did several times) to track down my driver. That kindness to a stranger was not an isolated situation but these young servers went out of their way for someone who only wanted a seat and cold, non alcoholic drink. Another case in point. On a slippery, rainy day where I’ve never seen pelting rain like this, a young man took my arm, held my heavy bag for me as we ascended in what seemed like a 100 stairs to a nearby dry area with a bench. Neither of us could speak the other’s language but my few words included thank you in Mandarin, at which he smiled and shook my hand.
On the return flight back, I sat beside a charming well-dressed young Chinese woman wearing a stunning outfit. She had just spent a few years working in Beijing before returning to Canada.
When I recounted the one miserable shopping mishap regarding my never to work watch, she laughed. “Locals never go to those stores at the Silk Market. We have our own high quality markets that are less expensive, with better quality.”
I told her I’d have to wait for a return visit but here are the names she mentioned. Nan Hu Market, Jiu Xian Qiao Market, Xi Dan Market, Taiyanggong’s Sunny Moore Market. They’re on my ‘must visit’ on the next trip to Beijing..a city I’ve learned to love because of the diversity.
As for shopping, If you see it and want it, get it. You’ll probably never get back to the area or even locate the shop again. But do try to down the price. It’s not only finding the object but the great story that probably will go a long way at any cocktail gathering. Life is about fun so just grab it when you can.
Beijing has so very much to offer in many categories. But when it comes to shopping, I’m sure Confucius would have had a brilliant saying or advice but I doubt if he would understand the art of haggling.
by Trudi Seely
Along with Paris and New York, London boasts the best shopping in the civilised world. Our main shopping meccas of Bond Street in London’s West End and Sloane Street in Knightsbridge have every designer boutique you’ve ever heard of – and some you haven’t.
But there is another shopper’s London, a secret London, that only a handful of women who live in the city know about. These woman know the places to find designers you won’t see in the shops. They know about the sales the public simply don’t know about, and you’ll find them snapping up sales bargains in the regular stores weeks before the sales are even announced. So where do these women get their information, and how can you be as clued up as they are?
The secret to this hidden side of London lies in networking. Women who enjoy fashion tend to gravitate towards each other and they share their knowledge with the friends they trust.
Take the Hermes sale for instance. Hermes who make the legendary Birkin bag sported by Victoria Beckham, is so exclusive, they do not put their goods on sale with all the other shops. Instead they hold a sale once a year in a building tucked away a little alleyway, Molton Lane, right behind Bond Street. So how do you get into this sale when its not even announced in the Hermes shop? One way is to buy something in an Hermes store. You don’t have to blow a fortune on the latest must- have handbag. You can invest in something small like a tie for the man in your life or an exclusive piece of bone china with the distinctive Hermes design on it. Then all you have to do is to ask to be put on the mailing list and next time the store is holding their sale, you (as a loyal shopper) will get one of the prized invitations. Occasionally, Hermes will take a small ad in the London Evening paper and announce the sale a day or so beforehand, but even the most dedicated shopper needs a bit of warning before she sets off.
So is the effort of putting yourself on Hermes list worth it? As someone who goes there once a year, I can tell you it most definitely is. Their fabulously expensive clothes are under half the price and look the business. Though be sure to get there early on the first morning, as there are only one or two sizes of each style.
Other legendary sales in London are Donna Karen, Wardrobe, Ralph Lauren and Celine.
These top designer boutiques have their latest collections on sale weeks before the official sale is announced. This is so that their favoured customers have first pick of the bargains. However, by law they cannot refuse the sale price to anyone who comes into the store and asks. Last Christmas I had the run of the Donna Karen boutique in Harvey Nicholls, where everything was half price. Nobody knew the sale was supposed to be on, as there was no announcement and the sales tickets still showed the full price. As a result, the department was deserted…except for me. Imagine spending an entire afternoon trawling through Donna’s fabulous collection, with two or three sales assistants at your beck and call, knowing that everything was at an affordable price, and nobody else was there to snatch it out of your hands!!
Seasoned shoppers know the best time to hunt for bargains is late November and early June. If there has been an unseasonably warm winter or a cold rainy summer, then you can try your luck earlier than that. Another trick is to cultivate the sales assistants at your favourite store. A few weeks before the sale goes public, you ask your new friend, the sales girl, to tell you the date of the preview, then a day or so before, you let her have your credit card details plus the details of the item you are after. Chances are the assistant will put the item away for you, then the minute the sale preview starts, the item is yours.
