With Christmas approaching, there’s never been a better time to hit the glittering streets of the Big Apple. Lisa Haynes gets set to spend.
You know a shopping district is popular when it requires an NYPD officer for crowd control. Horns from yellow taxis blare on Fifth Avenue as journeys across the city are stalled by hordes of shoppers crossing sidewalks, directed by whistle trills and white glove commands.
Working in fashion, I’ve always raved that the UK has the best high street in the world. On my most recent visit to New York, I’m forced to eat my words with a side order of salted pretzels...
In the last five years, the shopping scene here has changed dramatically.
Concept stores have sprung up, fusing fashion with rooftop hangouts and even flower shops. Once home to only expensive designer labels, Fifth Avenue is now peppered with high street chains such as H&M and Banana Republic, while, conversely, hip downtown now houses catwalk giants, such as the newly opened Celine store. In my favourite shopping district of SoHo, every other woman parades the streets like an off-duty Alexander Wang model – all long limbs, monochrome staples and black biker jackets. Here, high-end labels exist discreetly; I dip in and out of cool, loft spaces with barely-there shop signs.
Macaroon stands decorate street corners and a queue runs out of the door for Georgetown designer cupcakes on Mercer Street. Shoppers sit on the sidewalk delving into their half dozen box of frosted heaven, surrounded by makeshift walls of glossy, branded bags.
Even the street market stalls have an upmarket feel, selling rose gold jewellery and one-off arty prints.
Hypnotised by a window display of shoes, I wander into Barneys on Wooster Street, one of four Barneys department stores in New York selling high-end style in an unstuffy, urban setting with white walls and concrete floors.
I stroke the Alexander Wang bags as if they were kittens and a shop assistant swoops to my arm candy aid.
“Oh, you’re British,” he quickly observes. “The Brits just love Alexander Wang and 3.1 Phillip Lim bags... It’s a big saving,” he says in a hushed tone, before pointing to the store’s best-selling Pashli satchel. It’s a snip at $895 (£560) – I spy the very same bag for £740 in Selfridges.
Undoubtedly one of the biggest attractions of shopping in New York is hunting down the same US brands for a fraction of the price that you might find them at home – made even more appealing by a favourable exchange rate. One of my shopping pals raves about the savings she’s stacked up at J.Crew after she tots up how much the shirt and earrings she’s just purchased would have cost her in the UK... and then buys more with the difference.
All shopped out, I retreat to the hotel, the new Park Hyatt on the edge of Central Park and the impossibly luxurious Spa Nalai on the 25th floor. I take a scenic yoga class overlooking the skyscrapers and yellow taxis, swim in the heated pool piped with underwater music from Carnegie Hall. To bring me back down to earth post-shopping high, I experience the spa’s signature treatment – a massage on a warm, sand quartz bed that’s said to ground the body.
“Ooh,” my massage therapist remarks kneading my knots. “Your arms and shoulders feel very tight. Have you been carrying a lot of bags?”
My shopping addiction rumbled at the massage table. Now that’s a first...
WHERE TO SHOP
Saks Fifth Avenue, 611 5th Avenue (www.saksfifthavenue.com): Currently enjoying a major retail revival, Saks is “dreaming big” for holiday season. Expect elaborate window displays, thousands of twinkling lights and a hyperluxe gift section – $60,000 Chanel watch, anyone?
MoMa Design Store, 44 West 53rd Street (www.momastore.org): Directly opposite the MoMa Museum, this is like a playroom for adults, packed with quirky design objects, jewellery and gifts. It’s the ideal hunting ground for the person who has everything.
Story, 144 10th Avenue (www.thisisstory.com): This retail space “changes like a gallery and sells things like a store”. It’s an ever-evolving pop-up for new retail concepts and the latest installation opened on November 5.
What to see
Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe, Brooklyn Museum, (www.brooklynmuseum.org): Step across the bridge to Brooklyn to explore the evolution of women’s footwear. The exhibition features more than 160 pairs of heavenly heels, including Christian Louboutin and Alexander McQueen. Runs until February 15. Suggested voluntary contribution of $16 for admission.
Coutourist walking tour (www.coutourist.com): You may need to put on your flats for this historical tour that explores the secrets of Fifth Avenue. Discover the city’s most influential designers and up-and-coming brands – and then shop them. Price is $75 per person.
Where to eat
ABC Kitchen, 35 East 18th Street (www.abchome.com): Fuel a full-on shopping day with lunch or brunch at Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s popular hangout. The farm-to-table movement guarantees fresh menus that diversify to feature seasonal produce. Three course lunch menu is $32.
BG Restaurant, 5th Avenue 58th Street (www.bergdorfgoodman.com): For a more formal ladies-who-lunch setting with sweeping views of Central Park, book in at Bergdorf Goodman’s restaurant. Head to the seventh floor of the department store to sip on Sheer Glamour champagne cocktails and try the Gotham salad speciality. Main approximately $30.
• Lisa Haynes was a guest of the five-star Park Hyatt New York (+1 646 774 1234, www.parkhyattnewyork.com) where rooms start from $795, based on two sharing, excluding breakfast and VAT.
British Airways (0844 493 0758, ba.com) offers three nights at the Park Hyatt New York, from £1,499 per person, travelling up to December 18. The price includes return flights from Heathrow.