Change of tune: Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro
Rio's Ipanema is already well-known for a song and a beach - so discover its shopping
Beaches. Bossa Nova. Football. Food. Sun. Samba. Rio de Janeiro has long been known for the aforementioned, but thanks to its booming economy, the Cidade Maravilhosa (marvellous city) can add "sensational shopping" to its long list of attractions.
And what do cashed-up, image-conscious Cariocas (Rio residents) want to splash their reais on? Clothes, of course - for as Bruna, a taut, tanned public relations professional, informs me: "Image is everything right now in Rio."
Consequently, stores have sprung up across the samba state, but the best are found in upscale Ipanema.
Immortalised in song, Ipanema is famous for its sugar-sand beach, but good retail therapy is another draw. Carrie Bradshaw and the girls would feel at home here.
You'll find leading luxury brands, including Burberry and Louis Vuitton, along tree-lined streets, such as Rua Garcia D'Ávila. This is the thoroughfare favoured by the cast of Mulheres Ricas (Rich Women), a popular reality TV show revolving around the lives of wealthy Rio women.
Nonetheless, Ipanema isn't all about international designer barns. In recent years, a buzz has been building around home-grown labels, such as Salinas and Alexandre Herchcovitch.
Walking down Rua Visconde de Pirajá, my favourite "Made in Brazil" fashion find is Gilson Martins, full of lust-have handbags adorned with images of Rio's iconic Corcovado mountain. At nearby Luko, I browse through some sexy fashion statements, including slinky halter tops. Leaving with a lighter wallet, but looking infinitely more stylish, I am again distracted by another standout boutique, Forum, showcasing the uber-cool creations of much-touted Brazilian designer Tufi Duek. With a bountiful supply of denim, eveningwear and everything in between, this is the kind of boutique I wished I lived around the corner from.
Local men's boutique Redley catches my eye, selling board shorts and couture beach duds. "The men's fashion market is growing very fast," says the good-looking sales assistant. "Rio guys are much more fashion-conscious now and like to experiment with their look."
Showing off a tan on Ipanema's white sands must be done in style. I'm thinking Rio dental: a bikini with a resemblance to dental floss. Osklen is all about fashionable yet flattering beach styles for men and women in eye-catching colours that are guaranteed to turn a few heads. The Rua Maria Quiteria store is staffed by smiley assistants - though owing to the white beaches and near-perpetual blue skies, Cariocas have a lot to smile about - and chances are you'll bump into them in a bar later that night.
Regardless of whether you shell out for a racy cutout swimsuit or a tropical-coloured bikini, swimwear should be accessorised with a pair of ubiquitous Havaianas. These humble rubber sandals are Brazil's biggest export and come in every colour of the rainbow.
On the jewellery front, H Stern is the big headline grabber, but personally I'm mad about Maria Oiticica, whose products have been made using Amazonian ingredients and, as such, are easy on the environment - if not the purse strings.
For funky home furnishings, InterStudio is where it's at. Here, you can snap up wooden carvings by Pernambuco artisans without worrying how to get them home - everyone knows somebody who has a friend who has a cousin who can help out.
A love for books takes me to Livararia da Travessa. The ground floor is chock full of coffee-table tomes and foreign-language titles, while the second floor houses a selection of CDs and a buzzing cafe. There, try one of the innovative salads and wash it down with Brazil's national cocktail, the Caipirinha - Ipanema is the sort of place where having one too many cocktails is a given.
A few blocks away lies Toca do Vinicius, a small music emporium named after Vinicius de Moraes, the man credited with creating bossa nova music. This is the place to buy quintessential Brazilian souvenirs. The tiny museum upstairs, dedicated to the life and works of the Brazilian music legend, is also worth a visit.
Ipanema has a couple of stellar shopping centres, and unlike in Europe, malls aren't only for red-faced expats and holidaying footballer's wives - they're beloved by locals, too. I visit Forum de Ipanema and Ipanema 2000. They aren't cheap - after all, this is a neighbourhood that loves to revel in the luxurious side of life - but as I was on a trip of a lifetime, I wanted to do things in style.
That said, I did put my bargaining skills to use at the Hippie Fair, where character and local charm are found in place of inflated prices. Held every Sunday on Praca General Osório in Zona Sul, this famous market should satisfy even the most serious shopaholics. I browse though everything from jeans to jewellery to handicrafts before heading to the southeast corner for a salgado (snack).
Ipanema offers more than just a day at the beach. The future of its shopping scene is as bright as the Brazilian sun.
Where to shop
Gilson Martins, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 462
Luko, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 547
Forum, Rua Barão da Torre 422
Redley, Rua Maria Quitéria 99
Osklen, Rua Maria Quitéria 85
Havaianas, Rua Xavier da Silveria 19
H Stern, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 490
Maria Oiticica, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 351
InterStudio, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 605
Livraria da Travessa, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 572
Toca do Vinicius, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 371
Forum de Ipanema, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 351
Ipanema 2000, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 547