Just in time for the holidays and Black Friday, stylist to the stars Erin Walsh shares her insider recommendations for getting to the heart of New York City’s vast shopping scene.
New York City’s shopping scene is undeniably iconic. The nation’s undisputed retail capital since the late 1800s, its shimmering concrete streets teem with luxury flagships, historic department stores and edgy indie boutiques. And yet, few out-of-town visitors venture past the chain stores of 5th Avenue, Rockefeller Center and Herald Square.
“If you only go [there], you’re missing the special gems,” said Erin Walsh – long-time New York resident and stylist to flawless Hollywood celebs like Anne Hathaway and Selena Gomez. Walsh is a passionate shopper, and equally passionate about New York City. “I love New York so much,” she said. “I feel like when you live there, it becomes not just a part of your identity, but energetically, your heart starts to beat with it.”
Walsh’s approach to shopping in New York City is simple: “Get lost. The only way you get surprised and inspired is when you just wander around.” But for Walsh, getting lost means meandering through laser-focused “pockets” of her favourite neighbourhoods to create ultra-niche experiences that don’t stop at shopping. “I always think of the restaurants around it,” she said. “Things that feel cosy… it just makes it more fun.”
Here is her expert guide to “getting lost” in New York City’s shopping scene.
1. Best for women’s fashion: SoHo between West Broadway and Broadway
Walsh’s “pockets” often span mere street blocks, carving up a neighbourhood into unofficial micro-nabes, like the cobblestoned stretch of West Broadway and Broadway in SoHo that’s her pick for women’s fashion.
Celebrity stylist Erin Walsh fell in love with New York City when she was a Sex and the City-obsessed student. She has since styled many Hollywood stars, including Sarah Jessica Parker herself.
Walsh also likes combing the streets to uncover surprising indie boutiques, like Kirna Zabête on Mercer Street, which offers highly curated selections from both legendary and up-and-coming designers.
While in this stretch of SoHo, Walsh likes to make a stop at “special places”, like La Mercerie. “It’s not only a restaurant,” she said. “It’s clothing, a showroom. Everything that’s in the restaurant is for sale. They even sell flowers… and then you go to Balthazar [restaurant and bar] at the end of the day.”
2. Best for men’s shopping: The Bowery
When it comes to shopping for her male clients and loved ones, Walsh heads to the industrial Bowery neighbourhood in downtown Manhattan – a stretch of gritty city blocks she fondly calls “woodsy” and “underrated, absolutely”.
Her favourite Bowery neighbourhood shops are found in the pocket near The Bowery Hotel, including [upscale home decor store] John Derien on 2nd Street, which Walsh calls her “Christmas problem solver”. She also always makes a stop at Dashwood Books on Bond Street. “It’s my husband’s favourite bookstore,” she said. “Just that little stretch there. It’s so cosy and wonderful. They put the Goop shop there, too. It’s a special collection of little shops.”
3. Best for traditional holiday shopping: Midtown
New York City shopping is always otherworldly, but never more so than during the winter holidays (blame Miracle on 34th Street). The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade down 5th Avenue draws hordes of spectators each year, the ritzy shops at Rockefeller Center are almost as much of a draw as the plaza’s massive Christmas tree, and the high art holiday window displays of 5th Avenue’s historic department stores like Bergdorf Goodman and Saks are nothing short of legendary.
Locals generally avoid the tourist-thronged madness of Midtown during the holidays, but Walsh always makes it a point to visit. “You have to go to Midtown and do all of that,” she said. “It’s just so special. Even with my kids, taking them to the Christmas tree [in Rockefeller Center] when there’s so many people you can barely move. It’s great.”
4. Best for home interiors: Tribeca, the West Village
Walsh, who studied theatre at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, is just as passionate about interiors as she is about fashion, finding joy in layering textures and materials in New York City’s tiny spaces. “If you’re living an aesthetic, it’s the spaces that you allow into your energy that really impacts how you feel,” she said.
