(Editor’s note: This post was one of our first – and most popular– on Dispatches’s beta site. We’ve updated it during the Christmas shopping season with information about Designer Outlet Algarve, which just opened. You can see Pt. 2 of our outlet posts 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 Algarve
Just in time for the Christmas rush, Vienna-based ROS Retail Outlet Shopping just opened the first phase of the Designer Outlet Algarve in Loulé, Portugal.
Designer Outlet Algarve has about 50 stores open in Phase I, already the biggest outlet in the south of Portugal, according to a news release. Designer Outlet Algarve is part of the giant Algarve Commercial Complex, which owed by – and anchored by – Swedish furnishings giant IKEA. So, you can get a nice suit and a sofa on the same visit … handy for all the British expats living in the Algarve, the heart of Portugal’s main tourism draw.
With the exception of Gucci, this is a mid-priced center with brands such as Lacoste, Guess, Michael Kors and Tumi luggage and apparel. There’s also a Bimba y Lola, a new Pontevedra, Spain-based brand of women’s fashion apparel famous for wild and colorful prints during a period everyone seems to be wearing black and gray.
Mall stalwarts include Douglas perfumes, Timberland and Sunglasses Hut.
There’s even a Benetton, which we haven’t seen for years.
If you’re looking for Zegna or Tom Ford, head for Italy. (See the Mall in Tuscany below.)
This is where we usually post TripAdvisor reviews, but the place is only 50-percent open, and most of the comments appear to be paid or random.
Last fall, we got a recommendation for this outlet mall in our own backyard from our friend Natascha in Eindhoven. And we’ve been there several times.
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.
One warning: It’s crowded. Always. One of the people working at Le Creuset store told us whether it’s 30 degrees in the summer, or zero in the winter, “this place is always full of people.” Also, it’s under construction, with double the space scheduled to open next year.
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.
• Maasmechelen Village in northern Belgium near Maastricht, Netherlands
Maasmechelen Village is similar to the nearby Designer Outlet Roermond. But it has a different owner (Chic Outlet), different store lineup and different restaurants including a Guilano Italian restaurant as its food anchor rather than a La Place.
But it shares many of the same retailers including Armani and two Ralph Laurens. Where it’s different – and worth a visit – is it has upcoming brands such as Golfino and Liu.Jo, Belgian designers such as Sarah Pacini and Stijn Helsen as well esoteric stuff you don’t see every day like Gaastra sailing clothes. And of course, there’s Desigual and all the fast-fashion brands.
Maasmechelen Village, like Roermond, has a great location close to several large cities including Aachen and Düsseldorf in Germany, Maastricht in the Netherlands and Hasselt and Genk in Belgium. It’s about an hour by car from Brussels.
Tom D. three weeks ago: Good prices Was here in July during the extra sales period, they will give extra rebates during this period. Between 20 and 50% up on the already reduced prices. We’re here on Sunday and Monday, my advise: try to avoid the weekends, on Monday it was so much more calm…. if you want to lunch here, we can recommend giuliano for sure!
Lily T from Belgium – Outlet shopping experience If you’re crazy about outlets, this is the place to be for you. They call it a village, but it’s actually 1 long street with quite some high end brands such as Michael Kors, Furla, Armani, Liu Jo, etc. Some days they offer even more discounts, and I’m sure you can receive gifts or more discount when you subscribe to their newsletter. It’s quite off the beaten track, but if you’re very brand oriented, this “village” is your paradise.