Most of us cringe at the mere thought of the prices in those exclusive shops where the wealthy make their playground. But what marks a boutique out as truly special is when its products are not only unaffordable to most, but of an extremely limited edition and open only to a select few. One thing that the majority of the world's most exclusive boutiques have in common is that the original founder and designer is no longer living, meaning the company has stood the test of time and has proven itself for generations. The founders are, or were, largely designers. Most had very sharp taste combined with serious business savvy. Exoticism is also a factor in making these boutiques so exclusive; although so many of the world's most renowned, prosperous celebrities (exclusive boutiques' typical clients) hail from the U.S.A., of the boutiques on this list only one is American. The rest are from countries like France, Spain, Switzerland and Italy. Is this what marks style for many of us? Is sophistication only doled out to Europeans and the like?
If you could be a billionaire for a day (or a month; let’s face it, a day would not be long enough to do some serious damage!), where would you shop? There are the obvious designer names that jump into our minds - Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Vera Wang - names we know if not by direct association, then from shows like Sex and the City or magazines like GQ, Elle and Vogue. But are there other names that are so elite, we haven't even heard of them?
If you carelessly burn plastic wherever you wanted, what would you go for? Perhaps rare diamonds and furs, or designer clothing and shoes. Would you be looking for underwear, outerwear, jewellery, fragrances, or bridal wear? Get ready to enter the world of the rich and famous (AKA the world of makebelieve, for most of us) where power and money gets you private sittings with the world’s top designers, and where everyone’s just waiting to wait on you. The following are some of the world’s finest, most exclusive and elite boutiques.
10 Elizabeth Charles: San Francisco
Established in 2002, Australian-born Charles quickly became an icon of fashion, her name synonymous with the best. A multibrand boutique carrying only high-end clothing and accessories from around the globe, Charles has pared back her shops to just the one, along with online shopping. If you’re in the Pacific Heights neighborhood anytime soon, make a private appointment for even more attention, though you can walk in and ask for help from a stylist, every one reputed to be excellent. Designer brands include Bantu, Charlene Court, Fabiana Filippi, Kenzo, Maison Kitsune, Nicholas Kirkwood, Tatto, Yosh, and more.
9 Carine Gilson: Paris
Originally from Belgium, it makes sense that Gilson should have set up shop in neighboring France, where the hub of fine fashion still resides. With additional boutiques in Brussels and London, Gilson does extremely well designing fine lingerie that makes it clear Victoria’s secret was out of the bag a while ago…. This boutique has eye-watering prices, though, that help it maintain its exclusivity. A simple thong starts at $322 USD, and bras range from $450 to $620 when not custom made. Every piece is handmade using the finest silk from Lyon, and Calais lace. Gilson’s specialty is catering exclusively to the very wealthy by designing custom pieces and entire wedding trousseaus.
8 Harry Winston: Beverly Hills
Established in 1932, this seller of fine jewellery and Swiss timepieces is known for its Beverly Hills boutique on posh Rodeo Drive. Winston was known for his exquisite taste in, and collection of, diamonds. In fact, he purchased the famous Hope Diamond in 1949 and later donated it to the Smithsonian, where it still resides. If you want to impress (and if you can afford it!), this very exclusive shop that caters to the stars outfits celebrities with diamonds and other rare gems annually for the Academy Awards. They also claim to have held more famous gems in their possession at one time than any other company or agency ever, private or governmental.
7 Ulysse Nardin: New York
A competitor of Harry Winston’s, this company has been around since its founding in 19th century Switzerland. Maker of master Swiss timepieces, this is one of the few companies that has manufactured continuously and without interruption for over 165 years! With people using cell phones more than watches to tell the time these days, it is a real testament to the quality of these gorgeous timepieces that there are 19 Nardin boutiques worldwide, including three in Dubai. The New York boutique was opened in December 2013 and is housed in the elegant Ritz hotel, where well-to-do shoppers on business or holiday trips can peruse some of the finest, and most beautiful, watches in the world.
