Friday, February 27, 2009

Exota (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

(image: Exota@hyves)

From time to time, I'm going to dedicate a few posts to my favorite shops in Amsterdam, my previous hometown of 2 years. While most might associate this fine city with coffee shops and the red light district, you're better off heading straight to the Jordaan area for a romantic stroll along the canals. And while you're there, you might also want to check out the 'Nine Streets" lined with little boutiques and speciality shops.

(image: Exota@hyves)

My first stop (starting North) is usually Exota, which some mistakenly still refer to as a vintage store, but actually sells new items - in particular their own label 'King Louie'. I have bought many many (day) dresses here and most of them are patterned. In fact you'll probably have a hard time finding something without a quirky design or retro print. But as the Dutch love mixing different materials and patterns, Amsterdam shopping offers everything from timeless basics to borderline kitsch.

(image: Sophie Reitsma)

All items in this very cute store are grouped according to type of apparel (tops, outerwear, skirts and dresses), with shoes and other accessories scattered about on the floor or on the large table in the center. You'll find more dresses towards the back, as well as a few discounted ones near the changing rooms. During the sale season, all tops and skirts are placed in different plastic bins, so only come here if you like to rummage. Other brands in stock include Scandinavian brands nümph and S'NOB, as well as UK's French Connection. There's also a fairly decent selection of children's clothing (incl. own label 'Petit Louie') towards the front. This store is usually quite busy, but lots of fun, especially as you'll have to parade whatever you're trying on, in front of the big mirror outside the changing room. If you don't like this idea, don't forget to bring your own compact mirror with you!

(image: Eve McQueen@shopgirl)

If you want more, Exota also has a second store (no. 13) directly opposite the original boutique. This section includes even more women's clothing, as well as a small selection of men's apparel.

Address: Hartenstraat 10 & 13, 1016 CB Amsterdam
Opening Hrs: Mon-Sat: 10:00-18:00, Thu: until 21:00
Sun: 13:00-17:00

Exota Homepage

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Réciproque (Paris, France)

Once upon a time, when I was still a child, I remember going to a theme park which featured the following attraction: in a small shallow river next to a goldmine, visitors were allowed to sift through pebbles and mud in order to look for specks of the precious metal, which they were then allowed to keep. Of course there was hardly any gold there (theme park organizers aren't stupid after all), so after 10 minutes of futile searching, I gave up, deciding that if I really wanted gold that desperately, I would save up and just buy it. Why am I mentioning this? Because these days, this is the same attitude I share towards vintage / consignment / second-hand shopping. While I love the idea in theory, I find sifting through heaps of used, sometimes incredibly worn and not always clean-looking clothing in search of that "speck of gold" extremely frustrating. I'm not the most patient shopper, even though (strangely) the likes of Loehmann's or Filene's Basement don't turn me off as much

Nevertheless, I've decided to give it another go in Paris, especially since the chances of finding vintage Dior, Chanel or Hermès are higher in the Capital of Couture. While every arrondissement has at least one vintage outlet, I decided to head to Réciproque first, since this isn't far from my home and supposedly the largest consignment store in Paris (over 700 sqm). For someone who doesn't like to sift - a pretty big challenge. The shop consists of 6 buildings stretching along the same street . My first stop was the biggest building, which houses women's clothing and shoes. Upon entering, I was confronted with a not-so-sexy layout of tightly packed racks of clothing bathed in fluorescent light. All items in the front area are sorted by designer, so I headed straight to Chanel. I did find a few tweed jackets (350-1500 EUR depending on condition) and cashmere jumpers (300 EUR). There was a whole rack of Hermès and Dior (mainly trousers and blouses) and loads of other designers from Margiela to Armani. The back room had sale items organized by size, which also included cheaper brands such as Antik Batik, as well as a good range of evening wear and a small assortment of shoes.

The main shoe section however can be found in the basement. The quality varied between quite worn (Dior pumps: 115 EUR) to almost new (LV monogram heels: 299 EUR). Then again, if I really wanted Giuseppe Zanotti slingbacks for 299 EUR, I know I could get some brand new in a sale for the same price. It always helps to know average prices first. Chanel, LV and Prada were prominently featured, with the odd Lanvin or Sergio Rossi thrown in. The back of the basement had even more clothing, mainly coats and tops. I found everything from Burberry to (no joke) a plain grey H&M t-shirt. Seriously??? I'm pretty sure a new shirt will cost me even less than the 10 EUR they were asking for!

