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Friday, November 18, 2005

A SLICE OF HEAVEN...in FLORENCE!

If anyone is going to Europe (Italy in particular) this Christmas, I thought you might find this article extremely interesting (from the UK Telegraph)

I hafta share this info with you gals since I have neither moolah nor "real time" to fly over to Italy to taste a slice of this sheer heaven. So if you go, don't you DARE forget me, remember I SHARED THIS ARTICLE WITH YOU! *biatchy tone* hehehe

Rumours of a retail treasure-trove sent Bryony Gordon high-tailing it to Italy

Somewhere in the hills of Tuscany, in the middle of fields of sunflowers and picturesque villages, it is said that if you look hard enough, you might just find the fashion equivalent of a magical fairy castle.


Bryony Gordon shopping
Bryony Gordon shopping at The Mall, 'one of the best-kept secrets in fashion'

According to rumours, here you can buy clothes and accessories by Gucci, Stella McCartney, Yves Saint Laurent and Giorgio Armani for a fraction of the price of British stores. Such are the bargains to be had that, it is said, people are now travelling to this part of Italy not for the culture, but for the cheap couture. Some even say it's possible to get there and back in a day, which certainly trumps a trip to Oxford Street.

It all seems too good to be true; indeed, so shrouded in secrecy is this haven that you have to wonder whether it really exists. It's called The Mall and seems to be one of the best-kept secrets in fashion. It is written about and discussed on the internet, but you'll struggle to find an address and there's no website for it.

When I ask an acquaintance who claims to have shopped there, all he can tell me about the location is that "it's in the middle of nowhere". He tells me that I will need to ask the locals for directions, but this is difficult considering I am not really sure where the locality is, except that it's in central Italy.

Another friend tells me, not entirely helpfully, that it is about an hour's drive from Pisa airport. Determined to discover this mysterious mecca, I book a cheap Ryanair flight. On arrival, I ask a couple of people at the car-hire office, the information kiosk and the airport's designer fashion shop if they can point me towards the local discount high-fashion emporium, but I'm met with stony silences. Finally, I'm given the name of a town. It is Leccio, and it is a 90-mile drive from the airport, just south-east of Florence.

When I finally arrive - having got lost in the complicated motorway system several times - it is as if I'm seeing a mirage. In front of me stands a set of modern buildings that are incongruously set in the rolling Tuscan countryside. But it's what's inside them that matters - they house designs from Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani and Stella McCartney stores, as well as Sergio Rossi, Emanuel Ungaro, Bottega Veneta, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Marni, Tod's, La Perla and Valentino.

Brony Gordon in the shops
'Some items are last season, some are samples'

The Mall is a discount outlet, but not as we know it. The shops are elegantly laid out, like the finest Sloane Street flagship stores, and the staff are dressed immaculately in their respective employer's designs. The only difference is the price.

At Stella McCartney, shoes are discounted by 50 per cent, dresses by up to 70 per cent (a silk satin gown cost just €370). On my visit, Alexander McQueen designs were being sold with up to 30 per cent off, Balenciaga with up to 60 per cent deducted.

At Gucci, wallets were on sale at the price of decent fakes (€120, down from €265). A gold clutch bag with green serpent detail was reduced from €6,900 to €3,110. You could even buy a Gucci surfboard (reduced from €1,807 to €489) - although even at that price you'd probably rather hang it on the wall than risk ruining it by surfing on it.

At Yves Saint Laurent, a dress with coin embroidery was down to €1,650 from €4,087. Handbags at Fendi were half price, while at Marni they had almost 75 per cent knocked off. Armani suits were on sale for €300.

How do they do it? Fabrizio, the smartly suited manager, told me that the site was owned by the Gucci group and opened four years ago. But that was about all he had to say, other than that we were not allowed to photograph inside the shops. A handsome Armani assistant was more forthcoming. "Some items are last season and some are samples," he smiled. "Others are seconds; The Mall is the final stop for all the Armani clothes that haven't been bought for whatever reason, whether they haven't been stored right or pressed correctly."

But the distance from civilisation does not deter diehard shoppers, many of whom have come from overseas. Lauren Baird, Natalie Carnes and Cara Boccieri, are twenty-somethings who have travelled from California. "We heard about it from friends," says Baird, who has so far bought a Stella McCartney skirt for 60 euros and has her eye on a Fendi bag and Gucci wallet. "I've been dying to come for ages."

Veryan Bradshaw, an Australian living in Hong Kong, has visited every summer for the past three years.

"You can buy wonderful things at great prices, and you don't have to sift through mountains of clothes," she says. "It's a very pleasant shopping experience." During that time, she has bought a dress in Valentino, a bag from YSL and some Balenciaga trousers.

But one person's bargain is another's second mortgage. I found myself squealing: "A tiny YSL clutch bag that's the size of a mobile phone for only £100? I can't afford not to!"

My bank balance begs to differ, but having gone out of my way to find the elusive Mall, I feel I deserved a bit of retail therapy - and I've seen a pair of Stella McCartney shoes with my name on them.

How to get there

By car: from Florence - take the Autostrada A1 towards Rome. Leave the motorway at the exit marked Incisa and turn right onto the SS69 for Leccio. Continue straight through Leccio, and The Mall is on the left.

By train: a train runs from Santa Maria Novella Station in Florence to Rignano sull'Arno. Leccio is about a five-minute taxi journey from there.

By shuttle bus: the Mall runs a daily service to and from Florence. Information: 00 390558657775.

The Mall: via Europa 8, 50060 Leccio Reggello, Florence, Italy. Open Monday to Saturday 9am to 6pm and on Sunday 3pm to 7pm.