Madison Avenue is on the mend. After the economy entered a recession in 2008, over two dozen retailers that cater to a wealthy clientele decamped to cheaper spaces elsewhere in the City. But the elegant enclave rebounded in 2011, when hip “It” brands and luxury labels began to flock back uptown for a coveted Madison Avenue address. Approximately 150 luxury designer clothing boutiques call the gilt-edged, mile-and-a-half–long stretch north of mainstay Barneys New York their home. Boosted by new additions such as Joe Fresh, Kate Spade and Halston Heritage, the thoroughfare attracts shoppers to a glamorous amalgamation of the City's most fashion-forward retailers. Read on for more information about prime shopping spots.
821 Madison Ave., 212-772-6969
The luxury brand, known for its trademark “Valentino red” dresses, recently moved nearly four blocks north of its former location to a townhouse fit for European royalty. Three decked-out selling floors house shoes, accessories, handbags and runway and pre-fall pieces that range from luxuriously detailed to iconic. The opulent outpost is styled with white-and-black tiled floors, ivory curtains and custom lighting and furnishings, all meant to attract, as brand reps put it, the local, “most affluent customer.” The top level of the boutique serves as an exclusive space for its upper-crust clients; this VIP suite, Valentino’s only such one in the US, has three rooms for private fittings, custom tailoring and limited services such as previewing the line's couture collections.
815 Madison Ave., 646-439-0381
807 Madison Ave., 212-812-2866
Founded by Jeanne Lanvin in 1889, this retailer has the distinction of being the longest-operating fashion house in France. More recently, the label has earned a cult following, thanks in part to creative director Alber Elbaz, who has remained true to Lanvin's refined aesthetic and attention to detail. With strong black-and-white accents throughout the space and luxurious fixtures and furnishings, Lanvin's flagship reflects the posh feel of the label. The three-level boutique is stocked with fine furs, shoes, bags, jewelry and clothing from the women's ready-to-wear and couture collections. But it's not all about the ladies at Lanvin: the label's luxe menswear line has its own flagship nearby. Decorated similarly to its sister store, Lanvin Men features the full men's line including shoes, sportswear items and made-to-measure suits.
845 Madison Ave., 212-359-0300
After Jay-Z dedicated an entire track to designer (and sometimes film director) Tom Ford on Magna Carta Holy Grail, Yahoo search engine inquiries for the designer rose by over 155 percent. But Ford was at the forefront of fashion long before he became pop-music famous. After the designer left Gucci in 2004, he launched a menswear line that became a watchword for luxury and garnered a great deal of celebrity fanfare. His William Sofield–designed concept shop, which opened in 2007, has been a major draw on Madison Avenue. The two-level boutique carries full lines of men's and women's wear, accessories, his esteemed cosmetics line, a perfume bar and, of course, Ford's signature suits in an assemblage of colors and prints. Amenities include butlers and one VIP salon for made-to-measure outfitting.
870 Madison Ave., 212-535-3703
When Phoebe Philo became Céline's creative director in 2008, she revived the struggling French brand by reinvigorating the less-is-more trend—simple shapes, color blocking and minimalism define her runway shows. Upon entering the two-story Madison Avenue flagship, the first outpost of the brand in the US, you'll see Philo's vision come to life. The store is stocked with different styles of the much-sought-after “Luggage Tote” as well additional leather handbags, accessories, shoes and clothing from the women's ready-to-wear collection, all of which are neatly displayed. Céline is one of the only luxury brands without an e-commerce site, so a purchase from this polished brick-and-mortar location puts you in undeniably exclusive company.
822 Madison Ave., 212-585-3200
After meeting at Parsons, Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough launched Proenza Schouler in 2002 and have been earning coveted industry awards and acclaim ever since. New York City's very own wunderkind design duo, whose collections fuse downtown simplicity and uptown sophistication, opened their very first boutique on Madison Avenue in 2012. Unlike other luxury brands' glossy, gallery-esque boutiques, the Proenza Schouler flagship features dark wood, brick and textured concrete walls with accents like potted cactus plants and exposed piping—elements that give it a downtown, street-chic vibe. Expect to find ready-to-wear clothing, youth-oriented accessories and a collection of the label's signature pop-colored PS1 handbags (named after the City's public school system).