Next, I headed to the accessories department a few houses down the street. Thankfully this section was smaller than the last, so browsing was slightly less daunting. They had a small but nice selection of Hermès scarves in excellent condition (30 EUR - 175 depending on size and material) and belts (170-300 EUR). A lot of the bags weren't necessarily designer, but I did find a few Chloés and a black Fendi Spy bag. All Hermès and Chanel, as well as a few Louis Vuitton bags were squeezed in glass cases towards the back. This store also had a basement, and again it was clothes - this time outerwear. I did spot a Balmain trench that looked pretty cool, but alas, it wasn't in my size (and still cost 800 EUR).

For those in search of men's clothing or jewelry, not to worry - these items can be found in the other 2 buildings. While I didn't find anything I had to buy, Réciproque is definitely worth a visit for all the vintage fans that have a bit of time and patience.

Address: 88,89,92,95,97,101,123 rue de la Pompe, 75116 Paris
Opening Hrs: Tue-Fri: 11:00-19:00, Sat 10:30-19:30

Réciproque Homepage

Vanessa Bruno Boutique (Paris, France)

If you want to mimic effortless French chic, your best bet is to get something from the very talented Vanessa Bruno. While most of the French department stores will feature a selection of her current collection, heading over to one of her flagship boutiques is a much more fun experience. Even though she has a large and loyal following, the stores are never too busy and the sales assistants are always happy to help (but thankfully won't stalk you around the store).

I had never been to the boutique in the 1st arrondissement (near Place Vendôme), so when I had a look yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of snootiness and pretentiousness that is sometimes associated with the service and atmosphere of other shops in that area. As expected, Spring 09 was everywhere. Muted grey neutrals as well as bold colors in coral dominated the racks of clothing. Those unfamiliar with this designer might find the dresses and blouses too simple, but the attention to detail is impeccable and there's nothing more beautiful than the elegant loose draping of jersey or silk Bruno is so famous for. You won't find a lot of elaborate patterns, but then again, it's the classics that will remain in your wardrobe forever.

The store itself is bright and modern, with cool tall stripey poles as decoration and a skylight towards the back that gives the accessories section a bright ambiance. Speaking of accessories, one of Bruno's staples are the roomy leather totes, especially the sequined version in different colors. Even though we're talking about an international designer brand, prices are nowhere near as steep as the Diors of this world. The pricing is equivalent to what most big name designers charge for their diffusion lines (e.g. dresses cost about 200-450 EUR). If you like soft and floaty clothing, this is the place to come.

(individual images: net-a-porter & luisaviaroma)

Address: 12 rue de Castiglione, 75001 Paris (various throughout Paris)
Opening Hrs: Mon-Sat: 10:00-19:00

Vanessa Bruno Homepage

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Repetto Boutique (Paris, France)

Repetto is a bit of an institution in Paris and while most associate this brand with cute ballerina shoes in various colors, there is much more to it. Back in 1947 Rose Repetto created her first ballet shoes as a favor to her son (a ballet dancer and choreographer) and from then on produced more for local ballerinas. In 1956 Brigitte Bardot commissioned her to manufacture a pair of red ballerinas for her movie 'And God Created Women'. Three years later she opened her first store on Rue de la Paix, which is where the main store still has it's headquarters today. Since then numerous celebrities have been seen wearing the famed ballerinas and Repetto has done some well-received collaborations with Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto to name a few.

These days, the flagship boutique is still a must for anyone who loves cute shoes or just wants to channel their inner-ballerina - such as yours truly, though unfortunately I gave up on ballet when I was about 10 years old. The shop also still caters to prestigious institutions such as the Opéra National de Paris or the Opéra de Lyon.

The store itself is truly magical with a storefront window displaying 3 tutus and lots of chiffon. Inside, the boutique is almost always very full, with customers ranging from tourists to professional ballerinas dropping by to pick up a special order. The main feature of the boutique are the back shelves lined with silk satin ballerina shoes in various sizes and styles and of course for the non-professional dancer, the three round glass tables in the center displaying this season's hottest Repetto range. I witnessed lots of gushing women (I had trouble getting through to that table) and their respective bored-looking male partners standing in the corner wishing they were somewhere else (if you haven't noticed, this isn't really a man's store).

