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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 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.