New York is fast, frenzied and furious. Exhausting and overwhelming. We’re not talking American gridiron here. But shopping – New York style. The secret of ‘shopping Manhattan’ is to know how to approach it: in small bites via neighbourhoods and beyond flagship designer stores. And definitely not (we repeat, not) in high heels.
The following will help any discerning fashion punter – whether you’re after funky earrings from an up-and-coming jeweller, or a scarf from a neighbourhood boutique – to live out your inner Carrie Bradshaw. Albeit in slightly alternative, and stress-free, ways.
Lower East Side and Nolita
This compact grid of streets on Manhattan’s lower east side is home to unique shops with one-off pieces and fashion-forward products. This niche locale, including Nolita, attracts the young, arty scene who are after bespoke style. Not to mention great Instagram shots; the store’s interiors rival Matrix movie sets.
As well as the more ‘mainstream’ brands, such as Vince, Maje and Sandro, Nolita is the spot for edgy, one-of-a-kind shops for the more fashion forward shopper.
Creatures of Comfort stocks fresh, creative pieces. The store is light and airy and very welcoming, though some might consider the apparel on the pricey side. For standout pieces, Flying Solo houses wonderful items by edgy designers.
Not surprisingly, given the youthful, moneyed clientele that flock to the area, skincare stores have taken over Nolita. The best includes Credo on Prince Street, where products are 100 per cent natural.
For accessories, Ermine makes and stocks some of the most stunning dress jewellery around. The store owners, a creative Israeli-French couple, have a wonderful sense of style and original designs abound.
If the prices ($395 for a white t-shirt, say what?) and consumerism starts to get you down, head to Toms. The responsible merchandise design – shoes and trendy eyewear – are more accessible than its neighbours. A percentage of Toms’ profits support developing countries through donations of shoes (as well as supporting sight, water, and safe birth programs). After perusing or purchasing, be sure to sip on one of their very good coffees in the fabulous rear courtyard (a local secret).
As for taking time to appease your inner intellectual? Don’t miss Goods for the Study, a stunning store that displays all things studious for your stylish workplace.
One of the first hoods in lower Manhattan to be gentrified, SoHo, short for South of Houston, is full of trendy apartments and bars along with the main drawcard – boutiques that showcase the who’s who of designers.
Although locals claim the neighbourhood has lost its artistic edge, the cobblestone streets make for pretty walking and the area provides a more ‘bite-able’ section of the Big Apple. While here, follow the sound waves to the trendy Sonos store. Enter your personal supersonic booth; these are straight out of a Dr Who episode.
Had enough? SoHo is a good place to call it quits for the day. Put on your purchased party frock and head out for a cocktail at The Blond, an elegant, almost Bohemian chic lounge, in the attractive boutique hotel, 11 Howard.
Stroll Fifth & Madison Avenues
Included here only because they’d be obvious by their absence are the well-known New York shopping landmarks: Fifth and Madison Avenues.
You hardly stroll here, so much as dodge the throngs. ‘Fifth’ is home to the large and chic department stores, most of which follow the usual layout: flower-filled, cosmetics departments on the ground floor, women’s fashion on the next, and so on. Along 54th and 59th streets, in particular, you can pick your way through the alphabet of luxury, from Apple to Louis Vuitton.
If you want to get your hands on a ubiquitous aqua bag from Tiffany & Co., you may need to open your purse. Splurge on something from their 1837 collection or a refined Paloma Picasso piece. Alternatively, settle on a snap of the building exterior, a stunning granite and limestone building, complete with Atlas propping up a clock (this flagship store opened in 1940).
As for Madison Avenue? It reeks of expensive perfume. It’s alive with furs. It revels in the limousines that cruise its length. Block after ritzy block, from 53rd to 81st, it has every designer name you’ve ever heard of. Whether you either love it or, after an hour or so of wandering, you can’t tell a Hermes from a Helmut Lang.
Malls & More
For a one-stop-shop and huge discounts across hundreds of designers, outlets are good options. Venture out to Woodbury Common in New York State (yes, we’re heading off Manhattan here; this is accessible by public transport and tour buses).