The range of 'normal' shoes includes the classic ballerina flats, as well as high-heeled sandals and colorful booties. In keeping with the dancing theme, all other shoes are grouped in categories such as 'Tango', 'Salsa' or 'Jazz'. All items are produced in the Repetto factory in Dordogne and materials used include goat, calf or lambs leather. The boutique also stocks other ballerina essentials, such as tutus, leotards and other apparel, as well as a range of leather bags and smaller accessories. Prices of the ballerina shoes usually fall under 200 EUR, while the boots are slightly pricier. Lots of fun browsing guaranteed, even for us non-ballerinas!

(individual images: Repetto Homepage)

Address: 22 rue de la Paix, Paris 75002
Opening Hrs: Mon-Sat: 9:30-19:30
Repetto Homepage

Monday, February 23, 2009

Kamille (Paris, France)

I looked up this store a while ago, because I was told they had a good selection of harder-to-find Italian boots. The shoe selection was moderate, but I was impressed with the clothes I saw there and when I paid a quick visit last week, I found an impressive range of new stock for Spring/Summer. This is the place to come if you're looking for clothes from more unconventional European designers. The boutique is quite small, but the selection is unique and hard to get elsewhere.

A first glance a lot of the clothes seem quite grungey and maybe even slightly gothic. The German brand Rundholz, well-known for its darker avant-garde and mostly asymmetrical, sculptural designs, can be found here and had some outfits prominently displayed in the window. The sales assistant was wearing one of their dresses as well and though it's probably not anything I could pull off, the fabric and cut of the clothes is beautiful. Other items included casual basics by Dutch brand Yarn Unit, using the finest organic cotton and cashmere. My favorites were the simple but effortlessly cool clothes from Danish designer Bitte Kai Rand.

Going down a flight of stairs I found a small area with last season's stock (on sale of course), but the selection wasn't huge as the sale season is officially over. This place is definitely worth a visit if you're looking for something different. What all clothes here have in common is that they're really well-made, using good quality fabric - average prices range from 70 - 400 EUR.

Address: 1 Place Alphonse Deville, 75006 Paris
Opening Hrs: Mon: 11:30-19:30, Tue-Sat: 10:30-19:30

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Balenciaga Boutique (Paris, France)

If I ever win the lottery or find myself with too much money to spend, the first place I would head to for a major shopping spree would be a Balenciaga flagship. This is probably my favorite fashion house, not just because I have a thing for the motorcycle bags, but because Nicolas Ghesquière's masterpieces range from vintage elegance to cool biker chic. The flagship in Paris, originally opened on 1937, now consists of 2 boutiques which are connected by an underground "pool passage". The design is futuristic and very minimalistic - it even features a cave with animated asteroids!

The store on the left features men's ready-to-wear and accessories, as well as the women's capsule collections such as "Balenciaga Edition", "Balenciaga Knitwear" and a few "Balenciaga T's". The knitwear and t-shirt lines are slightly more affordable, while the edition line is based on the original iconic designs from Cristobal Balenciaga's archives (and are very not-affordable pour moi) such as the b&w dress, see below. Other eye-catchers included a loose-fitting ivory gown and black balloon-skirted dresses.

The boutique next door is where you'll find the majority of the current mainline collection (a mix of beautifully draped tops and rock 'n' roll ensembles), as well as the shoes and handbags. I was never a bag person (shoes are more my weakness), but because I have a slight obsession with the motorcycle line, I have to show a great deal of restraint whenever I browse this section. Thankfully I'm not into the (Pre)SS09 colors as much - hues range from rosey pink (framboise) to a light turquoise (maldives), but this season's gladiator shoes look very tempting...

One more thing: the staff is the friendliest I have encountered when it comes to designer boutiques. This also goes for the Balenciaga staff in Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. Don't hesitate to ask them for different colours, sizes or old stock, because they are incredibly helpful and will go out of their way to check the inventory for you.

Address: 10 avenue George V, 75008 Paris
Opening Hrs: Mon-Sat: 10:00-19:00
Balenciaga Homepage & Online Shop (US & UK only)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Zadig & Voltaire (Paris, France)

At first glance, Zadig & Voltaire could be mistaken for just another retail chain selling casual streetwear. At least that's what I thought when I first entered one of the stores almost a year ago. Taking a closer look, I realised that the materials used - silk, cashmere and fine cotton - were delicate, yet luxurious. In fact, the original idea behind this brand was to create "affordable luxury". Of course this depends on what you consider affordable.