867 Madison Ave., 212-606-2100
From the exterior, the Ralph Lauren flagship could be mistaken for an Ivy League dormitory. Filling half a block, this hard-to-miss store occupies the historic Rhinelander Mansion and offers a complete range of menswear items. The four-floor space carries all Ralph Lauren collections as well as accessories, East Coast prep essentials (think tweed, cashmere and khaki), made-to-measure suits and limited-edition goods exclusive to this flagship. The iconic pullovers and polos decorated with equestrian insignia take up plenty of space here as well. The Ralph Lauren empire extends across the street to the women's store (at 888 Madison Ave.), which also carries the Ralph Lauren home collection.
965 Madison Ave., 212-396-1884
625 Madison Ave., 212-750-2555
Bette Midler (or, depending on your source, Marilyn Monroe) is credited with saying, “Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world,” If that's true, Madison Avenue is the perfect place to start a quest for world domination. Although the Christian Louboutin boutique is intimate and unassuming from the outside, inside it's stacked with red-soled shoes that range from magnificently over-the-top to understated chic. The shop offers obsessed Louboutinistas a choice from the brand's seasonal collections (which are usually jeweled, feathered and/or neon colored), as well as classic styles. At Stuart Weitzman, a similar combination of superior shoemaking and embellished elegance lures in customers. When it first opened in 1995, the Madison Avenue flagship displayed a commissioned collection of fantastical (and impractical) shoes that drew hundreds of visitors to its storefront. One-of-a-kind, extravagant creations like Weitzman's million-dollar shoe may make noise in the press, but it's the designer's more affordable high-end shoes, crafted from a variety of materials, that keep customers returning.
691 Madison Ave., 212-751-3181
690 Madison Ave., 212-308-3585
Madison Avenue has more than its fair share of luxurious stores, but even still, Hermès stands apart. The upscale French boutique, housed inside a landmark Art Deco building, evokes a feminine feel with its plush ivory carpeting and walls full of pleasing pastel scarves. The store carries a range of women's apparel, but it's the accessories selection that really takes the gâteau. An entire floor is dedicated to the brand's limited-edition items, including enamel cuffs and bracelets, fragrances, gloves and, of course, silk scarves. (The Custom Silk Corner lets shoppers personalize products.) The crème de la crème here is the array of classic Birkin bags, which remain among the industry's most coveted, if no longer nearly impossible to acquire. Directly across the street is Hermès Man, the brand's first and only shop dedicated to dressing super-affluent members of the opposite gender. Offerings include high-end silk neckwear, suits and an entire floor dedicated to made-to-measure services.
747 Madison Ave., 212-645-1797
Despite Alexander McQueen's death in 2010, his namesake label, now helmed by creative director Sarah Burton, continues producing avant-garde runway shows, edgy garments and a skull-embellished line of scarves. The new flagship store, conceptualized by Burton, echoes the label's extravagant feel with Baroque moldings, a black marble floor and a white, gray and blush color scheme throughout. Shop for everything from shoes and accessories to ready-to-wear and runway collections.
Beyond couture clothing and sumptuous shoes, Madison Avenue provides a range of other goods. Fragrance fanatics looking for high-quality formulas and artisanal craftsmanship in the form of candles, beauty products and parfums will delight in the olfactory offerings at Diptyque. High-end jewelry spots include David Yurman, known for its collection of rope-twist textured bracelets and cocktail rings, and Graff Diamonds, which retails some of the finest and rarest gems in the world. At the only US location of Ladurée, a premier French sweets maker, sugar fiends will find macarons in a rainbow of colors as well as delicate Parisian pastries. And buyers on the hunt for chic shades should visit the Oliver Peoples boutique for a catalog of handcrafted (and high-priced) frames.