She hits sophisticated Tribeca and the skewed streets of the historic West Village when she wants to snap up beautifully designed homewares and surprise gifts, from mirrors to candlesticks. “I’ve given rugs, I’ve given furniture pieces, trays, books. I think a robe [dressing gown] makes a beautiful gift,” she said. “I like that idea when you give someone a present… you want them to feel held and seen.”
She also enjoys visiting candle stores and shopping for fragrances, which she thinks are a “surprising gift”. “People always say don’t do that,” she said. “But I always feel like the best gifts, you take a risk.”
5. Best for kids: SoHo, between Thompson and West Broadway
Whenever she needs to shop for children, Walsh heads back to artsy SoHo but narrows her focus even more tightly to a two-block stretch on SoHo’s westernmost edge, citing Bonpoint on West Broadway as the touchstone for children’s designers in the area. “There’s so many cute little kids shops there, and you only find that when you’re wandering around,” she said.
Another of her favourite stores for children is Makie on Thompson Street: “The most beautiful kids clothes… It’s Japanese but feels a little bit Scandinavian somehow.” And a final stop at Ladurée [café] on West Broadway for their signature macarons in a beautiful box will delight adults and children alike.
6. Best for quiet luxury: the Upper East Side, around The Mark Hotel
Walsh’s favourite shopping pocket in uptown Manhattan is the swanky stretch of Madison Avenue surrounding The Mark Hotel. But before even venturing to the boutiques, Walsh recommends visiting Georgia Louise Atelier on 71st Street for a “reset” facial and a luxe beauty haul of high-tech face tools or products from Louise’s own skincare line.
Afterwards, she suggests hitting the avenue’s stretch of luxury shops like Sidney Garber jewellery, Ralph Lauren and La Ligne clothing boutique, which she loves for its sweaters. “I could give probably everyone I know and that I don’t know, a sweater from La Ligne and everybody would be thrilled,” she said. Rounding out Walsh’s Upper East Side luxe shopping experience is a visit to the Gagosian art gallery and finally winding down at the end of the day with a drink at The Mark.
7. Best for making a whole day of it: SoHo, between Lafayette and Crosby Streets
Walsh recommends another ultra-niche pocket of SoHo with a tight concentration of enough fun businesses to tie up an entire day. “There’s some great furniture and jewellery shops on the corner of Crosby and Howard,” she said.”You get your nails done [at Paintbox nail salon]. And then you get your man a present and coffee at Saturdays [NYC].”
Of the area’s handbag and jewelley stores, Walsh enjoys visiting Prada and Dinosaur Designs, then exploring the smaller, up-and-coming boutiques in the area before meandering one block east to Lafayette Street, where she zeroes in on Santa Maria Novella (the NYC branch of the luxe Italian fragrance line) and the McNally Jackson indie bookshop. Afterwards, she makes a point to stop by the Sant Ambroeus bar for a refreshing Campari spritz. “Always feels good,” she said. “It’s about getting lost, right?”
8. Best new kid on the block: Dover Street Market (Flatiron/Madison Square Park)
As much as Walsh loves shopping in Manhattan’s classic downtown neighbourhoods, she keeps her eye on up-and-coming shopping areas, too, like the Flatiron district’s Dover Street Market. The Flatiron District – home to the striking wedge-shaped Flatiron building and Madison Square Park – “has really exploded in the past few years”, said Walsh. “They have a unique and diverse selection and there’s so many cute little coffee shops and restaurants… there’s great jewellery, a more international selection of designers.”
Walsh notes that the area is becoming a foodie magnet as well, with Eataly and Cecconi’s locations, as well as several hotels like Ace, where shoppers can rest their bags – and their feet – as they take a cocktail break. “Enjoy it,” recommended Walsh. “A lot of times people feel like they’re in a crazy rush, and that’s when you get bad presents.”
BBC Travel’s The SpeciaList is a series of guides to popular and emerging destinations around the world, as seen through the eyes of local experts and tastemakers.
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