I dropped by a Z&V shop again today and the clothes, accessories and shoes I found here were by no means cheap. A t-shirt (cotton) can cost up to 200 EUR, cashmere items well over 300 EUR. The most "affordable" item I could find was a 75 EUR top. But is it worth it? As mentioned, many of the clothes don't look that expensive, but they are definitely comfortable to wear. And I just love the slouchy, edgy and rock 'n' roll feel of the fabric, especially the tunisian t-shirts. Most apparel will have some sort of design - whether it's the words "Mick", "Elvis" or "Muse" or the image of a skull or butterfly. Colors are muted and smoky, so don't go here if you prefer things in neon.

The bags are worth looking at as well - all of them made of leather and (of course) slightly wrinkled or distressed. Great place if you need some cool basics. If the price tag is too high - I'd suggest waiting for the next sale, when items are discounted up to 50%. I visited the Montaigne store, but there are several throughout Paris (as well as other cities in the world).

(individual images: Zadig & Voltaire homepage)

Address: 18-20 rue François 1er, 75008 Paris
Opening Hrs: Mon-Sat: 10:00-19:00
Zadig & Voltaire Homepage & Online Shop

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Le Bon Marché (Paris, France)

Founded in 1852, Le Bon Marché is about as Parisian as department stores come - although most locals prefer calling this a "very large boutique". Owned by LVMH and originally designed by Gustav Eiffel's team, this little emporium (some claim, the oldest in the world) might not be as huge as its competitors on the right bank, but the selection is still amazing and carefully chosen by its buyers. And the one benefit it has over Printemps and Galeries Lafayette? It's never too busy and very few tourists actually venture to the store, which makes shopping here so much more relaxing.

(image: wikimedia)

The main area on the ground floor is home to the men's department, various accessories - from designer shop-in-shops (such as LV of course) to the latest luxury handbags, scarves and jewelry - and a large cosmetics section. Go one floor up and you'll find a wide array of both hip and chic French and international designer labels such as Azzedine Alaia, Maison Martin Margiela or Dries van Noten to name a few. Don't leave this floor without checking out the shoe department - whether you're into Chanel or Repetto, you're bound to find something here.

Heading over the walkway on the same floor will bring you to the next building, where you can find the more edgy and streetwise diffusion and local French lines, such as Etoile by Isabel Marant or Vaness Bruno Athé. There's also a trendy cafe here, if you need to take a break. This building also houses the amazing La Grand Epicerie on the ground floor, which with it's incredible selection of gourmet foods deserves a post of its own.

Of course if fashion isn't all you're looking for, taking a look at the homeware and design section is worthwhile as well. As with all high-end stores, Le Bon Marché also offers a personal shopping service, valet parking and a concierge although the normal service it provides is already way above average. If there's only one department store I could visit in Paris, I would pick this one.

Address: 24 rue de Sèvres, 75007 Paris
Opening Hrs: Mon-Wed: 10:00-19:30, Thu: 10:00-21:00, Fri: 10:00-20:00, Sat: 9:30-20:00
Le Bon Marché Homepage & Online Shop

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Colette (Paris, France)

This cult store is the first stop for many visiting Paris, thanks to the incredible selection and display of everything that's hip, unique and hard to find. You can expect this boutique to be full of people most of the time, as was the case when I dropped by today for a quick browse. Colette currently has a Cacharel shop-in-shop with the latest Liberty-print line. Yes, it seems the Liberty print is everywhere! You'll also find it on items such as Nike sneakers or toy dolls.

(image: hypebeast)

The ground floor is great for anyone looking for streetwear & sneakers (Bape, Original Fake, Adidas etc.). An entire wall display prominently features the shoes in various styles while the nearby glass cube is where you'll find a good selection of t-shirts and jackets. The first thing you'll probably notice though are the various coffee table books and quirkier toys and gift items around the entrance of the store. Most people end up getting stuck here, browsing and flipping through various publications for what seems like hours. If you do manage to get away head on over towards the back where you'll discover a good assortment of gadgets, watches, CD's and techie items housed either in glass cases or on minimalist shelves - I sighted everything from Swarovski adorned Hello Kitty laptops to reggae CD's.

(image: hypebeast)

If you're wanting designer, the first floor is where you need to be. Dozens of mannequins are positioned throughout the area, each one immaculately dressed, accessorized and with the appropriate footwear. It's like walking around a contemporary fashion museum! All other clothing (from YSL to Viktor & Rolf) hangs on nearby racks for convenient browsing. I also spotted Proenza Schouler bags, which I have yet to see elsewhere in Paris. The selection isn't huge, but I'm not even sure people come here to buy ready-to-wear. Most of Colette's business seems to stem from the ground floor purchases. The numerous staff members on floor 1, while friendly, look more like they're there to prevent shoppers from knocking over the dummies, instead of selling the actual product.

