(Editor’s note: This post was one of our first – and most popular– on Dispatches’s beta site. We’ve updated it with new information. In fact, we just came back from Designer Outlet Roermond. You can see our new post here.)
If Europe has conquered one business category Silicon Valley-style, it’s luxury goods.
European retail megaliths such as LVMH (Paris), Richemont (Geneva) and Groupe Arnault (Paris) own most of the great fashion houses with the notable exception of Hermès and Prada (which are their own mini-conglomerates). From France, Italy, Germany and Switzerland come the greatest brands in apparel, cosmetics, jewelry, watches and fashion accessories and even expensive tipple such as Hennessey cognac and Moët & Chandon Champagne.
For true handmade items, the prices are astronomical. Hermès Birkin bags start at about $10,000. A decent Brioni suit is $6,000. Unless ….
The smart expat knows there are two ways around paying buckets of euros for top-end goods: Consignment shops, and factory outlets. Buying goods second-hand doesn’t appeal to everyone. But getting new stuff deeply discounted … who doesn’t love that?
This is interesting on two levels: The investment level, and the consumer level. We’ll get to the shopping later in this post. First, let’s talk finance. For investors, the Wall Street Journal just posted about investors suddenly waking up to the post-Great Recession potential of Europe’s 222 outlet malls.
Quoting London-based FSP Retail Business Consultants, the WSJ is reporting outlet mall annual sales increased to 11.8 billion euros ($12.47 billion) in 2014, up 86 percent from 2006.
What’s odd is, just as most of the ultra-luxury companies are owned by a few conglomerates, just a few retail chains, including McArthurGlen Designer Outlets and Chic Outlet Shopping – both based in London – own the majority of outlet centers.
Now, United States-based companies jumping into the game include Simon Properties, based in Indianapolis, which is the largest mall owner in the world.
Manhattan-based financial-services giant TIAA-CREF and Madrid-based Neinver have formed a joint venture that now owns four properties: one in France, one in Barcelona and two in Poland, according to the WSJ.
So, where are these bargain centers, and what kind of stuff are we talking about? To be sure, even the factory outlets don’t give away top-drawer, handmade apparel, shoes and accessories.
This isn’t the Old Navy outlet in Nowheresville, Ohio or Indiana, with $10 T-shirts and $20 shoes. Yes, prices are as much as 70 percent off, but the checkout price for a $1,000 pair of bench-made shoes or haute couture purse is still going to be $300. That’s why they call it “luxury.”
Second thing you should know, this is – for better or worse – leftover merchandise, not in-season. If that matters. Because the savvy shopper can find some wicked deals.
Finally, you’re mainly going to find the more established brands with global reaches, not relative newbies such as Dries van Noten or Brunello Cucinelli because their production is limited. (Brunello Cucinelli has his own outlet store at his Solomeo village/headquarters. Prada has its own called I Pellettieri d’Italia.)
Italy has the majority of great fashion houses and leather-goods brands, so it’s fitting they have the most outlets.
Let’s start with:
• (NEW!) Designer Outlet Roermond:
We just got a recommendation for this outlet mall in our own back yard from our friend Natascha in Eindhoven. Designer Outlet Roermond is, as the name suggests, in Roermond in extreme southern Netherlands. It’s only 45 minutes away from Dusseldorf, and convenient to a large part of the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. If you live in, say, Brussels, it’s a whole lot easier to hit the Prada and Armani stores here than trek all the way to Tuscany. (See below.) Among its 150 stores, Roermond has a nice balance of super-high-end such as Tod’s, Bally, Burberry, Versace and Montcler and mid-range foundation brands such as Tom Tailor, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren. Part of the MacArthurGLENN Group, this mall gets good reviews on TripAdvisor.
Here are the most reviews from on TripAdvisor:
The Roermond Outlet is a pleasant outlet center and included a good variety of shops from clothes shops to shops selling things for the homes, etc.
Easy to find as you approach the city. Parking not expensive for the day. Everyone enjoyed the day and found designer items at good prices, especially for those from the UK.
• The Mall in Tuscany outside Florence
The Mall has some of the most exotics brands and designers including prêt-à-Porter from Bottega Veneta, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga and Tom Ford – brands you only see on North Michigan Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Champs-Elysees, Rue de la Confédération in Geneva or on Via Condotti in Rome and the Quadrilatero d’Oro in Milan.
There are also dependable mainstays such as Valentino, Gucci, Zegna, Coach and Dior.
This outlet mall is much better than others, say Fidenza Village for instance. There are top brands (Gucci, Prada, Dior, Fendi) and there are a few good bargains. Be advised that merchandise is very old, that is, a few seasons ago, and prices are accordingly. You can find great Dior shoes for 250-280 euros, which is a steal. Generally, in every store medium to large bags are still expensive (800 euros and beyond) but compared to the original prices (which are shown with mark downs on the ticket) the prices are much lower, sometimes by 70 percent.
• Designer Outlet Parndorf, outside Vienna near Bratislava
DOP has several ultra-hot brands, including down-vest maker Moncler and Tod’s, as well as mid-range brands you don’t see much in the U.S., such as Germany-based Jack Wolfskin and Marc O’Polo. Oh, and there are American brands that are crazy expensive in Europe such as Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger.
Here’s an Oct. 21 review from TripAdvisor:
What i bought from Parndorf 🙂
Prada sneakers 195 euros
Gucci flats 180 euros
Swarovski bracelets 49 euros
Ralph Lauren polo 24 euros and tshirt 12 euros
Pandora charm 19 euros and leather bracelet 25 euros
Tommy flats 25 euros
And you can get tax free if you are non Eu citizen.
• La Vallée Village outside Paris near Disneyland Paris.
London-based Chic Outlet Shopping owns Le Vallée Village, along with eight outlet malls across Europe, including in Frankfurt, Munich, London and Barcelona.
This is the big one for France, with all the usual suspects including Zegna, Armani, and Hugo Boss.
As you’d expect from an English company, English designers are there including Paul Smith, along with Dunhill, Church’s and Jimmy Choo shoes and Burberry. Of course, there are French and Italian brands such as Céline, Gucci, Longchamp, Loewe, Loro Piano (which makes most of the fabrics for the best mens’ suits), Montcler, Versace and Valentino.
This place is so wonderful! In here you can find great brands like Gucci, Givenchy, Carolina Herrera, Burberry, etc. for great prices! I am definitely in love with this place!
• Marques Avenue, wherever you are, France
We can’t all be high rollers, now can we? Marques Avenue is a chain of mid-price outlet centers including three in the Paris area, one in Nantes, in western France, and one near the Luxembourg border. The company claims to handle 600 top brands including French apparel makers such as le coq sportif and Lacoste. The stores don’t only carry fashion apparel. They have top-end linen companies such as Descamps, kids couture company Jacadi and hip clothing from Zapa and Jil Sander. This is a more mid-range experience, not the lux Italian experience, and online opinions vary wildly on whether Marques Avenue is worth the drive.
Concepts & Distribution, based in Paris, owns Marques Avenue, and has more than 1 million square feet of outlet malls – “factory stores,” as the French call them – across France.
A shopping center in what used to be Army barracks. A good selection of shops from clothes to kitchen goods. Prices are decent.
Other outlet malls receiving above-average online reviews include:
• La Roca Village in Barcelona, part of the Chic Outlet Shopping chain.