Monday, June 29, 2009

Impressions of Chamonix (France)

My Significant Other is a bit of a sports addict (then again, aren't most men?), especially when it comes to running marathons. Ages ago, he signed up to run the Mont Blanc marathon, which is how we found ourselves in Chamonix this past weekend. In a way, I was really glad to not be in Paris during the first sales weekend... if the Wednesday was bad, the Saturday is usually the ultimate shopping madness, as you'll get people traveling from neighboring European countries who want in on the fun.

chamonixView of Mont Blanc from the hotel room.

Chamonix is a beautiful alpine resort in France, bordering on Switzerland and Italy and conveniently located at the foot of Mont Blanc, Western Europe's highest mountain. The closest city is in Geneva and though we drove through it, I unfortunately didn't get to spend any time there. Not really an issue - I've never seen Mont Blanc and wanted to spend some quality time away from any city. Unlike other ski resorts, especially the glitzy Swiss ones (yes St. Moritz... I'm looking at you), Chamonix is surprisingly unpretentious. I'm sure during the winter seasons you'll get a few ski bunnies in designer sports gear, but judging from the stores I saw, this place is pretty down-to-earth and not as overly filled with chalet-kitsch as many of it's counterparts.

chamonixDowntown Chamonix & starting point for the marathon.

During the summer months the area is really popular among rock climbers, hikers and extreme sports fans - there were so many paragliders out this weekend. I would have been tempted to try it out if we had had more time.


chamonixPartial view of Mont Blanc from Chamonix.

As you can imagine, shopping isn't really a main attraction here, which is why I'm not going to do any store profiles. But since the main downtown area consists of nothing but stores (mainly outdoor and sports shops) and restaurants, I couldn't help snapping a few pics...

chamonixLeft: Boutique with a range of Gerard Darel, Ralph Lauren etc., Right: A more common sight were the large number of outdoor shops. Here: The North Face.

chamonixYou won't starve in Chamonix. One of the many delicatessen stores.

chamonixAn art gallery sold some amazing photographs of Mont Blanc. The below image was my favorite.

chamonixNot the best place to find shoes... unless you like Birkenstocks (left), which I can still tolerate... or that other brand (right), which I would prefer not to name.

chamonix... because every town deserves some Karl. Surrounded by outdoor shops, I found the only designer flagship in Chamonix. And they had sales as well!

We also managed to browse the weekly market...

chamonixOverview of the market

chamonixMore outdoor clothing... but cheap (left). You can't escape the harem trousers... (right)

chamonixLeft: These flowers were made of wood and paper. Right: Colorful jewelry.

chamonixTop left: A range of artisanal honeys. Top right: Sausages made of donkey and wild boar. Bottom: A nice selection of wild mushrooms.

On Sunday, my dearest and well over 14 000 other crazies set out to run/walk/crawl up this part of Mont Blanc, starting at 7AM in the morning. I chose an easier way... around noon...

chamonixNo way am I walking up that...

chamonixThe destination from inside the cable car.

chamonixView of Chamonix from the cable car.

chamonixView of the rest of Mont Blanc from the top.

Hope everyone else had a lovely weekend!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Les Soldes à Paris! A Haute-Shopper's Experience.

I was going to blog yesterday and share yet another wonderful Spanish (or French... haven't decided) store with everyone, but I got distracted by one of the biggest shopping events in France: the first day of summer sales. So instead, I have decided to share this sometimes crazy, mostly surprisingly civilized experience with you. You can consider this a virtual sales shopping experience through my eyes, complete with a bizarre anecdote towards the end. I will even show you the stuff I bought... kind of.

In any case, pre-sales have been going on for a while in Paris now, but it's the official sales that deliver the true bargains. Mainly because a lot of the big designers (Balenciaga, Lanvin etc.) won't mark down anything until the first sale date. And others will only pull out all the goods from stock once the real thing is underway. Because I never buy designer full-price, (unless I know it will never ever go on sale) but unfortunately also have shoe and clothing sizes that sell out immediately, I wanted to get there early. It was also pretty convenient I didn't have to work yesterday. The greater part of the retail world opened it's doors at 8AM. I thought 8AM was pushing it, so instead I chose to go at... 8:20AM.

First stop: Department Stores

I started out at Printemps (Haussmann), which is also the first place I visited during the winter sales. I don't really enjoy department stores (artificial light, enclosed space...), but when it comes to sales, they somehow manage to pull out stuff that's sold out elsewhere (the same goes for Galeries Lafayette, but I prefer Printemp's layout). I would also recommend Le Bon Marche, though it's a little further away from the main shopping area.

Where are the people? Alexander McQueen (above) and Balenciaga (below).

