You may have dreamed of the Saks Fifth Avenue Christmas windows or longed to feel posh carrying around a shiny Harrods bag, but these days, the retail outposts that stand for imagination and quality aren’t huge department stores—they’re legendary concept stores around the world that truly embody both their home cities and a certain international sophistication that’s common to all. We’ve showed you our favorite online showcases, but when you’re out on the road here are five that have long been on our hit list—and one we can’t wait to visit.
10 Corso Como, Milan – Owned by gallerist Carla Sozzani (you may recognize her last name from the masthead of Italian Vogue—her sister, Franca, is the editor-in chief) this store has been an essential stop for editors and fashionistas on the fashion show circuit as they pass through Milan every year. Opened in 1990, it’s become a brand in its own right, with 13,000 square feet of gallery, bookshop, café, and roof garden making up the physical presence, and numerous collaborations, events, exhibitions, and branded merchandise expanding their conceptual presence. The store is open until 2am and there are outposts in Tokyo and Seoul to serve their loyal Asian clientele—as well as an outlet across the street if you just can’t get enough.
Colette, Paris – From the capacious magazine rack that any fashion fan could get lost in to the impeccable cool of the mannequins upstairs (turned out in outfits so artlessly stylish you’ll curse the stars for not being born a French girl), Colette engages the imagination from the moment you step in the front door. Don’t let the bright aqua-and-white color scheme and space-age fixtures fool you—this store isn’t about futuristic kitsch, it’s all about the now. So sit back at the café with a coffee and absorb the music, the gadgets, and the crowd.
Opening Ceremony, New York – Established in 2002 by a pair of friends who love fashion, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim have taken their vision global while still retaining their uniquely New York sensibility. From their first discovery (Havaianas flip flops) through the rapid growth that followed their headline-making collaborations (Chloe Sevigny, Rodarte) they’ve since expanded to Tokyo and Los Angeles, as well as an outpost in New York’s ultra-hip Ace Hotel. The stores blend hipster high-fashion pieces from names like Proenza Schouler and Alexander Wang with a selection of books, records, accessories, and themed items from the year’s country of focus (this year it’s Argentina) in a homey, wood-paneled environment you wish was your living room.
Dover Street Market, London – Always the home of avant-garde fashion, London is known for producing visual themes that resonate, from the birth of the punk aesthetic to regular influxes of colors and design from the young blood at Central Saint Martins. Dover Street Market’s five industrial-chic floors are stocked with a mix of emerging designers and established names creating progressive fashion in an almost gallery-like setting. Overseen by designer and founder of Comme des Garçons Rei Kawakubo, the store’s goal is to push the envelope, yet there are dozens of super-wearable pieces at every turn—so every visit is really just a chance to train your eye and expand your shopping list.
Graanmarkt13, Antwerp – The stately white townhouse in the Flemish capital has few indications on the outside that it’s inhabited by two of Belgium’s most creative minds—and that’s saying something in this emerging fashion capital. From their home on the top floor, they direct the spacious, warmly lit ground-floor boutique stocked with neutral-toned understated staples from a range of designers, while the first floor gallery is home to a regular rotation of artists as well as new fashion talent. The basement restaurant, overseen by Seppe Nobels, is an intimate space serving sophisticated yet simple cuisine focusing on fresh ingredients with gastronomic scientific influences.
Cara&Co, Sydney and Moscow – With locations in Moscow and now Sydney, Australia as of August 2011, Cara&Co has its fingers on the pulse of two of the fashion world’s latest obsessions: Russian money and glamour and Australian casual cool. The boutiques stay open until midnight, serving up their distinctive range international fashion, vintage pieces, unique perfumes, high-end jewelry, and fun (albeit pricey) gadgets in a gallery-like setting. After the store officially closes, you can still walk down a path through the metal curtains closing off the sales floor in order to get to the restaurant, instant hotspots serving up a cuisine called “Flemish Primitive,” part of a new culinary movement focusing on classic Flemish preparations like beef stews and apple dumplings, but incorporating craft beers and fresh, local ingredients with an emphasis on the veggies—perfect for the fashion crowd.