If your budget hinders you from splurging on one-off designs, there are ways of taking in Amsterdam's voguish vibe - on the cheap.
Amsterdam is a city reputed for its inventiveness and claims as its own numerous fashion and design icons. From night clubs to the fashion runway, the city is a trendy stimulus.
New kids on the block
If you visit Amsterdam in January or July you're lucky to get a glimpse at the principal Dutch fashion event, Amsterdam Fashion Week. It's the platform that's launched many young, talented Dutch fashion designers. Besides the catwalk shows, there are plenty of impromptu events and parties where the average onlooker can socialize with the fashion elite. ‘Red Light Fashion' is slowly transforming the Red Light District into a quirky fashion scene by turning former prostitute windows into exhibition spaces and studios for talented clothing, shoe, and street-wear designers. The aim is to give the city's many talented designers a stage from which to display their creations in public.
Amsterdam is compact and a great place for international brand shopping, as well as up-and-coming Dutch designers. The Museum District (around the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum) is home to the majority of Amsterdam's luxury boutiques and designer stores. Put on your sunglasses and stroll nonchalantly down the P.C. Hooftstraat - Amsterdam's high-class shopping street. Along three short blocks, you'll find Chanel, Louis Vuitton, DKNY, Mulberry, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and more. Renowned Dutch couturiers Frans Molenaar, Mart Visser, Victor Rolf, and Sheila de Vries are totally at home in ‘the P.C.' and in the chic Cornelis Schuytstraat.
Clothes with a past
Of course, you don't have to shop to enjoy fashion. A must-see museum at the top of any fashionista's list is the Museum of Bags and Purses (Herengracht 573). Considered to be one of the top fashion museums in the world, it has a focused collection of bags (over 4000 of the little darlings!) dating back to the Middle Ages. Once you've overdosed on bags, head to the Hermitage Amsterdam (Amstel 51) for gorgeous antique ball gowns, uniforms, and jewel-encrusted accessories. Take time to stop at the National Museum of Spectacles, which takes you through 700 years of art, culture, and history related to eyeglasses.
There is a whole range of second-hand shops in Amsterdam - from thrift stores to cozy vintage boutiques. Many are located in the Nine Streets district – four of the best within this area include Laura Dols (Wolvenstraat 7) who has a collection of women's clothes from different decades. Downstairs there are party dresses ranging from the 20s to the 90s - and a collection of wedding dresses. If you have a party to dress up for, this may just be the place for you! Then there's Wini (Haarlemmerstraat 29), who specializes in vintage dresses. The shop sells men's clothing as well. Some of it new with a retro feel, like 50s-style polo shirts or flared jeans. There's a collection of vintage fabrics and vintage women's undergarments. They have retro kid's jackets, jewelry and, if you're on the market for 60s ski trousers or a perfect petticoat, this is your shop. Don't let yourself be fooled by the small size of 1953 Retro en chic (Staalstraat 2) – it's brimming with must-haves! Once inside you'll find yourself in a boudoir from a bygone era. This shop has many rare items, spanning the period from 1800 to 1980. Dresses, shoes, hats, powder boxes, bags, elegant antiquities, and some men's clothing downstairs. Prices range from fairly cheap to more expensive, given that the owner gets some of these rare garments from London and Paris. Out of the Closet (Jodenbreestraat 158) is a thrift chain store from the US. The shop is owned and operated by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Funds earned by the resale of donated clothing, accessories, furniture and other items go directly into the organization's free AIDS programmes around the world, including HIV/AIDS testing, education, prevention, outreach and the care and treatment of patients worldwide.
At Waterlooplein there's a permanent market, open from Monday to Saturday. Several stalls have second-hand clothing with army wear, dresses and tons of shoes. At the Noordermarkt there are stalls with vintage clothes every Monday morning. It's a real treat to walk around here, rumble through the piles of clothes and try on the crazy boots and party dresses. The first weekend of every month there's a huge flea market in the north of Amsterdam (the free ferry behind Amsterdam Central Station will take you there) at the NDSM Wharf. Count on a good few hours to check out all the stalls.
Although they're open, tolerant and free-spirited, the Dutch are known for their creativity and spirit of commerce. They also have a touch of dry humor; they're thrifty and have a long history in trade. All of which reflects in their practical and incredibly innovative interior design products.
Five of the most exceptional must-visit design stores in Amsterdam include Droog@Home, an avant-garde design collective that's taken up shop in a century's old building at Staalstraat 7B. Situated in a beautiful old house on Rusland 3 is WonderWood, perhaps the only store in the world to specialize in designer plywood furniture. It showcases vintage plywood chairs and tables from the 1940s through to the 1960s. Friday Next on Overtoom 31 is a concept store in Amsterdam West that combines interior design, fashion and eating in one ever-changing space. Then there's Store Without a Home on Haarlemmerdijk 26 - its name may be a misnomer, but there's no mistaking the interesting collection of art, furniture, fashion, and accessories from local and international designers. Woonbeurs Amsterdam on Europaplein 22 is for home enthusiasts. Every day you can join in on workshops, decorating advice sessions and presentations in the living theatre, where visitors can see the latest trends in interior design presented in a variety of living styles.
Forget about hiring a car, bring sturdy walking shoes and use them – walking is the only way to see Amsterdam unless you hire a bicycle. You'll not see a street you wouldn't want to live on, a deli you wouldn't like to get to know, or a view you wouldn't like to call your own.
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Text and photos by Cindy-Lou Dale