Thursday, April 30, 2009

Jil Sander Boutique (Hamburg, Germany)

Jil Sander is probably Germany's most internationally successful fashion export and because the label originated in Hamburg (Jil Sander herself still resides here), I thought it appropriate to profile this boutique. Sander opened her first store in 1967 in the Milchstraße, a quiet somewhat upscale residential neighborhood near Hamburg's outer lake. Five years later, she started selling her own collection of clothes there, alongside those of established big designers. The signature Sander look consisted mainly of separates such as white blouses, black blazers, cashmere cardigans and simple coats. Even though Sander has since left the company, it is this minimalist style that to this day defines every Jil Sander collection.

SS09 RTW Collection (images: Jil Sander Homepage)

Back when Sander was still in charge, it was said that she was such a perfectionist, everything from the store design to the sales staff's standing position was dictated by the designer herself. I'm guessing that this is no longer the case - I'd have a hard time believing that Raf Simons draws up position charts, but nevertheless, the stores still have an undeniable Sander feel.

I rarely feel intimidated when I visit designer flagships, but I must say that the store's minimalist design (which was the ideal backdrop for the clothes and accessories) actually made me hesitate when entering the boutique. It also didn't help that three SA's jumped up from where they were seated when my friend and I walked in or that the flagship was completely empty except for the two security guards and the five sales people. Yes, we were greatly outnumbered. One SA was kind enough to give us specific instructions as to where to find everything - menswear on the right, women's clothing everywhere else, shoes on the far left etc. - but considering the store's spartan interior, it was pretty hard to miss the products on display.

I do think the shop rarely gets that many visitors though (which explains the sales team's enthusiasm), so I decided to be extra thorough when looking at the clothes and accessories. Not that I needed motivation - I've always been a JS fan and love simple pieces you can either wear plain or accessorize the hell out of. I was particularly fond of the current season's fringed items, such as the black dresses and clutches. And while I was aware that Jil Sander also produces shoes and bags, it was only now that I actually gave them my full attention. I was pleasantly surprised by the cool ultra-high platforms or the bright soft slouchy bags.

Needless to say the majority of the pieces were mainly black or white, but I did find a rack with bright purple knits and basics, along with a few pastel colored dresses. The store itself is very very white and barely furnished except for a few chairs, one couch near the shoe area and a big table close to the entrance. This is by no means the biggest or oldest flagship (ironically that one's in my current hometown Paris) but I think it represents the Jil Sander look perfectly.

Luckily my initial intimidation quickly subsided and I must say the staff are very friendly, so I did quite enjoy seeing the Summer collection in person. If you're ever near a JS store and it's empty, don't worry about going in to take a quick browse - photos in magazines don't do the cut and fabric of the clothes justice. You might want to bring a friend though, just so you're not all alone...

(individual images: Browns, Net-a-Porter)

Address: Neuer Wall 43, 20459 Hamburg
Opening Hrs: Mon-Sat: 10:00-19:00

Jil Sander Homepage

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

M39: Sabine Ortland (Hamburg, Germany)

I'll admit that when I lived in Hamburg, I was guilty of shopping mainly in the downtown area filled with high street stores and luxury boutiques - all of which I usually passed during my daily commute to and from work. This means I painfully neglected the Karolinenviertel, filled with streets full of vintage shops and retail outlets belonging to independent designers. My friend V. had a similar shopping habit, so it was with much determination, we decided to head to this neighborhood to find something more unique and less mass produced.

left: M39 homepage, right: image brochure

The first store that got our attention was M39, a name derived from the shop's address. While the exterior didn't really look that spectacular, the windows were filled with so many cute items, we just couldn't resist going in. The shop is owned by local designer Sabine Ortland who has gained a fair amount of popularity in the last few years with her hand-made clothing and accessories. Though she has other select retail locations throughout Germany now, M39 is what you could call the headquarter and also houses the designer's workshop. According to press releases everyone from German pop legend Nena to Courtney Love has graced this tiny store with their presence at some point, but despite the fact that this boutique is no longer an insider secret, it definitely still holds its charm.

Ortland first opened M39 in 1997 but began designing before that, mainly as a hobby. Even though her collections include women's clothing, such as dresses, skirts, tops and trousers, her signature pieces are actually slightly smaller. One of the first items she created were adorable knitted arm or hand warmers in various colors, some with additional applique touches. I never thought about getting any, but when I saw these, I had the sudden urge to stock up on them.