Bi-annual sales in bigger cities tend to be crazy. In Harvey Nichols (London), I witnessed a lot of shoving, pushing, screaming and when the doors opened early in the morning, women were actually sprinting towards certain sections of the store. Printemps? Not really. The women's RTW clothing section was scarily empty. Except for one silly person I'll get to later...

50% off Balmain at Printemps, including all variations of the shoulder jackets.

I finally found out where the masses had gathered... in the shoe section of course! This gave me a chance to take some pics of people spending too much money. The logo brands were doing very well with long lines in front of Chanel, Dior and Gucci. The below pictures were taken at 8:45 AM.
I wonder what they're waiting for...

But no one cared about Prada, YSL, Sergio Rossi or Giuseppe Zanotti. Some of these areas were so empty, I actually tried on shoes because I felt sorry for the bored staff. Yes, I'm nice that way.

Where's the love?

Second Stop: One Flagship, Two Boutiques

I was so intrigued by the queues in front of the various Chanel sections within the department stores, I was curious to see how busy the main flagship on rue Cambon was. It was busy, but no queues. And way more shoes. It's 10 mins away... why don't people come here instead?

Chanel rue Cambon: two rooms were dedicated to shoes alone.

I also ended up visiting two multi-brand boutiques. The first, Maria Luisa stocks everything from Margiela to Manolos (one of the few places in Paris that sells the brand). I then took a bit of a detour to Ave. Montaigne to visit Montaigne Market (stocks Balmain, Alaia and Ann Demeulemeester). Both were shockingly empty.

Maria Lusia (left) and Montaigne Market (right). Both very empty.

Montaigne Market: 50% off the YSL cage boot anyone? A young girl was browsing, happily toting her Balmain purchase.

Third Stop: Rue du Faubourg-St. Honoré

By the time I hit the main high-end shopping area near rue Royale, the streets were full of people. It was around 10AM by then. Almost every single person was carrying shopping bags - most of them by luxury designers. I had already purchased Lanvin shoes in Printemps (50% off), but I love the way the boutique displays the shoes during the sale season. The ballerina flats were only marked down 30%. Pretty weak... especially considering Lanvin did a full 50% discount half a year ago.

Lanvin flagship. The shoe section. My vesrion of heaven.

Givenchy: Does no one love you... except me?

Oh no, Givenchy is so empty! I must save them!

Left: Busy YSL - 50% off everything. Right: Louboutin was busy as well - 30-50% off.

On the street

In a sad attempt to show you some pseudo-streetstyle images and to make myself feel better about spending money, I started taking pictures of people with shopping bags. They were everywhere. France isn't officially in a recession, which would explain why even children are hauling TODS bags around...

TODS, YSL, Dior and Chanel were hot favorites.

And speaking of TODS, I must have missed something, because they had the longest line of people ever.

Are there freebies? Right: Buggies can be practical...

More shopaholics...

The guy in the picture above (right) was excitedly telling his female friends that he had purchased some shirts, a wallet and a belt from Lanvin, YSL and Prada. He couldn't have been older than 20. The girl toting the Balmain shopping bag a few pictures up was around 18. And while I was trying to get a pic, two girls approached me, wanting to know where the Balenciaga flagship was (they were both around 18 as well). Don't know about you, but when I was that age, it was all about vintage and H&M. I'm intrigued...

The orange invasion...

I was a little surprised by the amount of people carrying Hermès bags, considering they don't have regular sales (they have bi-annual private sales). But I'm guessing the purchases might have been of the classic will-never-go-on-sale kind.

The crazy shopper

I'm just going to briefly mention one person who towards the beginning of my shopping spree proved that people do go psycho during sale season. During my first stop in Printemps (McQueen section) I was happily browsing and checking a price of a scarf, which was in my hand when I suddenly felt a tug... and nothing. A woman, who I will refer to as crazy shopper (CW), sporting a baggy t-shirt, jeans and a sun visor had actually pulled this item right out of my hand, merrily proclaiming to have seen it first. Her left arm was loaded with at least 5 other scarves and many more items. I started arguing but she looked at me like she didn't understand English (to be fair, she didn't speak it very well). I couldn't be bothered, especially as I had no interest in the product and didn't want to waste my own shopping time so I continued.

Two minutes later, I suddenly feel a tug at my own scarf. CW is standing next to me asking "are you going to get that scarf? I think I also saw it first". I tried explaining to her, that this was actually my own (McQueen) scarf from FW07. Her hands were still on it. I was getting slightly irritated (to put it mildly). When she realized there was no security or price tag, she finally got it, laughed, slapped me on the shoulder like we were BFF's and took off towards the Cavalli section. Wow, I wonder if she was on something. Actually I think she might have been an eBay seller. I was tempted to tell her that all the stuff in her arms was actually from FW09 and not on sale, but I guess she'll realize sooner or later...

