Designed to thrill
Los Angeles is known for its shopping, from the pristine thoroughfares of Rodeo Drive, to the crowded corridors of the Beverly Center mall and the artsy boutiques of Melrose Avenue. But serious shoppers head to two outlet malls, where the deals are plentiful and the variety vast. And because I went in the middle of the week, parking wasn't an issue.
About an hour by car north of Los Angeles is Camarillo Premium Outlets, off the 101 Freeway. With more than 160 stores, it is sprawling but organised, so it's easy to navigate.
At one end is the Fashion Court - Polo Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers, Tory Burch, St John. At the other end, the Promenade, with Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th and Last Call by Neiman Marcus. In the centre, the Main Court, are popular brand names, such as Tommy Hilfiger, Coach, Timberland, J Crew, and a smattering of prestigious non-fashion brands - Le Creuset, Waterford Wedgwood, Sony, Bose; the deals are everywhere.
At Last Call, a Diane von Furstenberg coat dress was marked down from US$500 to US$150. A fully sequined Tory Burch jacket was half price, while Calvin Klein jeans went for US$40, and his sleek, streamlined day dresses for US$60. Coach bags down to US$178 from close to US$500, another 30 per cent being taken off at the register.
Some shoppers have been insanely lucky: one stylist blogged about finding a Proenza Schouler bubble dress at Last Call, originally priced at almost US$5,000, for less than US$300. And it's not just stuff from seasons past. The feminine offerings at White House Black Market, a member of the sales staff told me, were from current collections, sexy swimwear slashed from US$80 to US$30.
The catering options were limited, although Panera Bread offers plenty of light dining, and we had just about the best nachos ever at the award-winning Los Arroyos.
A few days later, I headed south to the Citadel Outlets in the city of Commerce, next to downtown Los Angeles, and a place impossible to miss as you trundle along on Interstate 5.
From the outside, it could pass for a theme park, behind the walls of what was built to look like a seventh century Assyrian palace. Vast illuminated billboards advertise the day's deals inside. The 115 or so stores are laid out in a semi-circular shape so it feels compact. At lunchtime on a recent sunny Thursday, it was fairly crowded - parking was difficult to find, and there was a queue at the till inside the Coach store. But provided you've donned your walking shoes and have a wallet full of plastic, some of the finds are fantastic: H&M had on-trend sequined mesh tees for US$10, and Juicy Couture's signature track pants were US$85 with a free T-shirt. Tommy Hilfiger sweaters for US$30, and, in some of the best deals of the day, a full rack of BCBG evening dresses that were a fifth of their original price; a white chiffon Grecian gown that would be stunning on any red carpet was a steal at US$80.
Over on the east coast, at Woodbury Commons in New York, masses of international shoppers descend daily on Salvatore Ferragamo, Roberto Cavalli, Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent and the new Reed Krakoff outlets. Shoppers often blog or yelp breathlessly about their finds, which can be considerable at the 220-store outlet. Where else in the world could you find Jimmy Choo sandals for US$119? For those travelling from overseas, have an extra suitcase or two to cart things back home in. If not, no problem. Samsonite is right there.