Monday, 8 October 2012 10:07 AM
New York may be one of the fashion capitals of the world, but its neighbour Philadelphia has some of the best shopping around, as Esme Fox discovers
I didn’t know quite what to expect from my trip to Philadelphia. I had of course heard of the city in a historical context, being the city of the Founding Fathers, but I wasn’t here for any of that. I was here to shop.
Though fashion and shopping is of course more synonymous with New York, a mere two-hour train ride away, I was intrigued to find out what ‘The City of Brotherly Love’ had to offer style-wise.
I started my trip by visiting the small quirky boutiques and vintage stores along North 3rd Street, otherwise known as Gallery Row. You don’t have to go far as most of the city’s best vintage shops are located down this one street.
Some great choices on this street are Sugarcube, honouring classic design and timeless vintage; Vagabond full of vintage coats and sweaters, balls of yarn and knitting supplies; Briar Vintage, a quirky mix including cowboy hats and boots and Art in the Age.
Bizarrely, Art in the Age actually began with not jewellery or clothes, but a drink – unique herby liquors – Snap, Sage, Rhuby and Root, but today sells Asian cottons, jewellery made from reclaimed material and stylish glasses, as well as doubling as a gallery art space.
But if you’re really into your vintage fashion and you’ve got a lot of money to spend, then really the only place worth going to in the city is the Philadelphia Vintage and Consignment Shop.
Run by stylist to the stars Johnny Colombo (sometimes – he seems to change his last name every other week), this small shop is crammed from floor to ceiling with silk garments, knitted tops, feathered head bands, evening dresses and dazzling shoes.
There are so many garments (15,000 pieces in total) in here, haphazardly piled on shelves and cupboards, that you’d be forgiven for thinking this was some kind of thrift shop.
Philadelphia Vintage and Consignment Shop
However, Johnny’s store is definitely no thrift shop and dresses often sell in range of $4,000 US. Many of his pieces are even too valuable to be sold and he only loans them out for photo shoots or movies with Hollywood’s elite. “I styled both Scarlett Johansson and Julia Roberts”, he tells me.
Colombo takes vintage 1920s style dresses and does them up – cold dyeing the silks or adding jewels and lace to the dresses. “I love finding timeless romantic floaty pieces” he says, delicately fingering an opaque jewelled dress, “Although knits and Scasai coats in bright colours are also in this winter”.
Although a big trend here, vintage is not all Philadelphia has to offer in terms of fashion and there are also many new designers springing up all over the city.
That evening I went to the Skai Blue Showroom to check out the local talent. Located among the city skyline in Midtown Village and with views of some of the city’s best colourful murals (there are actually over 3,000 here – more than any other city in the world), the showroom is open to the public, showcasing a variety of local designers. It was started by Rakai Reynolds, the Philadelphia 360 Fashion Ambassador and a regular on American news and fashion TV channels.
Among colourful silks, handmade jewellery, unique prints and skilfully crafted shoes I met and chatted with each designer about their creations. Names to look out for are Kristin Haskins Simms with StrangeFruit – a former Project Runway contestant - and Carmelita Couture who has styled stars on American Idol, The X Factor and Dancing with the Stars (America’s version of Strictly Come Dancing).
But if you’re not after vintage haut couture and just want your much loved American brands, then you can always head to The King of Prussia mall, America’s largest retail space and located just outside the city.
Franklin Mortgage & Investment bar
After all that exercise (on my wallet) I decided that it was time for a relaxing drink so I headed to the small speakeasy bar – Franklin Mortgage & Investment. Sounding more like a bank than a trendy nightspot the small bar has in fact got a big name for itself and has even been named in Playboy magazine as one of America’s best bars.
Sitting in a dark booth surrounded by chandeliers and paintings of 1920s style figures on the walls, I spent a long time pouring over the extensive cocktail list. Eventually I settle on the Beauty School Dropout – a mix of strawberries, rosewater, cacao, Banks 5 Islands Rum and Cocchi Americano.
After a great night out and a large breakfast in a gritty American style diner at 5am, my three day break in Philly ended with lots of shopping bags and depleted bank account.
Philadelphia won’t be New York’s overshadowed sister city for much longer, the city has its own unique style and is soon set to burst onto the fashion scene.
By Esme Fox
Fact Box: British Airways offer four nights at the 4* Sofitel Philadelphia from £849 per person, based on two people sharing, departing in October. The price includes return British Airways flights from Heathrow and room only accommodation. For reservations visit ba.com/philadelphia or call 0844 4930758
For more information on Philadelphia please contact the Philadelphia Convention and Visitor Bureau on www.philadelphiaUSA.travel or 0115 922 9255.
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