CW ended up causing more havoc in other areas of the store, when she made an alarm go off twice after yanking various Balenciaga bags off shelves. Security ended up secretly following her around the store after that.

Have you ever experienced nutcases while shopping? I've been to sample sales, and whatnot, but I rarely encounter individuals who actually take stuff you're holding or trying on. It's like something out of a chick-lit movie. I realize there's something about a 50% off sign that triggers irrational behavior and a rapid decline in a person's IQ level, but some people need to get a grip.

Anyhow, for the sake of my credit card, I decided to end my spree after the above mentioned flagships. I might check out more stores next week, but there's nothing else I had my eye on. For now, I'm happy with these:

The damage done.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mango (Barcelona, Spain)

Mango (or MNG) seems like one of the most obvious stores to mention when it comes to Barcelona shopping, mainly because this Catalan brand is the city's biggest high street success story. And while I realize it might not be one of my most exciting shopping finds, as their stores are almost everywhere these days, it's still one of my favorite retail brands. I never actually realized this until I recently reorganized my closet and noticed that most of my high street buys were Mango. Unlike a lot of brands out there, they've always had a good mix of trendy, elegant, casual yet timeless pieces that don't look outdated after a season. Some of their dresses might be too colorful for my taste, but that's the beauty of their collections - there's usually something there to suit every taste. Plus I adore their skinny jeans, which seem to fit me better than any expensive version out there.

Looks from the current catalogue.

Mango has been around for 25 years, though for the first decade or so the label was only represented in Spain. This was followed by a flagship in Paris, then London and these days, Mango stores can be found in over 90 countries.

Penelope Cruz, Dakota Johnson

The brand has done pretty well for itself in the last few years, especially when it comes to designer collaborations and selecting appropriate spokespeople for their campaigns. Everyone from Milla Jovovich (for the Jovovich-Hawk line) to Faye Dunaway have been featured in their ads and catalogues. Most recently Penelope Cruz - the perfect candidate to represent a Spanish brand - has been the face of the company, along with Dakota Johnson (Don Johnson's/Melanie Griffith's daughter) for MNG Jeans and Julia Restoin-Roitfeld for the SS09 range. The next celebrity set to be promoting the FW09/10 line will be Scarlett Johansson. Designer collections currently include pieces by Zuhair Murad, Adam Lippes and emerging designer Sandrina Fasali.

Julia Restoin-Roitfeld models this season's hottest trends.

In trying to find the first ever flagship in Barcelona, I was told it was located on Passeig de Gràcia, but as there were actually two stores on this busy high street, I ended up going to the one I thought was prettier. Located in what resembled a big mansion, I found this store to be unique in the sense that it actually had a lot of windows. Ever noticed that many department stores and other shops lack natural sunlight? It annoys me at times, and this is what made this store such a pleasure to browse. It was pretty huge and reminded me more of an upscale boutique than a high street chain, mainly due to the bright atmosphere and the homey touches such as the photos and paintings on the walls or the comfortable couches which could be found in the men's department.

Ground floor featuring a nice jewelry selection.

The great thing about visiting a bigger flagship of a brand you already know, is that they'll usually stock items you've never seen or noticed before. In most cases I tend to ignore accessories, such as bags, shoes, scarves or jewelry. Here, it was hard to miss. The ground floor had summer dresses, tartan shirts and all kinds of other breezy items suitable for the hot weather. But what caught my attention was the chunky statement jewelry which was housed in glass cases near the entrance. I was especially enamored by some of the necklaces, which were pretty heavy and well-made.

Accessories on the upper level.

The upper level was where most of the women's range could be found. Everything from the limited edition designer collections to the current season styles and autumn/winter previews were available. It's worth noting again, that the prices here are lower than what you'd pay for Mango outside of Spain, so if you see something you like, I'd definitely go for it. As before, I somehow gravitated towards the accessories selection - this time the bags and shoes. A nearby scarf rack had a great variety of silk and cotton numbers I hadn't seen before - some even reminded me of last year's McQueen rainbow range.

Big French windows were on either side of the store, which meant that anyone browsing here could still enjoy the sunny weather. Towards the middle, an enclosed balcony displayed a few dummies who were wearing Zuhair Murad dresses. I won't go through what I saw, because I think that pretty much every MNG item on the website could be found in the store.

Left: Mannequins in the enclosed balcony. Right: Odd props added a nice touch.