My other favorite pieces included patterned scarves made from jersey material or wool. They were lined and just like the arm warmers, they came with details such as lace embroidery or intricate stitching. I spotted some thinner scarves and found out these could in fact be used as collars, ties or belts depending on how you tied them. I was very tempted to get one, especially when I noticed that they each had one or two unique metal pendants/charms sewn on. A nautical-themed version had a small anchor and a more summery one had a little lady bird. Oh, if only they had had one in pink or gray, I would have snapped one up instantly.

My partner in shopping, V. on the other hand was somewhat smitten by the skirts, which similar to the jackets and dresses were relatively simple except for their patterned seams and hemlines, giving a classic item a bit of a twist. Other goodies I saw included small pouches in retro designs, larger tote bags made of leather and fabric, little heart-shaped cushions and even a small selection of delicate jewelry.

The store itself is small and homey but allows plenty of space for browsing. Wooden floors and furniture, as well as decorations including Russian dolls, potted plants and still-life paintings gave everything a slightly girly touch.

All products are unique and made by hand in small production batches, so you're not bound to see too many other people wearing the same thing. Prices are affordable as well, ranging from 20 EUR for smaller scarves and hand warmers to 60 EUR for dresses. Believe it or not, both V. and I left the shop empty-handed, but have been unable to stop thinking about the items we saw. Something tells me we might be heading back very soon...

Address: Marktstraße 39, 20357 Hamburg
Opening Hrs: Mon-Fri: 12:00-19:00, Sat: 11:00-16:00

M39 Homepage

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Impressions of Hamburg (Germany)

I am going to start off by saying that this place is probably one of the most beautiful urban areas you'll find in the world. While Berlin only gradually grew on me (right after Germany's unification it resembled one big construction site and before that it just wasn't that interesting), I instantly fell in love with Hamburg the first time I visited. I lived here for two years and it's the one place I truly regret not having spent more time in, which is why I make the effort to return whenever I can.

Rathaus / Town Hall

Hamburg is Germany's second-largest city (after Berlin) and like the nation's capital, it's a city-state that's marked with contrasts. Blessed with the two beautiful 'Alster' lakes in the city center, it also has a large harbor and so many canals that to this day, it's still the city with the most bridges in the world (2300 in total - more than what Amsterdam and Venice have combined). You'll find impressive old warehouses in the 'Speicherstadt', stunning houses and mansions belonging to the rich upper-class, many yachts and sailboats parked around the docks and large avenues filled with high-end shops and boutiques.

One of Hamburg's many canals and bridges off the 'Aussenalster' Lake

Alsterarkaden near Jungfernstieg

At the same time, Hamburg also has a very impressive alternative and indie scene. Towards St. Pauli you'll find the Schanzen- and Karoviertel filled with smaller cafes, clubs, vintage shops and old cinemas catering to artists, musicians and students. This area is also home to Europe's largest red-light-district around the Reeperbahn, which has become so touristy, that you'll find just as many bars, restaurants and clubs attracting anyone from teenagers to pensioners (currently the Mamma Mia musical is showing here) as you will the usual sex and strip club haunts.

Grosse Freiheit in the red-light district off the Reeperbahn

In any case, if you love to shop, Hamburg is the ideal place to do so. Most might associate hip fashion with Berlin, but let's not forget that Hamburg gave us Karl Lagerfeld, who was born and raised here, as well as Jil Sander. Because of its proximity to Scandinavia, many local independent designers will favor a more retro vintagey style and you'll find a great selection of Danish and Swedish labels in smaller boutiques.

Whatever you do, don't just go to Berlin if you're ever in Germany (or Europe for that matter), because you'll be missing out on one of the most amazing cities I've ever been to.

