These Brands are Redefining What It Means to Shop on Vacation

Pack an extra bag — you’ll find plenty of goodies to buy on vacation thanks to a new crop of boutiques in some of the world’s hottest destinations.

Shopping on vacation is not what it used to be. Forget uninspired hotel boutiques, big-name stores with the same selection worldwide, and tourist traps. Today, hotels, designers, and retail stores are reimagining the experience of shopping while traveling to appeal both to visitors and residents.

With the rise of remote work, many seasonal destinations are no longer just places to go on the weekends. The Hamptons and Nantucket have seen an increase in residents decamping for the summer, and retailers have followed. There is an increasing emphasis on providing unique wares, frequently changing the selection to entice residents to visit regularly, and showcasing local designers, artists, and artisans.

Interior of the Audemars Piguet house in St. Barths
Hugo Allard/Courtesy of Audemars Piguet

Ava Rollins, a publicist who relocated from Manhattan to Nantucket during the pandemic, has witnessed the transformation firsthand. While Nantucket has always banned chain stores, its retail scene has become more curated in recent years, truly showcasing the residents' personal style and taste.

"They are curating a unique shopping experience, usually focused on the discovery of new brands, treasures from far-flung locales, or local artisan gems," Rollins says. She also notes that many of the boutiques are female-owned and there's a great sense of community and collaboration on the island.

A perfect example of this is The Vault, a dreamy boutique that gemologist and jewelry designer Katherine Jetter opened five years ago. The Vault's collection of jewelry includes Jetter's own pieces, as well as selections from other independent jewelry designers. The boutique has become a destination not just for casual jewelry to wear on the beach, but for some serious investment pieces with fabulous gemstones.

Rings from the Katherine Jetter Collection
Courtesy of Katherine Jetter

Many of the pieces are one-of-a-kind, so even if they aren't the type of jewelry you would wear on a casual beach vacation, shoppers are buying them to wear for special events back home. "Customers are snapping up everything from ultra-wearable, whimsical earrings in our stud bar from Robinson Pelham (starting at $500) to Moritz Glick diamond shaker necklaces, Jade Trau keys, Diane Kordas diamond chokers, [and] Jane Taylor rainbow stacking bands," Jetter tells us. She's partnered with a newly opened Nantucket hotel, The Faraway, to create a custom ring for bartenders at the hotel's restaurant, Sister Ship, to wear. And those rings are now on display at The Faraway, for guests to shop upon check-in.

Interior of The Vault Nantucket
Courtesy of The Vault Nantucket

Of course, the Hamptons have always had a wild shopping scene in the summer. But now that many people are spending the entire summer in the Hamptons, brands have packed up and come to them. Jayma Cardosa, founder and owner of The Surf Lodge, a hotel and restaurant in Montauk, completely changed her retail strategy last year. Instead of a traditional hotel boutique, she created a series of fantastic pop-up shops at a range of price points that both hotel guests and frequent restaurant guests would want to peruse. "People are sort of happy, like, 'I've had my second rosé, let me explore, look at the art in the lobby, and see what's happening,'" she says of the Hamptons' summer shoppers. This summer, she's hosted brands including Lightbox, Love Shack Fancy, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Marc Jacobs, changing the vibe and decor of the shop each time.

Interior of the Marc Jacobs shop at The Surf Lodge
Courtesy of The Surf Lodge

Auction houses are getting in on the action, too. Sotheby's opened Summer Galleries in East Hampton, as well as Palm Beach and Monaco, in order to connect with its clients wherever they are. Brooke Lampley, Sotheby's chairman and worldwide head of sales for global fine art, tells us that the galleries are a great way for new clients to discover Sotheby's, and many existing clients are popping in on a weekly basis to see what's new. They might be looking at important works of art that will be at auction in the future, or scoping out rotating exhibits.

Exterior of Marc Jacobs cars and shop at The Surf Lodge
Courtesy of The Surf Lodge

Lampley says, "the smaller format of the gallery gives us the opportunity to refocus people's eyes and get them thinking about something or reacting to art or a luxury offering in a different way than they might if it were offered in one of our global headquarters." Sotheby's is showcasing lots of jewelry alongside the art, including exhibitions by Nina Runsdorf. Notably, many of the pieces are available for immediate purchase, so if you find the perfect Hermès Birkin bag, you can take it home with you.

Interior of Sotheby's Monaco
Philippe Fitte/Courtesy of Sotheby's

Down in the Bahamas, Rosewood Baha Mar is fostering a strong sense of place through its art programming. With more than 2,500 works of art throughout the property, the hotel has the country's largest permanent collection of works by Bahamian artists. Guests can explore the art at their leisure or through an interactive art tour with John Cox, the creative art director and former chief curator of the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas. The tour takes guests through the hotel and its restaurants, introducing them to important Bahamian artists and movements. During the tour, there are interactive components where guests can create their own artworks using traditional techniques. After interacting with the art throughout the hotel, guests have a different appreciation for Bahamian art and can take beautiful pieces of art home with them, supporting local artists.

Interior of The Current at Rosewood Baha Mar
Courtesy of Rosewood Baha Mar

Even the watch industry is changing how it approaches sales, with some brands and retailers moving away from the large, multi-brand, duty-free boutiques to offer ultra-curated selections in an immersive environment. Audemars Piguet is at the forefront of this movement with its AP Houses. In select destinations, the Swiss watch brand is eschewing classic boutiques and creating a hospitality-driven environment that reflects the destination. The most recent opened in St. Barts this summer. The sleek space is located on the second floor of the Diamond Genesis boutique and is meant to be a home-away-from-home for its collectors.

"Collectors are looking for this really almost impossible combination in a retail experience. They want convenience, of course, but more importantly, we're seeing that they want connection and experience," says Ginny Wright, Audemars Piguet CEO of the Americas. "What we see with our clients is yes, they have that in LA, New York, or Miami, but they have the same elevated expectations when they visit these beautiful, relaxing destinations."

The AP House looks more like a swanky coffee shop or bar than a boutique — there are no display cases to be found. Instead, guests can come in, relax, have a drink, and chat. Wright notes that visitors are staying for two to three hours, they love the space so much. During high season, they will host dinners and events for top collectors, and private parties on request, too.

Watches of Switzerland Airstream at Gurney's Star Island
Courtesy of Watches of Switzerland

Watches of Switzerland, a watch retailer with boutiques around the world, took a different approach. It designed a custom Air Stream trailer with creative director Jay Gullion and brought it to Montauk for the summer. They debuted the partnership with a short film, "Anytime. Anywhere." The film features some of the watches available for purchase in far-flung, inspiring locales, ranging from driving a vintage Ferrari through the woods to heli-skiing and surfing. David Hurley, Watches of Switzerland executive vice president, tells us that the relaxed environment the Airstream provides is the perfect way to take the intimidation out of the experience of learning about or purchasing a timepiece.

"We wanted it to be fun. We're non-intimidating, we're luxury, but we want to be opening and welcoming," he says. "What's could be more welcome and opening than having this cool Airstream with seating outside where people can just come and relax?"

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