However better than bagging a bargain in a sale, is to lay hands on a designer that nobody else knows about. There are a handful of private sales on in London that only the cognescenti know about. Ironically all these sales have websites, but there are hundreds of different designer sales on-line and unless you know which name you are looking for you will get nowhere.
One of the better ones is run by Louise Fennell, wife of Theo Fennell, the celebrity jewellery designer, and a novelist when she has the time between sales. Louise offers an eclectic mix of designer items you will not find on the high street, and the women who frequent this sale are Chelsea socialites, looking for extravagant party dresses and yummy mummies who form the bulk of Louise’s friends. The way to get included in this sale is to know Louise and get on her mailing list. However,now you know her name, you can google her sale before coming to London, and if you’re lucky, Louise’s sale date will co-incide with your visit. She has several sales a year so the chances of catching one are reasonably good.
Another private sale, The British Designers Sale, makes an appearance in Chelsea Town Hall in London’s Kings Road, regularly once a month. Here you will find original samples from top English designers like Vivienne Westwood, as well as international names like Prada, Armani, Missoni and Jimmy Choo. These are the clothes the designers found too difficult to manufacture, or even just too complicated to make for the mass market. Some of the things you will find here are quirky, some are frankly unwearable, but there are also hidden gems at a fraction of the price you will find – even at the sales. Last winter, when everyone was lusting after a fur gilet costing anything up to £1000, I found a beauty from top British designer, Edina Ronay, at this sale for a mere £70. The sale lasts for three or four days, often with a men’s sale following it. My husband found a beautiful pair of Gucci shoes at the Men’s designer sale for around £60, two years ago, which he still wears.
However the trick with this sale is to get in on the preview, which is held during the evening before the main sale. The preview is by invitation only, but people have been known to talk their way in by saying they are meeting a friend or know the owner, Debbie Hodges. Debbie, a petite blonde dynamo is a former fashion PR, who came up with the idea for the sale at the end of the 80s when designer labels were at a premium. Her sale which went on only twice a year, started in a tiny office in Soho, but word of mouth from bargain hungry fashionistas made it grow over the years to the size it is now. If you take in only one of the British Designer sales, the best deals are to be found in her end of summer bargain basement sale. Here there are items for as little as £10, and she even has furs on offer.
If you are not looking for a designer bargain, but want something beautiful and expensive that nobody else has, there are one or two fashion consultants in London who work only with private clients. I was taken into a salon owned by a French fashion maven who specialised in glamorous evening dresses. Her dresses were one-offs from all the major Italian and French fashion houses. All top designers make a few models to be used on fashion shoots for Vogue and the glossy European fashion magazines — the kind of gowns you would find at the Cannes Film Festival or Embassy balls.
I had nothing important enough coming up to justify such an extravagance, however a friend of mine who was going to a high end wedding decided she would treat herself. After a spending an entire afternoon trying on some of the most exquisite gowns she had ever seen, she finally forked out over £3000 for a stunning Versace number. A week after she got it home and was planning her accessories, she got a call from the French fashion maven who sold it to her. She wanted to know if she could borrow the dress back to use in a fashion shoot for Italian Vogue. Having just shelled out three grand, my friend was justifiably indignant and refused on the grounds that the dress could get damaged or marked by one of the models or an over enthusiastic photographer. There followed a rather bad tempered exchange between the buyer and the seller, with the seller expressing her disappointment. Needless to say, my friend never bought another dress from the salon, but she certainly had an experience no other shopper could boast of….and she was the envy of her friends at the wedding.
Another indulgent private source is a collection sold by an Italian fashionista, Donatella Signorini, who dresses fellow countrywoman, Nancy Del Olio. Her clients are a cross section of high earning women, pampered wives and women in the public eye. This woman, Donna to her friends, has a new collection every season of the kind of clothes you would expect to find on the backs of very chic Romans and Milanese. Donna has been seeing her clientele in her elegant apartment in Kensington for the past twenty years and her secret is that you will not find her designer clothes anywhere else in London. Everything in this collection is from Italian designers who mostly sell in their home country. As you would expect, the clothes in her collection are made of the finest materials – leather hand-tooled in Italy, silk jersey in colours you would never find anywhere but Italy, fabrics with stretch in them for the perfect fit.