High-end boutiques on Neuer Wall

Speicherstadt/Warehouse district


Independent & vintage boutiques on the Marktstrasse in the Karoviertel

Binnenalster - Hamburg's inner lake

View of the Aussenalster - the outer lake

High street shopping on the Mönckebergstrasse

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Links à la Mode

I'm off traveling again, but here are some fabulous links from fellow fashion bloggers, edited by the ever-so-stylish Clutch 22. Enjoy!
  • 39th & Broadway: Even fashion designers can get scared of a new and forward trend.
  • Agent Dreamer: An interview with Rachel Lanese of Crafttastrophe – designer of beautiful shoes and other wearable art.
  • Agent Lover: Hunting for the perfect retro bathing suit, part two.
  • Breakfast at Saks: A review of independent designer retailer, Moxsie and Itsola dress.
  • Broke & Beautiful: Miss Elle experiences amazing handmade jewelry in a video post!
  • Consume or Consumed: Review and hypothetically shopping at Net-A-Porter’s sister sale site: The Outnet
  • Culturistas: Update your wardrobe for Spring using the clothes you already have!
  • Dirty Laundry: How to wear Maison Martin Margiela without breaking the bank via DIY alternatives.
  • Fashion Pulse Daily: Perry Ellis surprises with a fall line-up of classics that with please your Dad and your hottie 20-something boyfriend simultaneously!
  • Felicia Sullivan: eco-friendly fashion on a budget: toggery by kate d’arcy.
  • Haute World: An inside look to the ever famous Louis Vuitton flagship store in Paris.
  • Hello Kelli: New Japanese technology creates a loose wave digital perm.
  • Independent Fashion Bloggers: Starting your own blog? IFB helps find the right blog platform for you.
  • LuciteBox: HBO’s Grey Gardens – beyond the fashionable women.
  • Retro Chick: Celebrating one year blog birthday with a reader goodie bag giveaway.
  • Star Fashion Addict: A roundup of the hottest handbag styles for spring.
  • Style Symmetry: Inspiration Flashback – a look back at Little House on the Prairie.
  • Super Kawaii Mama: Luxe & Less - Pick me up’s for next to nothing.
  • The Coveted: Basic Investing, is it better to invest in basics or statement pieces?
  • The Curvy Fashionista: Interview with plus size high fashion designer, Monif C - breaking all plus size stigmas.
  • The Demoiselles: The Littlest Demoiselle discusses ANTM’s Short Model Season, and “under height” models of the past.
  • The Sunday Best: Why Club Monaco should bring back the crewneck.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Colette - The Selby (Paris, France)

The wonderful thing about window shopping at Colette is that its retail environment changes constantly. When I last visited this store to see the Barbie anniversary special, everything was swathed in pink. Since March 30, Colette has been hosting 'The Selby in your Place by Todd Selby' exhibition, which means that once again, shoppers like myself can indulge in ogling special collaboration items related to the exhibit, as well as wander around looking at actual artwork.

To those unfamiliar with Todd Selby's work, here's a brief introduction: back in June 2008 Selby decided to explore the ways one's personal space reflects one's personality by documenting creative people in their creative environment. This mainly involved taking their photos, but also included sketches and a Q&A dedicated to his subjects. The list of people he photographed grew and soon he began posting all of this on his website, which became immensely popular. These days Selby has a pretty large fan base, though there are a fair amount of people who think his work is overrated. Safe to say if you started taking pictures of your buddies, who happen to be Alexander Wang or Erin Wasson, then posted these together with drawings and interviews on your blog, you'll most likely get a bit of attention.

Nevertheless I was curious to see the majority of his collection in person. Unlike most of the previous exhibits, this one took over the entire store, with photos, hand-written notes and illustrations occupying various walls in a montage layout. So you do end up browsing the entire shop area, but as Selby's pieces are grouped according to the person he's documenting, it's still clearly arranged.

Erin Wasson montage

In some cases looking at the pictures or reading something can be a bit tricky though. I found it awkward to stare at the things that were hanging behind the cash desk, so I quickly gave up. The water bar in the basement had a few pieces as well, but if you're not actually dining there, it seems pointless again. So I headed towards the first floor where I was greeted by a mosaic of images and Q&A's dedicated to (amongst others) Erin Wasson that was hanging by the stairs.

I didn't try to photograph everything I saw, as all of it (and more) is available on, so I would recommend any readers to head there to browse in peace. The first floor gave easier access to Selby's work, which made admiring his documentation while browsing Colette's range of designer clothes more fun. Though I had previously seen a lot of this online, looking at the presentation in person gave it a more organic feel - especially as nothing was framed or laminated, creating the impression everything had just been randomly stuck to the walls.

As usual, the majority of the exhibit could be found towards the back, with the lower of the split levels once again housing the special collaboration shop. Most of these items were either created for the exhibit or are pieces that previously belonged to Selby's subjects.

A rack of clothing included blazers, jeans and tops designed by Abigail & Philip Smiley, tote bags by Olaf Breuning and t-shirts created by the man himself. Other notable finds were a handmade photo book by Cheryl Dunn, a very odd candleholder by Adam Wallacavage and a bronze music tape from Michael Stipe (retailing for 300 EUR - it better have something good on it).

