World's Top Outlet Stores
New York–based stylist Ellianna Placas is an A-list fashionista who’s dressed celebrities from Oprah Winfrey to Brazilian supermodel Camila Alves. Yet when she travels—say, to Milan Fashion Week—she always reserves a few days to scour outlet malls. She’ll even cross the Swiss border to the FoxTown outlet store in Mendrisio. Why? “It’s Prada, Prada, Prada,” she swoons, “and everything else you can think of—at more than half off!”
Placas isn’t alone, of course: the lure of the discount calls all types of shoppers. Outlets exist all over the globe—from Maine to Japan—and the best ones are destinations in and of themselves. For the bargain hunter, unearthing a deal on Gucci, Pucci, or Dolce & Gabbana can be just as adrenaline pumping as visiting the Mona Lisa.
So where and how did they begin? The late Dexter Shoe magnate Harold Alfond is credited with inventing the outlet concept in the 1960s at his factory in Maine—instead of junking imperfect pairs, he’d sell them at a reduced price. Since then, outlets have become a major worldwide business: they’re the ideal way of off-loading (often imperceptibly) imperfect merchandise as well as past-season premium goodies at deep discounts—often with no discernible difference in quality from what’s sold at your local department store (albeit in season).
As outlets took off around the globe, they underwent some adaptations too. Some are brand-specific, like the one for Le Creuset, the high-end cookware company based in the tiny northern French town of Fresnoy-le-Grand. Brits come here by the boatload to snap up cast-iron cooking pots and pans for around 50 percent off.
Other outlets cram tons of designer brands into a one-stop shopping experience. More than 200 stores make up Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, for example, 90 minutes north of New York City. So while the luxe shops of Fifth Avenue are great for window-shopping, head to Woodbury to buy. After all, you’ll find some of the same brands—Burberry, Armani, Coach—as you will in the city, but up to 65 percent off.
Treat malls like these as you would a destination: pick up a map and get to know its geography. “Outlets are set up for optimal shopping efficiency,” says Danica Lo, the editor of Racked.com. “Woodbury Common is shaped like a flower, so start from the middle and go around each petal.”
Then, hit the most important place first. Brands with lots of outlets (like Nike or Banana Republic) don’t have great deals, but designers with just a few stores, like Gucci and Anya Hindmarch, will usually offer steeper slashes.
Also, beware the companies whose outlets stock merchandise produced specifically for them—those aren’t discount deals, just cheap stuff. “It mostly happens with the mass market, but the labels are different from the normal store,” Lo explains. “The colors are often reversed; the Gap has a different label all together.”
Take these tips along on your next outlet excursion. And don’t forget to pack an extra suitcase.
Bicester Village, England
Come to the town of Oxfordshire for cool Britannia at a cut price—up to 70 percent off. Expect leather goods from Smythson (its creative director is Brit first-lady-in-waiting Samantha Cameron) as well as classic separates from Jaeger and heirloom knits by Pringle of Scotland. Recent additions: purses from Anya Hindmarch and avant-garde unmentionables from Agent Provocateur.
Insider Tip: There’s a free three-hour personal shopping assistance program offered on weekday mornings and afternoons. Book ahead at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeremy’s, San Francisco
Tucked away on the leafy South Park square, Jeremy’s is a Bay Area staple. Local department stores quietly ship overruns, returns, and out-of-season goodies to the piled-high store. Spotted in the past: clothing from Bergdorf Goodman’s private label and preppy pieces by Ralph Lauren. Don’t miss the shoe racks, with Blahniks and Choos at Nine West prices (usually around 70 percent off retail).
Insider Tip: The as-is and slightly damaged racks here are treasure troves for bargains, with prices up to 90 percent off.
L.L. Bean, Freeport, ME
Look for the giant signature boot out front to locate this monolithic bargain bin amid the raft of high-end outlet stores on Freeport’s Main Street. L.L. Bean’s practical, hunter-chic (albeit not high fashion) clothing is up to 60 percent off at its factory store. And in case the urge for bargains keeps anyone awake at night, it’s open 24/7, 365 days a year.