Naturally, Donna’s clients are frequently asked where they get their sensational wardrobes, but her clientele keep their mouths firmly shut. They don’t want their girlfriends to turn up wearing her dresses at the parties they go to. However Donna does have a website these days, so now you know her name, you can find her, make an appointment (she sees customers on a one to one basis) and discover her fabulous collection for yourself.
As for the fashion maven with the exclusive evening dresses, her identity will have to remain a secret. She only deals with an exclusive circle of women who can pay her prices and keep their mouths shut. So there is only one thing left for the girl who has everything, but wants a bit more; hire a private detective to root out her whereabouts. Or take a trip to Bond Street accompanied by a personal shopper. Happy hunting.
by Barbara Kingstone
Las Vegas strip was once notorious for the raunchy, glitzy skin baring babes, cigar smoking macho men and although it may have been a 50s expression, here we are a half century later and when it comes to great extravagance as seen in this desert oasis, the term jet set is still very much in use.
Hot shots with high hopes spend hours at private room ‘tables’ or the slots dropping their chips as easily as the ash from their stogies. You could bet that culture wasn’t high on the original list of visitors who came to this gaming heaven But Las Vegas has re-invented itself and has come out the antithesis of that old cliché scenario. In the re creation, Las Vegas tried hard to become a family entertainment destination, but alas, some sin and sex have returned with a vengeance taking us back to the adult fantasyland yet remarkably, culture has stuck. Yes, art appreciation and gallery hopping has hit the jackpot with high and mighty exhibitions. It all started when zillionaire casino owner Steve Wynn who built Bellagio, also included his $500 million art collection in an on-site gallery. The first hint that he had stumbled onto something important and new was when the early morning queues snaked around the large, airy conservatory and botanical gardens in a town where going to sleep is usually the time when sensible people are just waking up. Soon the gallery was moved into larger quarters, still located on the hotel’s main floor. It had set a precedent and as Professor at the University of Nevada, Bill Thompson explained “this fits in with what Las Vegas has to be in the future.” But now The Guggenheim has made headlines on the Strip. Soon after the newly erected Venetian Hotel and Casino included the Guggenheim Museum. Between the slots and gaming tables, clients can now grab a bit of culture in this gambling mecca. The 63,700 square foot warehouse- like space, designed by the renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas will exhibit shows from New York – a first time collaboration of art and hope. At another in-house area gently refereed to as the Jewel Box, this intimate ambience encourages patrons to visit the Hermitage Guggenheim Museum which includes masterpieces from the famed Hermitage Museum in Russia and obviously the Guggenheim. It’s a rare opportunity for the audience who may never have had the chance to see these priceless canvases . It has created “a unique culture experience,’ said Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Hermitage. While on the art theme and scene, Asian Art Now at the Las Vegas Art Museum, is worth taking time off to see.
Las Vegas is like The Wheel of Fortune’s guest who shout, ‘big money, big money’ as they take their turn at chance. Several very new, very upscale condos overlooking the Strip sell between $600,000 and $5 million. Just add water, mix and you have a very exclusive hood. Lake Las Vegas, is where Canadian super star Celine Dion and hubby Rene, have decided to domicile. One wonders what Mademoiselle Dion’s home built in South Shore near the lake, is worth. But then with Caesar’s Palace opening a theatre just for our Canadian chanteuse, her few gigs a week will certainly make the mortgage payments easier.
As the fastest growing city in the US, in this land where dreams often do come true, Bill Walters president and visionary, has a unique golfing enterprise. Grip, turn, swing and balance if you must but these four actions create a crowd pleaser for the ‘fore’ guys and gals. What could be more unexpected in this unbelievable city. Even more over the top, is that his golf courses all have themes. For instance, Royal Links Golf Club is an Ode to the British opens while Stallion Mountain Country Club , a semi private golf haven with wall to wall grass courses are appropriately called Citation, Secretariat, Man O’ War. Bali Hai has a South Pacific theme and Desert Pines gets the Carolina look.
You have to eat, no matter how much ‘crap’ you shoot, or golf swings you take. Glory Days Grill is a sports bar with a twist. A dial a number gizmo allows clients to watch and listen to any broadcast they want while the kiddies are able to enjoy the Cartoon Network programs. The eatery is filled with sports memorabilia and posters, just as one would expect. A hot tip…try the Glory Wings. They’re crisp and spicy…like LV itself.