I took a quick peek at the menswear (aptly named 'HE') as well and quite enjoyed the setting they chose for it. I think the interior designers were channeling a gentleman's club, with the old fashioned couch, lush carpets, gothic chandeliers, more paintings on the walls and antique Chinese props that were placed on various shelves. The menswear range isn't widely available at the moment, so once again, if any guys out there happen to be in Barcelona, I'd pay this store a visit.

Cozy decor in the menswear department.

Because of it's central location and proximity to many of the Gaudi structures, you're bound to pass this store anyway, so you might want to have a quick browse. Otherwise, you'll probably get the chance to visit one in your hometown anyway. If there's no outlet near you, check out the Mango online store which sells the majority of their collection and ships worldwide.

(individual images: Mango)

Address: Passeig de Gràcia, 08007 Barcelona
Opening Hrs: Mon-Sat: 10:15-21:00

Friday, June 19, 2009

Lobby (Barcelona, Spain)

One of the things I've quickly discovered about Barcelona, is that the El Born district is the place to be when it comes to shopping in smaller boutiques or cool stores. Like most such areas, it wasn't always hip and trendy, but this once run-down location is now much loved by tourists and locals alike. The smaller pathways are great for strolling along but somehow one afternoon the hubby and I ended up on a bigger road in the same quarter. It was deserted, grey and I was convinced we had gotten lost.

Left: gifts, toys & accessories. Right: overview of the store.

Passing random windows, I soon noticed that many of the buildings housed smaller shops, showrooms and studios. Then I sighted a much bigger building. A building that looked like it contained a really big shop. Once inside I realized that I had in fact found a concept store in the middle of a deserted street. And unlike the ongoing construction work and resulting debris that could be found outside, the interior was calm, quiet, very new and - like most boutiques with an industrial setting - a good mix of shiny parquet floors and exposed brick walls.

Left: Diesel Jeans section. Right: Chocolates and beauty products.

The reason I guessed this was a concept store was because the first things I could see besides the mannequins dressed in what resembled cool avant-garde clothes, were tables and shelves filled with items ranging from books to useless gadgets no one really needs but everyone wants to have. A small section featured baby items and toys from a brand called Papalote, while a nearby corner had shelves stacked with beauty products I had never seen before (by labels Hierbas de Ibiza and MySkin), as well as a very tempting foodie counter which displayed exotic chocolates by Xavier Mor Chocolatier. To top it off, there was also a small selection of homeware that included items such as lamps, cushions and clocks.

Left: Books are laid out in the center. Right: Diesel Black Gold section.

Clothing could be found towards the back of the store, but the only label that was prominently featured here was Diesel's more upscale Black Gold range. I was slightly disappointed at first - after all, this isn't a brand that's hard to find - until I realized the store also had a basement.

From right: Diesel Black Gold, Pleats Please, Crea Concept, Annette Görtz

Shoes by Bertrand Landro

The lower level was slightly more bare, with it's concrete floors and brick archways which gave the feeling you were in a wine cellar. But this is where the real goods were. I've already forgotten half the designers featured here... again many I had not heard of before, such as Jaume Roca and an up-and-coming Catalan designer who's brand is simply named 'Who'. Some names were more familiar such as Crea Concept and Rundholz, mainly because they're slightly more well-known in Europe. And then there were a few more bizarre pieces, such as the very crazy footwear by Bertrand Landro - four pairs of his prototype shoes were presented here first.

Left: Overview of the lower level. Right:Fancy a bike with your dress?

I was also pleased to see that there were a few Japanese labels among the selection, such as Issey Miyake's Pleats Please and Garde Collective. All the clothes in this area fulfilled the slouchy, cool and unique tailoring criteria. But all of them were also highly wearable and comfortable. The same applied to the menswear which ranged from sporty to edgy, but was never boring or conventional. And to prove that this was in fact a concept store, bikes (which were for sale) were placed as centerpieces in different spaces, while a nearby bar featured a menu of salads, sandwiches and drinks, just in case you needed to energize yourself after (or perhaps before?) spending lots of money.

Right: More bikes in the menswear section.

The store was completely empty when we took a browse and judging by the fact that there was only one SA on each floor, it probably doesn't get all that busy here. Nevertheless, while writing up this post I found out that it's actually prominently featured on various websites while some locals claim this store to be something of an institution in Barcelona and a cool place to be, so maybe it gets busier during the weekends or at night. In any case, it's definitely worth a browse just to catch a glimpse of some pieces by lesser-known brands. And as with most concept stores, the gadgets and gifts are always quite fun to look at as well.

From left: d-cln, Garde Collective, Sarah Pacini, Who

Address: Ribera 5, 08003 Barcelona

Opening Hrs: Mon-Fri: 11:00-14:00, 16:00-20:30 Sat: 12:00-20:30
Lobby Homepage