I make my way to Via Camerelle, a street so label-heavy that friends of mine have nicknamed it "Worth Avenue." Of course, many of the designers here can be found on any other fancy retail street in the world, but it's still hard to resist a beloved Italian brand name, especially when the price is below market value in the States. That's why I can't help ducking into the miniature Fendi boutique, where I'm immediately gobsmacked by a violet leather purse in the shape of a 19th-century gladstone bag. Pauline, the British saleswoman—she fell in love with a caprese 35 years ago and has been here ever since—tells me, "It's called a Fendi Selleria bag, and it's handmade and trimmed with real silver." The bag is half its New York price, though not what anyone in her right mind would call inexpensive. I quell my urge to buy and bid Pauline and the bag farewell.
Head spinning, but agreeably, I eventually walk to the funicular. I take it down to my hotel, the Relais Maresca, which is in the Marina Grande (where the shopping is confined to fake Vuitton totes and mouse pads with pictures of Capri's famous Faraglioni Rocks). As I trudge back to my room, I spy the ferry setting off for Naples, laden with passengers whose shopping bags are stuffed with cashmere pullovers and ceramic clocks. Though it's only eight o'clock, this is the last boat of the day. (Capri, which cannot, in the end, be characterized as unsnobby, reserves the evening hours for residents only.) È
The next morning I explore Via Roma, a street with a peculiar mix of merchandise: exquisite coral jewelry and hand-smocked baby dresses along with racks of cheesy
T-shirts and Pinocchio key rings. At the famous da Costanzo sandal shop, the readily proffered business card shows a 1959 photo of Sophia Loren and Clark Gable lolling outside the store, and the place still has a funky old-fashioned appeal. So it comes as a bit of a disappointment that you can buy its wares on the Web at www.capridream.com. Still, it's more fun to order them in the shop and have the shoes made while you wait. "Every year we create new styles," says the proprietor, showing off a pair of delicate, flat-soled pale blue sandals decorated with a band of Swarovski crystal hearts.
Strolling through the famous Piazzetta, I turn into Via Le Botteghe, a narrow back street that still houses linoleum-floored barbershops and cobblers. They're a reminder that when the last hotel closes in November, when the last heiress has downed the last Campari at the Quisi Bar, Capri is a place where real people live.