World's Top Shops 2005
By Sophia Banay
It has never been easier to be a consumer. Not only are products of all kinds available online, but these days it is possible to find Paris fashions, Italian shoes and the newest Japanese cameras along fashionable shopping streets and upscale malls around the world.
But to many people, it is often worth crossing multiple time zones and putting up with the inconveniences of modern travel in order to buy the best from the best shops. That is because shopping is as much an aesthetic experience as it is a commercial one. Making the effort to visit the right shop on Jermyn Street, Madison Avenue or the Ginza is like the difference between hearing a live concert and listening to it on an iPod. The music may be the same, but the live concert will be the more rewarding.
Take for example the pleasure of having a bespoke suit made exactly to your specifications. While even the best London tailors often have trunk shows that bring their fabrics to their client's home cities, that is but a pale imitation of what it is actually like to visit one of Savile Row's top suitmakers. The smells, the traditions, the tactile sense of standing in a place where so many of history's great men have stood before--often in front of the same tailor--can be so rich and overwhelming that it becomes inextricably tied to the suit itself. The same can be said of any unique shopping experience.
Because shopping is in the forefront of many readers' minds this time of year, Forbes.com has once again compiled a list of Top Shops around the globe. Some, like the Hermès boutique in Paris, are well-known. Others, such as Murray's Cheese Shop in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, are not.
At the Harvard Book Store, in Cambridge, Mass., customers can curl up with a book in a window seat or attend author readings and have a favorite volume signed. At the Waterford Crystal Visitor Center, in Kilbarry, Ireland, visitors can view a working replica of the Times Square Millennium Ball, watch their favorite pieces of crystal being cut and purchase items whose production was limited to Ireland. At Harrods, in London, a 4.5-acre department store, you can invest in everything from picnicware to black-tie finery, visit the spa or even see a show at the on-site theater. And at the J. Mendel boutique on Madison Avenue, ladies who lunch (and anyone else who can afford it) can buy furs that can cost as much as $90,000.
Of course, in spite of the fact that many shops now have Internet sites, few of them offer their complete range. Some, such as Soma Shop, a boutique specializing in hand-made, block-printed bedspreads, tablecloths and clothing, in Jaipur, India, have Web sites but don't sell online. And there are some shops, albeit fewer and fewer every year, that have no Web site at all, such as famed New York shoe-designer Manolo Blahnik.
See our list of the World's Top Shops