Alternatively, the brand new Hudson Yards New York (currently under construction on the site of former rail yards), will soon feature 100 shops and boutiques, plus restaurants and apartments, all spread over a massive area. While there, you can check out the beginnings of the construction of The Vessel. This extraordinary Escher-style, urban landmark will have 154 different interconnecting stairs into the sky.
Thrift Shops – Vintage
New York is filled with a bevy of wonderful thrift shops and vintage wear. The problem is knowing how to sniff these out. The best way to get your head around quality purchases – from Chanel handbags to stunning jewellery – is to head off on a tour with Suzanne Lenora of ZTrend NYC. This stylish bargain hunter is the nearest thing to a living New York sitcom character; she’ll share her favourite ‘retro secrets’ and current hot spots (with snippets of local gossip thrown in).
Another handy spot to know is Eye Candy, an accessory trove on W 23rd Street, run by the very creative, former jeweller, Ron Caldwell. Pick up a 1950s waist-nipped frock for $60 or a black patent vintage handbag for $50.
Let’s face it: even the most seasoned of shoppers can get irritated by over-zealous shop assistants. And there’s plenty of them here. For a break from perfume pushers, head out and get some culture at New York’s incredible museums and enjoy a purchase or three while you’re at it.
The stores at the Metropolitan Museum showcase everything from David Hockney posters to Russian Imperial cufflinks. As well as within the fabulous museum, itself, MoMA has a MoMA Design Store located on Spring Street, Nolita. Here, you can pick up the likes of modern design wares, Frank Lloyd Wright playing cards and Andy Warhol pop art-inspired sunglasses.
Elsewhere, in the Meatpacking District (at the southern end of NY’s High Line), the gallery shop in The Whitney Museum sells objets d’art and items with designs of high-profile artists. Grab some hilarious stickers by cartoonist Gemma Correll, or an elegant silk kimono with a railroad sunset design, inspired by Edward Hopper.
The stunning New York Public Library is the place to buy your (tasteful) souvenirs, from New-York themed tea towels to funky books on the city.
‘Out There’ – Happening Concept Stores
Dover Street Market
One of the most high-end ‘markets’ in the fashion world, Dover Street Market oozes exclusivity, but is a magnet for the cool kids. Owned by Japanese label, Comme des Garçons, it’s actually not a market at all, but a tall, slim building (formerly it housed New York School of Applied Design for Women). In the middle of its seven floors runs a glass elevator through which you can watch the action. And clients definitely come here to be seen. (Read ultra-hip concept and price tags that burn; these include global designer brands for men and women).
As for its own apparel? Put it this way: if you don’t know the avant-garde Comme des Garçons when you enter, you will by the time you leave. Think whimsical Alice in Wonderland-meets-punk, where pockets and sleeves appear where you least expect them. These deconstructed pieces are quirky and oh so fun (at the time of writing The Metropolitan Museum devoted an entire exhibition to the label).
After all, you don’t cut it these days in New York if you don’t leave an impression. Enter Story, one of the most cutting-edge retail concepts around. Located in Chelsea, the installations of Story change regularly. In its words, it follows the trend or theme of a magazine, and yet sells merchandise. (Unfortunately, at the time of writing, their store pages were blank; they were creating a new story).
Exhausted? Think small(er). Spend $35 on a ticket to Gulliver’s Gate, one of New York’s newest attractions. The size of a football field, this place represents the world’s landmarks in miniature. You can cover the globe in an hour or so and New York City in a few metres. All without having to lug shopping bags. Or without someone shoving a scent sample under your nose at every turn. But (given the shorter distances), you can do this wearing your brand-new, high-heeled Manolo Blahniks. •
Photography by Kate Armstrong.
Qantas flies direct to New York from most Australian capital cities. qantas.com
When to go
Anytime is a good time to visit New York, though the tourist hordes descend in July and August.
Where to stay
One of the current hotspots, the recently-opened Ian Schrager’s Public Hotel, has smart, clean-lined rooms plus ‘plain label’ shopping in a minimalist store in its lobby. publichotels.com
Where to drink
• Rooftop at The Public: The latest hot spot in town, especially for New York’s in-the-know youth, with a top floor bar, both inside and out and 240-degree views. publichotels.com
• The Blond at 11 Howard: This elegant, bohemian chic bar is the perfect place to sashay in wearing your latest purchase. 11howard.com
• Toms: The spot for a very good pick-me-up coffee. toms.com