6 Loewe: Barcelona
Madrid masters of leather since 1846, this Barcelona boutique showcases the finest leather purses, goods and clothing anywhere. Today the company’s mandate includes being socially and environmentally responsible; they even claim to understand the difference between the haves and the have-nots… but they aren’t exactly selling to the underprivileged. They boast a dozen stores in Spain as well as boutiques in 33 countries around the world. Two years ago the flagship Barcelona store was updated, as it had already been there for 65 years. Now with an exclusive VIP room and brand new décor, there’s a more beautiful environment in which to spend your hard-earned cash.
5 Bourdon House: London
This exclusive spot in the heart of Mayfair was once home to the Duke of Westminster. Alfred Dunhill, who began the line, was not a duke, but you boys may want to call him Lord once you see his legacy. Purveyor of leather goods, top-of-the-line clothing, and men’s accessories, as well as a tobacconist and a tailor, Dunhill opened his first store in 1902. He understood that men don’t enjoy shopping in the same way as their better (or prettier) halves. That's why boutiques worldwide, like Bourdon House, are all in former homes, for the sensation you haven't “gone off to the shops.” In addition to a brand guys love, the space also includes a men’s spa, an old-fashioned barber, and even a spot for a cup of tea while you consider your spendings.
4 Louis Vuitton: Rome
The outside of Louis Vuitton’s Roma Etoile store (there is more than one LV in Rome) looks like an old-fashioned wedding cake. Inside is crazy modern, having in fact been referred to on YouTube as the “crazy Louis Vuitton store in Rome.” With alternating laser stunts displayed on the front staircase—one day it’s the board at the NYSE, another it’s a moving, graffitied discotheque—the store has many levels and curving staircases with Plexiglas walls, brilliant lighting and lots of white and gold. The overall effect is that of a cross between Dr. Seuss and a futuristic space-age, and of course there’s the added perk of Louis Vuitton goods that you know are the real thing.
3 Oscar de la Renta: New York
A name synonymous with old-world sophistication, this company has stood the test of time. De la Renta, originally from the Dominican Republic, apprenticed with none other than Spain’s Balenciaga before going out on his own in 1965, making this company almost fifty years old. The Fifth Avenue location in NYC is one of the newer stores, though there are shops around the globe, in Paris’s Ritz and other such choice spots. The New York boutique is the perfect place for the wealthy to peruse before spending big bucks on some of the most innovative designs. De la Renta's stunning garments and gowns have been worn by Elizabeth Taylor, Taylor Swift, Emma Watson, Oprah Winfrey and many more. There is also bridal wear, ladies…
2 Versace: Rome
This Italian-born designer lived just 51 years. He was killed outside his Miami home in 1997 by a stranger on a killing spree. Despite his short lifetime, Versace left an immense legacy. His line includes some of the most beautiful purses and handbags, women’s and men’s clothing and accessories, eyewear, fragrances, jewellery and watches. A beach bag costs $650, an evening clutch almost $2,000, and a large, everyday purse is upwards of $4,000. With about 20 locations in North America alone, as well as stores on a few other continents, the Rome boutique is one of the finest in the world. You know what they say: “When in Rome…”
1 House of Bijan: Beverly Hills
Described as “the most expensive store in the world,” the menswear boutique on Rodeo Drive really is exclusive: it’s the only one of its kind, and is by appointment only. The savvy Bijan Pakzad was an Iranian who moved to California in 1973, set up shop and quickly became renowned for his fashion sense and overall flair for design. He once designed a golden Colt revolver with mother of pearl on the handle, 24K gold in the chamber, contained in a mink bag and a Baccarat crystal box. Only 200 were made and one sold at auction in 2005 for $50,000. Bijan’s designs have dressed the famous and the powerful, including Tom Cruise, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Anthony Hopkins, Vladimir Putin, Tony Blair, Usher, Giorgio Armani! Oscar de la Renta, Carlos Slim Helu…and the list just goes on and on.