The high stakes here is where to start your retail therapy. Shopping is so tempting in the indoor ‘streets’ where you can sit at a café before heading into the hundreds of designer label stores. Naturally, shopping concourses are often themed also. The glassed domed Via Bellagio is reminiscent of Milan’s Galleria. The ‘street’ is lined with luxury retailers e.g. Hermes, Prada, Chanal, Tiffany & Co. Giorgio Armani, Gucci and for the high stakers, huge sparklers at jeweller Fred Leighton. For Roman splendour, Caesar’s Palace with the over 533,000 square foot offers shops at the Forum area. Depending on your entrance – and there are several- you may come face to face with a full sized replica of Michelangelo’s David. Italian jewellery par excellence, Bulgari, is nestled near the huge Fountain of the Gods where Jupiter rules high above strolling shoppers. Here you’ll find Fendi, Polo, DKNY, Versace, Dior, Louis Vuitton and dozens more. Next, it’s magic carpet time so fly directly to the Desert Passage at Aladdin’s across from Bellagio and next to Paris. You’ve travelled from Italy to France and North Africa in a few easy steps. Only in Las Vegas!
The “passage” transports you to the sands of Morocco and the Spice Route. In this 475,000 square foot high-end atmosphere, there are 130 shops to tempt you with an array of sophisticated international merchandise. Over 100,000 shoppers a week spend their winnings at the Venetian Hotel’s 500,000 square foot mall. What you can’t find anywhere else, you’ll definitely discover here– Anne Taylor, New Balance, Jimmy Choo Shoes, Mikimoto, to name a few. The streets have been recreated to look as though you were in Venice with cobblestone walkways, arched bridges and vaporettas that slowly float along the indoor canal.
These days, what’s a hotel without a spa.? Whether you need one or not, these are worth a visit since they are world class and offer the newest sensory treatments.
At Aladdin, The Elemis Spa (the name of the product used) is designed to transport you to Morocco with their bright colours and earthy textures. The various treatments are in 29 perfectly set up rooms. Bellagio’s nine massages and nine facial, body treatments and wraps, La Stone and aromatic therapy, Lemon salt rubs can be found under the sprawling staircase among the trees and flowers in the glassed in conservatory.
Just behind the orchids and the water falls at the reception area, MGM Grand also offers numerous treatments including shiatsu, reflexology and certainly has paid attention to Feng Shui with their room arrangement.
One could only expect Paris’s spa to have a French flavour. But who would have come up with caviar facials and body treatments with champagne. I’ll drink to that. Being tres, tres Francais, they also have packages for two neatly called Celebration of Love and Paris for Lovers.. Although the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is the only hotel that doesn’t have a casino, they do have 16 treatment rooms, the floors scattered with fresh rose petals and the most divine aroma. They feature a hydrotone capsule and eucalyptus facials and wraps.
And for the final bliss, don’t expect to see designer Vera Wang’s multi thousand dollar designed gowns on the bride as she soothsays down the aisle, but weddings are still a great incentive for that spontaneous linking. I toast them and the trendy city in the desert and wish them all wealth and stayablility. After all, life is a gamble.
by Barbara Kingstone
After the quintessential R &R Tahitian experience of blue skies, white sands, palm trees sloping into the aqua water and the thatched roof, peue lined rooms of Hotel Sofitel Ia Ora, I begrudgingly took the 30 minute ferry from the small island of Moorea to the comparatively big city Papeete, in search of beauteous and hard to produce black pearls and gold jewelry. For any large city, traffic wouldn’t be an issue but in Papeete, the early morning rush of cars seemed to be the main topic of conversation. However, Pomare Avenue, the wide boulevard with the ocean on one side and cafes and stores on the other, was the reason for my being away from the peaceful and zombie-like existence just minutes away.
After an espresso at one of the many outdoor cafes looking over the huge marina where yachts, tall boats and cruise ships vie for position, I was ready to attach one of my favourite activities, shopping.
