Global Shopping Goddess Suzy Gershman and Kelly Regan get together to talk shop . . . or shopping, anyway. Suzy, author of the Born to Shop series, reveals what she considers to be the latest shopping trends in New York, and names her favorite three places to shop in the Big Apple. Along with some advice on shopping philosophy and how to determine if something you want is really worth the price on the tag, Suzy also tells us about her upcoming Shopper's Guide to the World, names the best place in the world to buy a raincoat for a dog (Tokyo) and much more!

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  • Shopping: Century 21
  • Japanese Fashion: Takashimaya
  • Hong Kong Store: Blanc de Chine


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Kelly Regan: Hi, and welcome to a conversation about all things travel. I'm Kelly Regan, Editorial Director of the Frommers Travel Guides. I'll be your host.

My guest today is Suzy Gershman, the author of our book "Born to Shop New York," which is on sale now. Suzy is a journalist, author, and a global shopping goddess, who has been writing the Born To Shop guides for more than 20 years. The books are translated into eight languages.

Suzy is also the author of "C'est La Vie," the story of her first year as a widow living in Paris. When not in an airport, Suzy can be found in Paris, Provence, or San Antonio, Texas, and she is currently working on a guide for Frommer's to the world's best shopping destinations.

Suzy, welcome to the program and thanks for joining us.

Suzy Gershman: Oh, I'm happy to be here, Kelly.
Kelly: Good. Let's talk first about the new edition of your "Born to Shop New York" guide. In the past few years, what are the latest shopping trends that you have noticed in New York City?
Suzy: New York always astounds me, because I am so devoted to international travel, and I always think that people have to travel to broaden their horizons, and then I get to New York and you find everything there. One of the trends I have noticed is that the stores keep getting fancier and more expensive, and I wonder who can afford this. Then I find more and more funky stuff, and bargain places, and then you get something like, there is this newish -- it's not brand new, but newish -- chain called Layla Rowe, it's her last name, and she makes really cheap, junky, fun, ethnic-y kind of jewelry. So it is affordable, it is chic, it is hot.

There are 10 or 15 of these stores all over Manhattan. I don't think she has expanded too much out of the Northeast area, but it is a very "discover it in New York" kind of thing. So you are going to find stuff you can't find anyplace else, and you can find everything at every price. New York is the beginning and the end of the world.

Kelly: Which is interesting, because people sometimes view New York as this extremely expensive destination, and they don't realize that there are some real bargains to have. So for people who may be traveling on a budget, what do you think are the best bargains that New York City has to offer?
Suzy: Well, I mean, you can just lock me into Century 21, and I'm very happy. I always bemoan schlepping all the way down to the tip of New York, and of course it is emotionally difficult to be right there by the World Trade Center site. But once you get into Century 21, you forget all other emotions.
Kelly: For people who might not be aware of that, Century 21 is similar to a Marshall's or a T.J. Maxx, but sort of a Marshall's or T.J. Maxx on acid, because they have...
Suzy: Exactly. They have, really, they have a lot of Italian merchandise, they have a lot of designer merchandise, they have plus sizes, they have petite sizes, they have home, they have electronics. Their cosmetics and perfumes and stuff like that are not a really good buy because they are not really discounted. They give you a voucher like sort of a prize, but you shouldn't think that everything there is inexpensive.

I mean, I have bought Armani suits. I wear Jones New York, that fits me really well. It is not a big fancy name, but it fits me, and who wants to pay full price for anything? So they have got everything. Even the men's department is great, the men's ties are fabulous. It is just a one-stop. It is truly -- it is a department store with, things are priced what they should be. You know, sometimes you go into a store and you think, "I can't wait for this to go on sale," or "Who are they kidding," or "Nobody is going to buy this. I'll wait till it's marked down." This is a store where you grab it with glee.

Kelly: Right, it is very much one of these take-it-now-or-else-you're-going-to-miss-it.
Suzy: Right, or somebody will kill you for it five minutes later. Grab it when you can.
Kelly: Right, right. Well, so apart from Century 21, if you had to pick your three favorite stores in New York City, what do you think they would be and why?
Suzy: OK, now that is an interesting question, because to me very often a store is not really about shopping or what you buy there, it is about the experience, about the visual, the entertainment, almost the showbiz factor.

Certainly, one of my favorite stores in New York is The Takashimaya. It is owned by the Takashimaya Japanese department store company, but it is not really a Japanese department store, and it is nothing like Takashimaya in Tokyo, if people have that reference. It is just elegant and chic and beautiful. I can't afford anything there, but it's not really where you're going to shop. Takashimaya in New York, right there on Fifth Avenue, that is one of my favorites.

