The pedestrian-only Calle Florida can feel a bit like Manhattan’s 34th Street, albeit with outdoor cafés and tango demonstrations. Though there is a surfeit of cheap clothes and electronics, the area is not without serious shopping interest.
The beaming face of Carlos Gardel, the unrivaled king of Argentine tango, smiles down from windows all along Suipacha, B.A.’s tango-supply street. (Stick to the end of the street closer to Diagonal Norte; as you walk farther up, the shopping scene devolves into toilet seats and girdles.) Of the many shops specializing in tango clothing and shoes—custom-made or not—Flabella Tango, where around $60 will buy a pair of glittery bright- blue heels, has an excellent reputation. “The best prices in town, the best service!” an American woman being fitted offers, unsolicited, on the day I visit.
If a lot of the stores in the elegant 19th-century Galerías Pacífico seem rather too familiar—Tiffany & Co., Timberland—there are also local favorites like La Martina, which specializes in polo clothes and accessories and has shirts decorated with two players rather than Ralph Lauren’s solitary rider. But the real draw at the Pacífico are the murals under the dome, painted by five Argentine artists in 1945, that depict nothing less than the history of mankind.
Somehow Sharon Stone discovered Plata Nativa and went crazy for the multistrand necklaces combining turquoise, amethyst, quartz, lapis, and other semiprecious stones. Buried in an unprepossessing mall on Calle Florida—you’d never find it just wandering around—this little shop yields a spectacular mix of antiques and newly designed jewelry. But it is the collection of vintage smalls that steals my heart. I am on the verge of buying a cow-shaped incense burner when I see a devotional figure—for a home?a church?—that is clad in a silver dress and holding a rod with a silver fish; I am a goner. Though technically not an antique—one of the owners, Leonardo Alche, thinks it’s about 60 years old—I rapidly fork over several hundred dollars. (Like so many other shopkeepers in this city, he happily takes American currency.)
If there is one neighborhood that epitomizes the retail renaissance of Buenos Aires, it is Palermo Viejo, also known as Palermo Soho. Droves of young designers have opened boutiques here, and more are arriving every day—in part an unwitting result of the post-2002 devaluation of the peso, an economic crisis that made importing designer clothes prohibitively expensive. Below are a few more of my finds, but the fun of shopping in Palermo Soho is wandering around and uncovering your own favorites.
An Argentine friend once told me that the women in town could be divided into two groups: hippie girls and sexy girls. The shoes at Divia are clearly intended for the latter: on a tufted-velvet pouf in the center of a fuchsia jewel box, Porteñas slip into high sandals embellished with jewels and strips of metallic snakeskin that cost a mere $175.
They’re gorgeous, but have nothing on the offerings at Lucila Iotti. A customer purportedly bought shoes here, wore them when she got home to Manhattan, and pretty soon the costume department for the Sex and the City movie—the Holy Grail in media footwear endorsement—reportedly came calling. A single stiletto revolves on a platform in the window; inside are lace-up high-heeled patent brogues in such color combinations as orange and gray, with orange heels.