This may seem like a very easy task but when the country’s second industry after tourism is black pearl farming, there are more stores selling these wonderful mollusks or to be precise, the black lipped oyster, pinctada margaritifera, than even the major fashion oriented cites.. From past experience, the first stop should be the Black Pearl Museum on Boulevard Pomare and Rue du Temple. Here you’ll get a good idea of the variations for size, shine, shade and shape.- the four Ss, much like the four Cs for diamond identification
However, I decided to start my research at the other end of Pomare to confirm my former impressions of the French jewelry designer Alain Bouget. His beautifully appointed boutique, My Pearls, is located on the corner of Boulevard Pomare and Avenue du Prince Hinoi. I had met Alain before and wanted to see how his creations had evolved in the three years since I had last been in Tahiti.. His designs include using a lot of gold with various colors and shapes of pearls, a palette that nature has given these wondrous by-products. Although sophisticated styling, I felt now as I felt then, that the price points of My Pearls were high. Coming down from his upstairs workshop, the gallant fortyish jewelry let me know that this is a most unusual appearance since he very seldomly meets with his public. I’m not sure that I was impressed or disappointed that he wouldn’t want to meet and see what the clients wanted. Although I admire his interwoven gold choker studded with three superb pearls which had a matching equally stunning bracelet, the price tag startled me. I soon felt comfortable in my assessment by comparison shopping since this street is just a string of pearl shops. But, one has to really have to either know the black pearl or to feel completely confident with the shop and its staff, since so many factors play a part in the pricing. One must consider the lustre, the amount of blemishes, the thickness of the nacre the irregularities just for starters. Certainly buying pearls in the A or B plus categories will fetch a higher dollar value than pearls in the C range, although I did see some that were perfectly stunning and acceptable and these can drastically reduce the price. Although small, I was impressed with Vahine Pearls Bijouterie on rue Jean-Gilbert, across from the cruise liners main dock. Don’t be frightened off by thinking it’s a tourist trap. But as always, let the buyer beware.. Or have some knowledgeable about the product. Many retailers are including a certified x-ray photograph which shows the exact layers of mother of pearl, however, make sure it is the same pearl so that the thickness is what you’re actually buying and paying for.
I liked the youthful designs at The Magic Pearl (again on Boulevard Pomare) which is less pricey with good quality stock. The Magic Pearl is part of a larger group of shops and as a of seal of approval, I’m told that at least 50% of their clients are locals. This shop on Pomare has less expensive items than their larger premises, but more later. Herman Perles, at 373 Boulevard Pomare again a smallish boutique, has an artisan, goldsmith on the premises and only use gem quality pearls. Their contemporary designs include pearls in crystal, which is really a great look. Just next door, is Etienne, which is more affordable with a larger stock of gold items. Although at this moment, there are only a few people browsing the shop, I did like Tahiti Or et Perles. But when push came to shove, one of the best shopping spots is what is known as the Black Pearl Plaza but really called Centre Vaima. It was difficult to decide which of the dozens of stores to enter so I made my decision by window-shopping. My first in- store stop was Tahitian Native Jewelry. Don’t get the image of some primitive native designs. In fact, the refined items were a pleasure to view in this outdoor shopping mall. Vaima Perles Boutique, with the same owners as the above mentioned The Magic Pearl, has unexpected great designs at good prices. For instance, a clear acrylic ring is set with a very good-looking black pearl and is priced under US$300. Braided silk neckpiece and bracelet that comes in various colors has hanging not bad quality pearls. But here we’re talking about a ‘look’, not priceless gems. There were also some splendid stainless steel strands dotted with pearls from rose to ecru to Grey and again the price points were hovering about US$200, inexpensive for this fashion forward look. Sophie, Garaccione, a young stylish woman whose parents came to Tahiti from Italy, oversees the two stores in the plaza, located just across from each other. Here the customer can browse both ends of the spectrum, since the sister store is very up market. At the larger Viama Boutique, the price tags , as expected, are higher and the quality very special. Here you’ll find large baroque strands (one had l00 various shades of pearls and cost US$8000) or the perfectly round a quality in from champagne to peacock and well into the five to six figure market. Their creations are prefect for all ages. “We’ve been here since l977”, Sophie tells me as I peer into the glassed in atelier where the craftsmen are busy, never looking up from their assignments. Again the issue of local clientele comes up and I’m told that 65% of their business is from the residence of the island. The quality is marvelous and Sophie credits this to better supervision and more production on the pearl farms.
One important point is that when purchasing, always ask for a certificate of authenticity. You’ll never regret owning a black pearl. As the book says, “created by nature, cherished by men”…make that unisex.
“Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it” said Confucius. The Chinese believe in fate. And on a sunny morning, I learned in Beijing, that I did too.