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A Shopping Excursion in Buenos Aires

Javier Pierini Shopping Out in Buenos Aires

Photo: Javier Pierini

At Vasalissa, a celadon and white chocolatería, the extraordinary confections take the form of automobiles, teddies, hats, and what is practically a national symbol—the tango shoe, rendered in white Belgian chocolate.

Work off those candy calories with a sprint through the humongous Buenos Aires Design, which features more than 60 different shops. Situated on a hill next to the famous Recoleta Cemetery, the center showcases the best of contemporary B.A. home design. At Tienda Puro Diseño, I am quite taken with a vintage Admiral TV reimagined as a table, and a cowhide doll lamp (its head is a lightbulb) for $140 that is small enough to fit in my carry-on.

The dubious arts of tie-dye and macramé may survive at the Feria de Recoleta, but look beyond the T-shirts and ponchos at this weekend market and you’ll unearth etched silver-topped boxes and handcrafted jewelry. The charm of the scene goes beyond shopping—on one recent afternoon a flock of half-naked men who looked like satyrs with outsize ears amused a group of picnickers.

San Telmo

I am beside myself with excitement when Sunday finally rolls around and I am able to go to the San Telmo flea market. My first stop, along with what seems to be the entire population of the city, is the outdoor tables at Plaza Dorrego, where I find stalls bursting with vintage seltzer siphons, stacks of Mundo Peronista magazine—each bearing a cover photo of Evita—1930’s peach silk lingerie, flatware that may have once graced the finest sideboards in town, and a spotted-cat coat that I would long to take home if not for the Endangered Species Act.

Beyond the square, up and down Defensa, are a seemingly endless series of antiques centers, with goods ranging from banks of mid-20th-century telephones at Mercado de San Telmo and an Art Deco clock meant for a massive mantel at HB Antigüedades to the downright strange bedfellows at Churrinche, where only four people are allowed in at one time and vintage license plates share space with spindly crystal drinking glasses.

Right off Plaza Dorrego is Gil Antigüedades, an unexpected dreamworld of vintage clothing. Head downstairs for row upon row of exquisite 1940’s beaded rayon frocks, flapper wedding gowns, velvet hats with veils, alligator purses, and 19th-century gloves, all meticulously maintained and displayed. The owner, María Inés Gil, says she has been collecting since she was 15, and you believe her. In her extraordinary boutique she shows me a one-shouldered sequined dress by Paco Jamandreu, confidante and designer for Madame Perón herself. “We had such good design here in the 50’s,” Gil says with a sigh.

The polar opposite of the vintage flounces at Gil can be found at Pablo Ramírez, the namesake boutique of perhaps Argentina’s best-known contemporary fashion designer. The late British fashion maven Isabella Blow purportedly nearly swooned when she encountered his designs. Almost everything in his shop is black or white, and the clothes, though simply cut, impart a definite swagger. An extraordinary crepe dress with a stiff crinoline slip seems ready to break into the national dance; dark denim jeans styled like jodhpurs for men fetch around $140.


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