(image: hypebeast)

Don't forget to check out the cosmetics section with beauty items ranging from Kiehl's to Bliss, as well as the jewelry displays or the men's designer section. The back area is split into to levels which is where Colette will host exhibitions or special collaboration events.

(image: hypebeast)

If you need a drink, go on down to the water bar (lower level), which boasts over 100 different kinds of water. While some might deem this store overrated or pretentious, I would definitely go at least once. The store design itself - lots of sleek white walls, glass and metal - is worth the visit alone.

(image: hypebeast)

(individual images: Colette homepage)

Address: 213 rue Saint-Honoré, 75001 Paris
Opening Hrs: Mon-Sat: 11:00-19:00

Colette Homepage & Online Shop

Monday, February 16, 2009

Topshop Flagship Store (London, UK)

I know I'm not exactly revealing a shopping secret by mentioning Topshop, but here's me stating the obvious: never leave London without visiting this high street flagship - the biggest in the world. Even Topshop haters (the few that exist) will most likely spend hours here. A firm favorite among all fashionistas, the Oxford Circus branch not only boasts its own entire range of clothing and accessories, but a multitude of other brands and collaboration lines. The entire ground floor is a dream-come-true for those addicted to accessories - with bags, scarves and belts in every color and style imaginable. A gift and candy section can be found in the back area while different jewelry counters (including fair-trade brands such as "Made") occupy the center of the floor. Topman can be found one level up.

The first lower level is just as dangerous shopping-wise. This is where most of Topshop's own brand of apparel is available - from jeans to evening wear. Everything I saw hit every SS09 trend you could think of (tribal, nautical, neutrals...) mixed in with basic classics for either a casual or elegant look. On the same floor you'll also find the Boutique, which features collaborations with upcoming designers. Prices here are steeper, although some might argue that most of Topshop's items are a bit pricy, but with the current exchange rate it's not really an issue. If you have time, you can also drop by the nail bar located nearby.

The lowest level is always my first stop when I need shoes or boots but don't really want to splurge on designer. The selection is outstanding with both Topshop's own brand as well as other retail brands (Kurt Geiger, Nine West, Faith etc.). This level is also where you'll find other clothing brands - such as Lipsy or Illustrated People - and a reasonabe vintage section.

(individual images: Topshop homepage)

Of course you can always save your money for the 09 Kate Moss collaboration, which will hit stores this spring (some featuring iconic Liberty prints) - stay tuned!

Address: 36-38 Great Castle St., W1W 8LG London
Opening Hrs: Mon-Sat 9:00-20:00, Sun 12:00-18:00
Topshop Homepage & Online Shop

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Alexander McQueen Boutique (London, UK)

If, like me, you're a fan of most things Alexander McQueen, going to one of the flagship boutiques is a must. I've found it incredibly difficult to find a good selection of his ready-to-wear items anywhere else. Even Paris lacks a complete range - the only place that has a small collection is Printemps, which means most shoppers need to resort to online stores.

So it was with great joy I visited the London boutique to catch a glimpse of the SS09 resort/pre-spring collection in person. I'm not usually a fan of bright pinks and lime green, but in the drab winter weather seeing a bit of color is just what one needs. As usual, you will find a great selection of perfectly tailored jackets along with skintight body-con dresses. I really like the chiffon dresses with the hummingbird and koi fish print, but of course it's not exactly in my budget. Not to worry, the design is also available as a skull scarf - of which the boutique (along with Harvey Nichols) has the best selection in London.

Scarves and shoes can be found in the back of the store once you've passed the main area which features the most of the clothes and bags. Valentines Day might be over, but the shoes with the heart-shaped peep-toe are sure to be a big hit. Men's clothing & accessories can be found on the lower level, along with even more women's clothing. The sales assistants aren't snooty at all, so don't hesitate to browse or ask any questions. They also won't follow you around the store like some would expect from a high-end boutique.

Address: 4-5 Old Bond Street, London W1S 4PD
Opening Hrs: Mon-Sat: 10:00-18:00, late shopping on Thu: until 19:00
Alexander McQueen Homepage & Online Shop (US only)