Unless you’re a platinum credit card holder, you probably don’t think about going shopping in department stores on your travels. The commerce centers can, however, make excellent places to explore architecture, window-shop, enjoy a spa treatment, or people-watch from the café. At London’s Liberty, its quirky décor and signature fabrics attract artistic types. Tokyo’s Isetan draws hungry shoppers to its basement food hall, teeming with expensive delicacies from around the world. The rooftop terrace at Galeries Lafayette gives a heart-stopping view of Paris.
Details like these are what lure millions of customers through the doors of department stores everywhere, and inspire a sense of wonderment around them, like the kind felt by the author Kate Zambreno. “When I lived in London I was totally obsessed with the luxury department stores, how grand and impeccable they were,” she told Kirkus Reviews in an interview. “I […] would spend my time being caught in the crowds on Oxford and Tottenham Court [Road], just walking, getting lost, straining my neck to gaze at the horns on the top of Selfridges, saving up to have tea upstairs at Liberty, buying one little thing at the food hall at Harrods.”
In Zambreno’s novel Green Girl, the heroine Ruth—a listless American expat in London who works on the perfume counter at a store she calls Horrids—inherits her author’s love of department stores: in particular, Liberty. To Ruth, Liberty is a pleasure-filled emporium of beautiful objects and people; a small world of possibilities that offers her the freedom suggested by its name. When a date buys her a dress from the store, Ruth savors the moment as the shopgirls “carefully wrapped the dress up in the black tissue paper, and laid it gently in the deep purple bag.”
Taking a cue from Zambreno, the allure of these 15 department stores makes them well worth visiting.