Critiques

Luxury Legends: Can Rodeo Drive Measure Up to the Hype?

Rodeo Drive. The very words make the heartbeat of any devoted luxury shopper of a certain age accelerate. Long before Net-a-Porter there was Rodeo Drive: a magical boulevard with a median strip lined with palm trees and flagship boutiques for every designer and fine jewelry brand worth knowing about. Birthplace of so many iconic movie scenes about shopping: Clueless, Pretty Woman, Sex and the City – The Movie. The stuff of dreams. Fast forward to today, when retail is “dead,” everyone shops online, and direct-to-consumer is the way to get rich quick if you’re a purveyor of luxury goods. Is Rodeo Drive still relevant? Is it still fun? Or has the party moved on?

As inveterate shoppers, here at Dandelion Chandelier we felt obligated to investigate this pressing matter on a recent trip to LA. The bottom line? Rodeo is still a place of fantasies, and discovery, and old-school VIP client treatment. If you have the resources, you can have an extremely luxurious shopping experience on this iconic avenue, especially if you bring along a like-minded friend or two. Millennials, take note: retail shopping can actually be enjoyable, and chic, and social. And the Instagram and SnapChat opportunities are phenomenal.

We made the Beverly Wilshire, a Four Seasons Hotel, our home base on our visit. The grand dame property is the ideal launching pad for an afternoon on Rodeo. Walk out the front door, and you’re just steps away from luxury jeweler Buccellati, Tiffany’s and Versace. An enormous new Dior flagship store is under construction just across the street at the corner of Rodeo and Wilshire – in the meantime you can find Dior Homme and Dior women just a couple of blocks away.

As one companion commented as we set out, “all of our friends are here!” And it was true: our Italian friends (Valentino, Prada, FENDI, Dolce, and Gucci) and our French besties (Louis Vuitton, Dior, Celine, Saint Laurent, Goyard and Chanel) all have glittering flagship stores on Rodeo in the couple of blocks closest to Wilshire Boulevard.

Of these, our absolute favorite is the Louis Vuitton store. Completely renovated and reopened in early 2015, it still sparkles like new. We aren’t sure why, but something about the way the store is laid out – or perhaps because of the buy that the store makes – or perhaps because it’s Cali and everything just feels magical – we always find something that we really love here. Actually, usually a lot more than one thing. OK, usually many more things than our budget will cover, so we end up doing a little buying and a lot of dreaming. But still – what a store!

When you enter, you approach an elegant white staircase with transparent railings that is the luxury retail version of a stairway to heaven (in reality, it just goes to the second-floor menswear department and the third-floor women’s ready to wear, but it’s quite something, especially on the way down.) The light-filled first floor has gorgeous bags. At the top, there’s a rooftop VIP terrace that wraps around two sides of the store with magnificent views of Rodeo and the iconic buildings of Beverly Hills. We’ve only been there by day — it must be incredibly magical at night. If you go, ask for Jamie to be your sales associate. We’ve worked with her for a long time, and she’s outstanding.

The Chanel store is pretty fantastic, too – very well-stocked with exclusive merchandise, and extremely busy each time we passed it. The staff at Valentino are friendly and welcoming, and we really love what head designer Pier Paolo Piccioli is doing with the line right now. The Gucci location is large, and if the brand is your thing, this is your nirvana. Our advice? Do a reconnaissance mission first, because if you buy the first thing that catches your eye, you’re going to end up spending a lot. If you see it one day and are still dreaming of it the next, then maybe go back and bring it home with you.

Further along the street, you’ll see the iconic Bijan store, with its yellow sports car parked out front. It’s used to ferry VIP clients around town (you can enter the store by appointment only). You’ll also find Harry Winston, Cartier, Loro Piana, Ermenegildo Zegna, Brioni, Frette, Bottega Veneta, Audemars Piguet, Balenciaga, Bulgari, Moncler, Patek Philippe, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Wolford. Some of the uber-luxurious jewelry stores are tucked away on the side streets perpendicular to Rodeo. That’s where you’ll find Panerai, Hublot, and Jaeger Le Couture.

Even if you’re not shopping, Rodeo is incredibly fun for people-watching. Like the Champs-Élysées and Fifth Avenue, you’ll see a lot of tourists taking selfies in front of the various stores.  Like Madison Avenue and Avenue Montaigne, you’ll see some discreetly-dressed women quietly slipping into the various storefronts who are clearly the real deal, and are doing actual shopping. None of them will ever have shopping bags in their hands, though – their purchases are being sent to their homes or hotels by messenger.

Quick digression: we find it amusing that the most serious shoppers are never seen carrying bags. They either have a driver who has stowed them in the car, or their personal shopper or assistant has arranged for parcels to be sent directly home. The cliché is that wealthy people walk down the street laden with shopping bags. The reality is that the wealthiest people are the ones with nothing in their hands at all.

Other notes from the field? A common pattern amongst the couples we observe on Rodeo is that there are many pairs where the woman is drop-dead gorgeous and highly stylish – stilettos, freshly-blown out hair, designer clothes, statement handbag – and the gentleman accompanying her is a total schlub – flip flops, well-worn jeans, forgettable shirt, and hair askew. Make of that what you will.

Another quirk that we observed that we rarely see on the East Coast is a noticeable number of pedestrians walking around on Rodeo with umbrellas (not parasols) to keep the sun off. It’s worth noting that the street is both bright and hot during prime shopping hours – dress accordingly.

One of the distinctive elements of Rodeo is that there’s music being piped out onto the sidewalk on a couple of the blocks, adding to the feeling of merriment and festivity. When Bill Withers’ Lovely Day and Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop ’till You Get Enough are wafting through the air at 3:00 in the afternoon, it really feels as if a street party is underway.

Another distinctive element? The parade of luxury cars. Day or night, you will see a steady stream of convertibles, most being driven by young men. Unlike many other shopping streets, on Rodeo you’ll be very aware of the fact that you’re on a street – the luxury cars parading by are just part of the overall experience. This is definitely not a hermetically-sealed shopping mall.

Finally, the crazy fun of Rodeo is that you might actually see a celebrity on the street, or even a reality show being filmed. My husband and I still fondly recall the time that we were strolling on Rodeo and spied the late Joan Rivers walking down the sidewalk, trailed by a cameraman, randomly asking people “Are you rich? Excuse me, are you rich?” She was taping a reality show. We escaped without being questioned, thankfully. That’s never happened to us at the mall.

Of course, Rodeo is not the only shopping street in Beverly Hills. Wilshire Boulevard is the adjacent street to explore. It’s less well-known in film and literature, but it’s where you’ll find Barneys, Saks and Neiman Marcus all in a row. We found our favorite pair of shoes, ever, at the Neiman Marcus on Wilshire. Our LA Bureau Chief notes that this Barneys is a great place to stop in for lunch. She recounts the time she was headed to Fred’s, the store’s restaurant, when she encountered Brad Pitt coming off the express elevator to the restaurant. He may not be your cup of tea, but still. You never know if Denzel might turn up there.

If you consider the great shopping streets of the world – Bond Street, via Montenapoleone, Bahnhofstrasse, the Ginza district, Central Hong Kong, Orchard Road – we’d argue that Rodeo Drive still makes the top 10. For eye candy of all types, and a treasure hunt under cloudless blue skies, you cannot improve upon it. Sometimes there’s no school like the old school. We’ll see you at Fred’s.

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