Insider Tip: Don’t miss the second floor, where plaid housewares and furniture with the L.L. Bean label are also deeply discounted.
Gotemba Premium Outlets, Japan
The largest outlet mall in Japan, just 60 miles west of Tokyo in Shizuoka, is pilgrimage-worthy for two reasons. First, its 200-strong shop selection includes rarities like Maison Martin Margiela, Balenciaga, and Bottega Veneta at 25–65 percent off retail. Second, the views of Mount Fuji are spectacular.
Insider Tip: The larger, Western-friendly sizes are remaindered more readily here—these racks are full of handy Ls and XLs.
FoxTown Factory Store, Switzerland
Switzerland may be famed for swanky banking, swoony chocolates, and self-winding watches, but thanks to FoxTown, in the town of Mendrisio, it’s owed kudos for style too. This outlet mall is crammed with local labels, like underwear icon Hanro, at 50–80 percent off. But since Milan is just across the border—it’s only 45 minutes away by train or car—there’s also a slew of Italian marques, including Missoni, Dolce & Gabbana, and chic sneaker maker Superga.
Insider Tip: If you’re making a day jaunt from Italy, remember to pack your passport. Not only will you be passing in and out of the EU via Swiss immigration, but you’ll need it to reclaim tax on purchases for export.
Everything about this Tuscan outlet is designed to obscure its true purpose as the best place in the world to find Miuccia Prada’s gems off-price. There’s the obscure name, plus the impossible-to-find location—Space sits in the middle of a gloomy, gray industrial park close to Florence. Once inside, grab a ticket like you would in an old-school grocery and wait for the chance to shop last season’s styles at up to 50 percent off retail.
Insider Tip: Again, Space is not the easiest of outlets to find. Follow signs for I Pellettieri d’Italia, or tell the GPS “Via Levanella.”
Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, New York
Less than 90 minutes from Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, savvy shoppers can find the same branded merchandise at up to 65 percent off, thanks to this 220-strong ultra-luxe outlet hub. Skip the Gap and Banana Republic that are in every off-price mall and linger instead at luxe rarities like Gucci, Pucci, and Christian Dior.
Insider Tip: From Manhattan, hop the express bus service from Port Authority in Midtown ($42 round-trip; www.grayline.com).
Wedgwood & Royal Doulton Outlet, England
Here you’ll find cut-rate prices on cut glass, like 30 percent off a raft of blue-chip British tabletop brands like Waterford crystal. This must-stop is a combined outlet store on the campus of china icon Wedgwood, in Stoke-on-Trent, the heart of Britain’s pottery-producing district. Also on sale: Royal Doulton and Edinburgh Crystal, mostly end-of-line or discontinued styles—so stock up.
Insider Tip: The most outrageous bargains (up to 75 percent off retail) are on the imperfect china, though most of it is has defects barely visible to the casual eye.
Le Creuset Outlet, France
Follow the hordes of fresh-off-the-boat Brits as they stampede into this small farmhouse-like store just outside of Calais. Sure, there are Le Creuset outlets in malls across America, but this is the mother lode for high-end cast-iron cooking pots and pans for around 50 percent off.
Insider Tip: Send an email to email@example.com in advance, and the helpful staff will check stock levels to see if the item that you’re yearning for is available at a discount.
The Mall, Tuscany, Italy
Imagine Palm Beach’s Worth Avenue transplanted to a Tuscan hillside with prices slashed up to 70 percent. None of the stores here is a makeweight—there are stand-alones from each of the Gucci group labels like Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, and Stella McCartney, as well as Zegna, Armani, Fendi, and Loro Piana. Crucially, even though this is largely last season’s stock, it isn’t limited to the outré.
Insider Tip: Bargains here are so ferocious, you should consider renting a car to get your goods back to the hotel.