Fashionistas of the world generally agree that one of the many joys of travel is the shopping opportunities that it presents. We were lucky enough to find ourselves on the tony island of St. Barth’s recently. It was our first visit, and despite the damage from the brutal hurricane season of 2017, the luxury shops along the streets near the harbor in Gustavia were all open. Which raised the pressing question: what should one buy on a quick shopping run on the island?
By this we really mean: the streets are lined with large global luxury brands. Is there really any reason to buy anything from them if you live in a glittering city with a three-story flagship store that has everything this brand could possibly offer? Wouldn’t you be better off buying something from one of the local retailers, something that can only be purchased on this particular island at this particular time? The question is relevant not just for St. Barth’s, of course — it’s something that has crossed our minds multiple times in places like Venice, Cannes and Maui. It’s great fun to shop in places like these when you’re on vacation — but is there any reason to buy anything from a global brand, when you can easily do that back at home? Dear reader, here’s our take after prowling around for a couple of hours on St. Barth’s.
First, a quick overview of the landscape. The main shopping street in Gustavia on St. Barth’s is the Rue de la Republique. There you’ll find many of our global luxury friends: Dolce & Gabbana; Prada; Louis Vuitton; Chopard; Cartier; Bulgari; Vilebrequin; Hermes; and Bruno Cucinelli. The site of them all lined up in a row was what got us thinking: why shop at any of these diminutive replicas, when one can always find massive flagship versions of these stores in Manhattan, Paris, Hong Kong, London or any number of other major cities? Seriously, what’s the point?
Well, sometimes you happen across something in your size that you can’t lay hands on in a major city (that happened to us in Cannes once, and we scored one the best coats we’ve ever owned at the FENDI store there). Sometimes you fall in love with a darling handbag and you just want to bring her home with you — we all know how that goes (ditto for a fantastic pair of shoes). But putting those two instances aside, how does a brand like Louis Vuitton — for example — lure anyone into making a purchase? Two words: limited edition.
Almost every designer brand we visited has an extensive line of limited-edition “exclusive to St. Barth’s” bags. Some have a great deal more: sandals, slides, swimwear and tees. It’s extremely clever, actually. You get the trusted brand — where you can be sure that the quality and fabrication and fit are all going to work for you — with the fun of buying something that can only be found in this specific (and that will prove that you were on the island). Perfect souvenir!
Here’s an overview of the vibrant and joyful items we saw in a quick scan of the marketplace.
In the case of Louis Vuitton, we passed a chic woman on the street carrying a tote with pink lettering spelling out “Saint Barth.” When we inquired at the store, the sales associate kindly explained that the color for the limited edition bags changes every year. This year’s version is tangerine. Very clever, LV. Way to get to people to buy more than one!
We hear some of you saying: wait a minute! What about the local retailers? We need to show them some love, especially now. We’ve got you covered, too. On St. Barth’s, the Rue de la Republique and the adjacent Rue de la France and Rue de General De Gaulle have a number of locally-owned luxury boutiques and specialty stores to explore. Some of our favorites are Clic, which has a selection of English-language books, art, and apparel; and Voila, which is mostly accessories. Both have unique St. Barth’s tote bags of their own, should you prefer something truly local. Laurent Effel has designer accessories, including alligator and ostrich bags; Vanita Rosa has apparel; and neighboring stores carry Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Gucci and Tod’s bags and shoes.
All of this exploration made for great fun for a few hours. There are charming cafes and bars interspersed among the boutiques, along with a French-language bookstore and a pharmacy filled with luxurious French beauty products. We chatted with a number of the store owners and staff members, and they asked us to encourage our readers to come and visit. Consider it done.
Things will only get better as the island recovers from last fall’s hurricanes. But the good news is that St. Barth’s is open for business, at least for shopping. Should you find yourself there, please help the local economy and bring home something chic!