In New York, no news travels faster than news of a deal. Still, a point of pride on this shopping-crazed island is knowing something others don't. So to have the addresses and dates of the city's best sample sales—slightly misnamed events where prototype designs and leftovers are offered at rock-bottom prices—is to be at the zenith. Some designers are so secretive that they insisted on being left out of this story. The following list is a good start, but take it with a word of warning: you'll have to sleuth out most of the vitals on your own. Be circumspect when calling any of the numbers here. Once you find the entrance, act as if you're supposed to be there (with or without your embossed invite), bring lots of cash, and consider wearing a body stocking: dressing rooms are rare.
Chaiken & Capone (November) www.chaikenandcapone.com. Who said black and khaki are boring?Certainly not the faithful followers who flock to Chaiken & Capone for chic urban basics. Women load up on slim-fitting pants ($200 at Barneys, $85 here), knee-skimming skirts, and Liberty of London shirts. In the back is the "dressing area," where mirrors are taped to columns.
Dolce & Gabbana (call for dates) 532 Broadway; 212/750-0055. Sample sale or nightclub?The bouncer-like figure guarding the door makes you wonder. At last May's event, cotton hats were reduced to $39 from $215 and Dopp kits were $69. There were also great shoes, such as Birkenstock-inspired fur slides (sizes, like the path to heaven, tend toward the narrow), boiled-wool handbags, and clothes aplenty.
Donna Karan (December, June) Parsons Auditorium, 560 Seventh Ave.; 212/768-5800. This is the archetypal New York City sample sale, attended by throngs of uptown fashion mavens on cell phones. A woman with a Motorola at one of last year's events was overheard describing a shawl to her therapist. Fight the crowds for both Donna Karan and DKNY--or go on the last day, when prices drop.
Dosa (February, August) address changes for each sale; 212/431-1733. It was here that one two-year-old, shopping with her mother (our own senior features editor), learned to say "mob scene." Dosa, which has a cultish following, is by Christina Kim, who was in the vanguard of the lingerie look and encourages layering--Chinese jackets, skirts worn over matching pants. Her rumpled-silk skirts (great for tiny people, mind you) go for less than half price.
Fendi (October, spring) 37 W. 57th St.; 212/319-2222. Two years ago, Fendi's roomful of low-priced "baguette" bags were snapped up in record time by fashion critics and editors. Baguette-laden, the women globe-trotted to the fashion shows and unwittingly created an accessory sensation. Some might call it a marketing ploy, but it bodes well for Fendi's future sample sales.
Nanette Lepore (call for dates) 225 W. 35th St., fifth floor; 212/594-0012. Raincoats of plastic that resembles rubberized silk voile plummet to $90 from $260, and signature Nanette Lepore tank dresses with old-fashioned boning sewn into the bodice go for as little as $70. The three-day sales take place four times a year in Lepore's design studio, complete with (could it be?) a dressing room. Hint: There are plenty of sizes; avoid the masses by waiting until the second day.
Norma Kamali (call for dates) 11 W. 56th St., third floor; 800/852-6254. Norma Kamali's events are full of surprises: denim pants and tops, ripstop nylon pants, ultrasuede riding jackets. You'll also find trench coats, slit skirts, and tunics in Kamali's poly jersey, very flattering and ideal for travel. And if you came for her sexy string bikinis, you will not be disappointed.
Onward Kashiyama (call for dates) 1 E. 27th St.; 212/629-6100. Don't expect the same relaxing experience you get at Onward's Paris store. Dilapidated stairs lead to a dreary room where outrageous Alexander McQueen suits hang next to floral Paul Smith dresses and Martine Sitbon knits. Rack upon rack of Tocca, Michael Kors, and ICB fill a back room where aggressive shoppers try to intimidate.
SSS Sample Sales 134 W. 37th St., second floor; 212/947-8748. At this permanent sample-sale warehouse, the products change weekly. Labels such as Betsey Johnson, Darryl K., and Diesel drop off truckloads of samples and leftovers on a regular basis. The curtained dressing area resembles a junior-high girls' locker room: frenetic, vain, tearful, and giggly all at the same time. But hey, if you walk out with a sari-fabric Tocca dress for $50, who's complaining?
Trussardi (December, May) 745 Fifth Ave., sixth floor; 212/906-9133. Come to this biannual sale and you'll discover that you really can use a crocodile blazer or a new set of luggage in the softest leather. Men's and women's ready-to-wear collections and accessories, presented in a stunningly tranquil showroom, are marked 20 percent below wholesale. If you dare feel guilty, remind yourself that Trussardi donates part of its sample-sale proceeds to the New York Make-A-Wish Foundation.