The top floor gave easier access to the remainder of Selby's work, the more popular collages featuring Michael Stipe and Christian Louboutin. All photos can also be ordered as prints in various sizes and a Selby book containing his compositions was available for purchase.

above: Michael Stipe, below: Christian Louboutin

The exhibit definitely made for an interesting visit, so if you're in the area I'd definitely go. Colette is hosting this event until May 2. If you don't get a chance and are new to 'The Selby', you might want to check out his official homepage here. And don't forget: all Selby-related items can also be purchased via the Colette homepage.

(individual images: Colette)

Address: 213 rue Saint-Honoré, 75001 Paris
Opening Hrs: Mon-Sat: 11:00-19:00
Colette Homepage & Online Shop

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A.P.C. (Paris, France)

A.P.C. (short for 'Atelier de Production et de Création') is one of those labels that has been on people's radars for quite some time now. Unlike many of the other French retail brands it is also one of the few that has reached global recognition and a cult following, mainly due to the basic, simple yet chic clothes that would suit any guy or girl.

The company, founded in the late 80's by the Tunisian born designer Jean Touitou, wasn't always as accessible and 'mainstream'. Touitou, who's always had a somewhat rebellious mindset (and still does) purposefully designed the A.P.C. line to be more flattering to the body with clothes hugging women's curves ever so slightly. Even the menswear doesn't include your usual loose-fitting t-shirts and jeans. This came as a backlash to the slouchy baggy look the majority of French brands still favor. These days A.P.C. might seem a bit more conventional, as the current range includes Liberty prints which every brand from Cacharel to Topshop seems to be using, yet one look at the homepage will make you realize that Touitou still likes to provoke.

(images: APC)

The current 'I hate rock 'n' roll' collection on the website features his tirade on how the (rock) music scene has become a place for posers instead of true musicians, though he admits that this is thankfully changing. Four bands have collaborated to design four different t-shirts for A.P.C. which are available online and in-store.

(image: APC)

So is A.P.C. still an alternative brand or has it gotten bigger than Touitou ever wanted it to be? I guess just like rock musicians who have to fight to remain genuine and cool, but also strive to be successful in their market, there's a certain dichotomy when it comes to A.P.C. For one, the brand is now widely available in department stores all over the world, not to mention via online retailers like net-a-porter or their own website. Yet the company hardly has that many flagships, though they are expanding. There are only four in France and they're not exactly big. I frequently walk past the Marais store without going in, because it's so low-key I usually forget it's there.

It's because of this, I decided to head to the Left Bank to visit A.P.C.'s newer flagship on rue Madame. Some might deem the location to be a bit prestigious, but even though it's not that far from the YSL flagship, the actual store is located on a quiet one-way street in what resembles a fairly residential area, neighboring the company's headquarters and showrooms. The shop itself still looked very new and just like the clothes, the decor was modern and clean. This space isn't big either, but unlike the other stores, it comes with a few extras I'll get to later.

Because of the simple layout, finding your way around is fairly easy. Basically all women's clothing can be found on the right side of the room, while menswear occupies the left. Smaller accessories and t-shirts can be found on the middle table while shoes were placed under the racks of clothes.

As with previous collections, it's the simple basics that first draw you in: jeans, trench coats, blazers, t-shirts and dresses - all nicely cut, in neutral hues and made with the finest materials. But this time around I also found a surprisingly large amount of patterned pieces. Besides the aforementioned Liberty print line, the current Madras collection features bright tropical designs. I also found myself paying closer attention to the cute tote bags and chunky sandals, even though I rarely notice A.P.C. accessories.

House music was playing during my entire visit and across the shop area close to the counter I spotted a CD listening station. The selection ranged from dance to rock and don't be surprised if you find a number of CD's issued by A.P.C., such as 'The A.P.C. Experience' or 'A.P.C. Tracks'. Touitou is an avid music lover with his own record label. If that's not enough, why not pick up the A.P.C. Karaoke DVD which features tunes by contemporary artists? Towards the cash desk, several books were laid out together with the five-year agenda diary - all published by A.P.C. And a nearby shelf presented a range of scented A.P.C. candles.


If the shop had been slightly bigger, I might have labeled this a concept store. But despite the large number of branded items I didn't even know existed, the range of clothing and accessories are as good as ever and deserve your undivided attention. Thankfully everything can also be ordered via their website, so if you get a chance you might want to pay it a visit.

