There is some very good merchandising and display in the shops of Buenos Aires and, naturally for cattle country, they are famous for leather and fur in Argentina – even if their lack of local designer culture shows. We found the design could be a little outdated or unstylish, not living up to the quality of the beautiful raw materials themselves.
A plus: the shops don’t close until 8.00pm. We always love shopping when it’s dark on our travels because we don’t have to cut into daytime hours spent sightseeing, at the beach or by the hotel pool.
This long pedestrian mall in the middle of downtown (specifically from Plaza San Martin to just beyond Viamonte) seems to stretch forever, with people milling around a huge variety of stores, from gaucho gear (souvenir silver objects like buckles), pampa fabric and leather to fashion chains and tango music in the Atheneo music store. Jonathan can never get enough of sports stores and sportswear so there was plenty of shopping for him. Occasionally a good busker or some tango dancers would draw people back into the street for entertainment in the middle of their retail therapy. Florida is also the gateway to shopping malls like the Galaria Pacifico.
Like many malls around the world, it was full of generic, fast fashion but I did find one chain, RAPSODIA that is distinctive and worth shopping in. Their aesthetic is that kind of chic hippy look that Yves Saint Laurent does so well, but at an everyday price point. They had full-sleeved reptile print silk dresses that you could dress down with boots, shredded hippy shawls and felt hats or dress up with heels and a skinny belt.
They have maxi dresses, Indian jewellery, great printed tops in paisley fabrics and a really funky range of bags and jewellery. Like Zara, they are the sort of company with a strong design team rather than a single designer but there is a definite vision and it’s a cut above everything else we saw. The only other place you can buy their clothes is other Latino countries Mexico, Chile and Spain.
Leather is everywhere but may be of medium quality or no special design. That’s what makes this district in the South-West, one of the 48 barrios that the city is divided into, a great discovery. The quality here is far better. You will find lots of specialty stores with local brands of vests, coats, bags, wallets, belts, furniture, hides that you can throw on the floor and quality, buttery fashion leather. And at way better prices than you’ll find in the countries Argentina exports to. 666 by Murillo is one of the best, between Malabia and Acevedo.
In more upmarket areas like this there is boutique after boutique of high-end women’s stores but the clothing is often for older women and in a complete time warp - lots of nondescript jackets and boxy silhouettes, nothing to suggest it’s 2009. For a major city, Buenos Aires seems to be in the doldrums but a good eye will find great things to buy on the spot anywhere.
There is a large concentration of shops that you can walk around and the afternoon atmosphere made us feel jovial and relaxed.
There was one good leather shop, DOMA with very contemporary, well-cut bomber jackets that were well priced - I bought one. O’ASSIAN CRAFT is a denim label who do great distressed jeans, white leather jackets with extra long zippers, casual hoodies in space age fabric and cute little bubble dresses. RICKY SAKARNY make beautifully crafted leather and suede shoes, sandals, handbags, even clogs, worked with metal fittings, fabric and fur. I bought a fur vest at DI POGGIO, which is a great way to customise winter basics. DIDI BANDOL is a cool, urban label with slick, rubbery fabrics and sequined A line dresses. BOKURA JEANS have an amazing graphic design of a guy listening to headphones as their corporate logo. They have super low cut jeans and are kind of the Diesel of Argentina, with very hip casuals. LOVE MIUKA is a very young chain with tiered flapper dresses covered in chiffon roses, peasant blouses with pom poms and great babydoll dresses you can put over leggings and wear as tops if you are older.
You come across some very dressy, old school men’s shops as well with white linen and trilby hats. The window displays had a flair that probably hasn’t changed since the 30s, which was nice to see.
You never know what awaits you behind corners. My favourite shopping experience was a lovely discovery that we made when exploring San Telmo.
We walked into a beautiful 1860’s Italianate villa, one of the homes that had belonged to the wealthy Europeans who contracted yellow fever after arriving here (13,000 died). They have since been converted into shops that spill out onto the courtyard. We found this amazing Argentinean lady, Maria who handcrafts exquisite silk scarves that she weaves herself.
She was there weaving when we walked in. I saw so many stunning, shimmering scarves draped over the store in every colour; even a visiting husband would never get bored. After deliberating between the gleaming gold and the rich, mossy green I used my feminine prerogative and bought both! Plus a few more to share with my girlfriends.
Recoleta has always been one of the most prestigious, affluent neighborhoods of the city, with squares, parks, wide streets, Parisian belle époque residential architecture and all the five star hotels.
If you stroll down the Avenue Alvear you’ll see plenty of exclusive boutiques like Versace, Nina Ricci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Ermenegildo Zegna. The five star hotel foyers are also full of - fine jewelers, lavish furriers, the real McCoy. That kind of luxe atmosphere is about money and status and creativity. “Patio Bullrich” is the luxury pedestrian mall.
The Sunday antiques and street vendors market in San Telmo are fun to visit. You can walk through lots of stalls, selling both second-hand and new bric-a-brac; the streets come alive with the eternal tango dancing, mimed statues and musicians.
This grassy park area near the city cemetery, on Avenida Libertador is covered with locally handmade arts and crafts on the weekends. Street bands and theatrical characters like “El Cogonel” entertain the crowds who come to stroll the pathways where artisans sell art, knitwear, wooden toys, leather goods, textiles, ceramics, beaten metal, glass dishes. There are some real artists here.
Foreigners passing through can have 15% tax refunded at Ezeiza Airport on credit card or in cash... so if you buy anything major make sure you get the tax paperwork to get stamped by Customs. With this refund and the weak Argentinean peso you could end up with some bargains.
We were planning on doing some duty free shopping for presents and were flying Qantas back home to Sydney. We were amazed that the airline closes off duty free one hour and 19 minutes before departure - exactly the time when most passengers would be doing their shopping!