Buenos Aires is a city better known as the home of the Tango, but one day it may become known as the land of the killer retail concept.
Across this metropolis of 11 million people, from the uber-cool urban jungle in Palermo Viejo to the elegant boulevards of Recolota, a retail explosion has taken place, proving that Argentina has truly bounced back from the economic crisis that virtually paralysed the country at the beginning of the millennium.
Our favourite barrio (and everyone else’s) is Palermo Soho, named for one of its urban brethren in New York. The intersection of El Salvador and Armenia is analagous to Spring and Mercer, the heart from which all the action emanates. But that’s where the similarities end.
Compared to the relative homogeneity and formulaic feel of retail stores in New York (and London, and Paris), many stores in BA have a feeling that is all too rare in our world of ‘retail formats’. It’s not just the overall design of the stores, but little details like floors entirely laid out in Persian rugs, beautifully reconditioned vintage cars and motorbikes, and product displayed on antique pool tables that all lend to the feeling of authenticity.
Perhaps budgetary restrictions and a weak peso have prevented store owners from buying everything new, but with these little touches, the designers have had to be a little creative, and the result is a completely different feel from what we are used to. Rather than copying each other blindly or rolling-out cookie-cutter formats, each store has a unique feel. This is something that stores in Europe and North America should aspire to if they want to engage their customers with a special shopping experience.
However, it must be said that while the enticing retail concepts easily drew us in, the product inside often left us cold. Run-of-the-mill quality, poor design, or blatant brand rip-offs (and sometimes all three combined) meant that we often left the stores empty-handed. Of course there were some notable exceptions, which we recommend highly on your next trip to BA, whether it is for holiday or some well-justified market research on how to create a retail concept that will delight your customers.
Etiqueta Negra – The highest quality menswear in town where the retail concept, image and product are all in perfect sync. Vintage motorbikes and a seriously cool Jaguar gave a tough masculine edge to the soft silhouettes. (Gorriti 5131, Palermo SoHo and Defensa 1008, San Telmo)
Balthazar - Classic menswear for the Argentinian dandy. Our favourites were the Alpaca wool scarves, made under Balthazar’s design direction. (Gorriti 5131, Palermo SoHo and Defensa 1008, San Telmo)
Sabater Hermanos – Forget about your local Lush store, Sabater Hermanos is a place where the authenticity is more noticeable than the sweet smelling soap. It’s no wonder given that these guys have been making soap for three generations. (Gurruchaga 1821, Palermo Soho)
Satori – We loved the sneakers as well as the sleek, simple interior at Satori shoes. The staff is as cool as the shoes are, without any of the attitude.
Bolivia – Menswear with a twist that doesn’t feel as predictable as Paul Smith. Lift up the collar of your classic white shirt, and you’ll find a colourful paisley or stripe. (Gurruchaga 1581, Palermo Soho)
Photographs copyright of the Business of Fashion 2007.