FOUR SEASONS MAGAZINE
3 Best Shopping Cities, by Lucie Young
A great shopping city is a walking city. Half the fun of shopping is what you discover by accident simply turning a corner or digressing. The best cities are also the ones that are constantly reinventing themselves; neighborhoods bloom and wilt, the fashion caravan moves on, and you have to be constantly alert for the next neighborhood or street. The hunt is as much a part of the experience as the purchase. The big brand name stores that crop up worldwide are not the foundation of a great shopping city, rather it is the ingenious little boutiques that serve up something you’ve never seen before – a particular mouth-watering macaroon, the perfect tea cup, an exquisite piece of lingerie. Whatever it is, it is something you’ve never seen elsewhere, and it provides that little frisson of excitement which reels you back to see what other surprises are in store.
‘Everything begins in Paris’, said an English wit. And when it comes to fashion, it is often true. Paris is the birth place of the department store, the couturier, the runway show, ready to wear collections and most recently those chic micro department store that offers a tightly edited collection of the world’s best fashions, designs, art, crafts, books and CDs (think Colette and more recently Merci in the Marais). For high-end sophistication, it’s hard to beat the 1st arrondissement’s Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, Rue Saint-Honore and the Palais Royal (a beautiful 17th century courtyard that was once a center of political and social intrigue and is now home to the likes of Rick Owen and Pierre Hardy). A few metro stops to the west, Le Marais (‘the marsh’ also known as the Jewish quarter) is a tangle of streets that offer up some of the most inventive boutiques anywhere (especially around the rue Charlot). And in the neighboring Bastille, along the rue de Charonne.
Napoleon thought he was insulting his neighbors by calling them ‘a nation of shopkeepers’. But shop keeping is a fine art in London, celebrated in literature like 84 Charing Cross Road. Where else could you find a place like Fortnum and Mason (provisioners to the royal family), founded in 1707 by Queen Charlotte’s manservant, home of the first tin of baked beans and inventor of the Scotch egg. It’s hard to beat London’s shops for charm and idiosyncrasy. The great shopping streets unreel like daisy chains. Among the best are Marylebone High Street, Savile Row, Dover Street, Westbourne Grove, Goldborne Road, Monmouth Street, Bruton Street and if you want an adventure in the gentrified East End try Commercial Street and Brick Lane.
As Jay-Z sings in Empire State of Mind, ‘There’s nothing you can’t do, now you’re in New York. These streets will make you feel brand new. Big lights will inspire you. Let’s hear it for New York.’ Fast, glitzy, trashy, wearable, affordable – New York swoops from high to low, from ridiculously expensive to slouchy and comfortable like no one else. Think Carrie Bradshaw and the Sex and the City gang reinventing themselves just by stepping out their front doors. And the service! Where else in the world do you find 100s of stores that allow you to return something weeks (even months) later, for a full refund? It’s a city bursting its borders and expanding into Brooklyn, with exciting new areas like Atlantic Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg and Greenpoint. But let’s not forget – SoHo, Nolita, the Lower East Side, the Meatpacking District, Fifth Avenue around Midtown and Madison Avenue. Need I say more?