(individual images: APC Homepage)

Address: 38 rue Madame, 75006 Paris
Opening Hrs: Mon-Sat: 10:00-19:00
A.P.C. Homepage and Online-Shop

Monday, April 20, 2009

Louis Vuitton Boutique (Paris, France)

Back in 1914, when it first opened, the Paris LV flagship was considered to be the biggest travel shop in the world. Few could afford to stop by and just order one of the prized trunks or steamer bags. LV was incredibly exclusive and very unique. These days the LV 'house' on Champs-Elysées is just as huge and officially the largest luxury boutique in the world. However it now sells mainly bags, jewelry, clothes, shoes, books, sunglasses, and other accessories. As LV was one of the first designer brands to target the middle-class and mass market with smaller, slightly more affordable items, the current clientele is also somewhat different, ranging from students to pop stars.

The imposing LV building could probably be considered one of Paris' major attractions with a steady stream of tourists wandering through the entrance every day - sometimes the security won't even bother closing the doors. In fact whenever I happen to pass, I actually see more people taking photos of its art-deco facade than the nearby Arc de Triomphe. At this point, I'm surprised visitors aren't offered an audio guide when entering the building.

For those who have always been intimidated by high-end stores, this one is different. The staff are very welcoming (there's even a reception desk at the entrance), you will see consumers walking around in jeans and sneakers and in general the ambiance will most likely resemble a high-end department store more than it would an exclusive luxury boutique, where most wouldn't dare to touch the items on display. While the store windows currently still feature the neon-lit Sprouse roses, the interior is what you would expect from LV: traditional trunks float above the so-called 'bag bar' and the much-loathed yet equally loved LV monogram can be found decorating various walls.

It is this 'bag bar' that tends to be the busiest area in the store with crowds of people at every counter perusing the most popular purse styles. And while I don't despise the LV canvas like some of my friends do (I do prefer it on luggage and trunks though), I can't help but wonder why so many people keep buying bags that are so frequently sighted. In Paris you can't swing your arm without hitting someone carrying something from the LV canvas line (I see an average of 10-20 a day) and back in the days when I lived in Hong Kong, both the real and fake bags were so ubiquitous, I one day spotted a homeless man using a replica monogram Speedy as a pillow.

But once I headed up the escalator to the top floor, I was reminded of LV's impressive heritage. When the Sprouse collection first came out, one corner had a full display of the bag range, as well as the tribute book for people to browse through and the DVD running on a loop. Currently this corner is once again home to the massive trunks and hard-cased luggage, some of them open allowing you to view the different compartments. A nearby display featured miniature renditions of previously custom-made trunks: one to store a bike, another revealed a full-sized bureau and a third contained a portable bed with mattress.

Before making my way to the adjoining room which houses even more luggage, I quickly browsed part of the women's ready-to-wear collection and shoes. Certain areas are partitioned off with the help of metal mesh walls (adorned with the logo of course), to highlight the Sprouse range or select pieces from the Summer 09 collection. This is also where you'll find scarves, belts and a small collection of costume jewelry.

One of the most impressive parts of the building is the atrium 'luggage lounge' with it's steel-domed ceiling. A nice selection of the men's Damier Graphite range (my personal favorite) along with other suitcases and Keepalls could be viewed here. And of course there were more trunks on display. Unfortunately I don't have 22 000 EUR to spare, otherwise I might just have picked one up...

The majority of the women's line can be found further down and around the corner of the top level. LV only started coming out with clothing a little over 10 years ago and you'll find everything from the current runway pieces (including that feathered thing Madonna has been wearing) to more casual sporty items. I would like to add that this area is usually very empty, so most people seem more interested in accessories than anything else.

The remaining storeys are laid out in a spiral shape so that you end up walking down the rest of the building without noticing. The high-end jewelry and watch section is next, though again you'll hardly find people browsing this department.

If you need something to read, the neighboring bookshop has a wide variety of art, fashion and LV-specific literature (including the LV travel guides).

The menswear section is slightly busier again, with many visitors checking out the various ties, scarves, suits, jackets and shirts. According to a friendly SA any of the sideboard drawers and cupboards can be opened to reveal even more styles not on display, so for the next 10 minutes I had lots of fun raiding this area.

To those who aren't huge fans of the brand I would say, give it a try because it's a great place to just browse and this boutique is part of fashion history. Those who adore anything LV will most likely have this on their must-see list anyway and I don't think they'll be disappointed.

(individual images: Louis Vuitton Website)

Address: 101 avenue des Champs-Elysées, 75008 Paris
Opening Hrs: Mon-Sat: 10:00-20:00, Sun: 11:00-19:00

Louis Vuitton Homepage and Online Shop