Now right near there is a store called Blanc de Chine -- Chine like China in French. It is a newcomer to New York, this is a Hong Kong store, and I categorize this as Giorgio Armani-meets-Shanghai Tang. It is slightly Chinese-y ethnic, but not costume-y. It is expensive but very tailored and classic, and they only have this one store in the United States right now. They also have home style, and they even have these little packages for the airplane that include your goggles and cashmere and your throw, the just "must-haves."

Kelly: So it is mostly clothes?
Suzy: It is mostly clothes. There are clothes for men and for women, and home style. So they have got bed linens and throws and bathrobes, your basic elegant stuff. But it is very simple, chic, classical. It would be a fusion restaurant if it was a place to eat. A little bit of a twist.

Another New York favorite that I have -- this isn't by any means a New York store -- but there is a brand new Anthropologie flagship. Anthropologie is from Philadelphia and it's a chain, but they have just opened a big new store at Rock Center. That is kind of fun. It used to be that you had to go all the way down Fifth Avenue to around 14th Street to go in Anthropologie. Anthropologies are all the same and different. I like the mix. They have got a lot of style, you can afford stuff. It's a look, it's a feel, it's a lifestyle. I am a big Anthropologie fan. So certainly that's fun. And you know, while you are at Rock Center, between everything that is right there, and Saks Fifth Avenue -- there is no Saks like that Saks. That is the best Saks. My motto is sort of: if you need it and you are going to pay full retail, just go to Saks.

Kelly: Just go to Saks.
Suzy: It is all right there in New York, waiting for you.
Kelly: I'm curious about what your shopping philosophy is. I mean, are there things that you will definitely splurge on and things that you will only ever buy at a discount?
Suzy: No, it's not really that clear cut. It is rare for me to pay full price for something. I do -- Blanc de Chine is a good example, I have walked into Blanc de Chine and paid $400 for a Chinese blazer because it is a classic, and I will wear it forever.
Kelly: Holy cow.
Suzy: But it is that kind of thing where you convince yourself that this is a classic. I think classic equals retail price. When you love it and it fits, and you know you are going to wear it forever; if it looks good with jeans and for dress-up, then you can just talk yourself into anything.
Kelly: It is really an internal decision-making process, right? I mean, with anything you are going to buy it's like, "Well how much am I willing to pay for it? How much do I want it? Is this something that I really can't live without?"
Suzy: Also, I think it's related to lifestyle and life cycle. I'm getting to the stage in my career where I've now done this enough that I can say to myself, "Suze, stop buying junk. Don't buy any more cheap stuff that's trendy or whatever." Buy the one good thing that looks like a million dollars no matter what you wear it with. And I'm always attracted to a $10 pair of earrings. And then I have to fight with myself and say, "Wait a second. You've got a good pair of Chanel earrings." Have one good pair of $100 earrings and wear the hell out of them, as opposed to yet another pair of cheap earrings that you're going to take off and leave next to the telephone anyway. I think that wearing mis-matched earrings should actually come into style.
Kelly: That's one of my fashion centerpieces, I have to say. I don't think I wear two earrings that match. Maybe between the two of us we can start a trend.
Suzy: That's right. Or we could even start a store.
Kelly: That's right. Where you only buy single earrings at a time. I think that's an idea that's time has come.
Suzy: Or they should sell three earrings. That way you've always got that back-up.
Kelly: Yeah, exactly.
Suzy: I think we're onto something.
Kelly: Right. At the moment, I know that you're also working on a book for us called "A Shopper's Guide to the World," which is such a wonderful title. Tell us a bit about the philosophy behind the book and what you want readers to take away from this guide.
Suzy: This guide is the book that I have been practicing to write for most of my life. I've been doing "Born to Shop" now for 22 years. The series has always, since it was created, been destination oriented. So, whether it's a country or a city or whatever, you know it by the destination.

The flip side with "Shopper's Guide" is that it is product, service and merchandise oriented, and it covers about 55 different cities. It's a different depth, but it's cities that I've been going to. It's got tons of web information.

Kelly: That's great.
Suzy: So, it's almost and armchair, vicarious -- you don't have to dream about 1,000 places you have to go to before you die. This is 1,000 places to shop in right now. It covers everything from foodstuffs to children's clothing to jeans. My jeans section is enormous. And then there's little boxes and how-to sections and tips. So, it's not like fancy names. No one needs to know where the nearest Cartier shop is. Cartier is an excellent brand, but, we're not talking about the best things in the world in terms of price -- or Lamborghini or brand -- we're talking about the best things at their price for what you want to buy.

I was just walking out of the subway in Tokyo a couple of months ago, and I passed a store that only makes raincoats for dogs. That's the kind of stuff that this book is going to report. So that it's going to be fun. Whether you have a dog, or your dog needs a raincoat. It's fun information. It gives you information, it gives you a giggle. It gives you a solid how-to. It happens to be very popular at Tokyo subway stops, so you're going to pass this little shop if you're in Tokyo anyway.

Kelly: Even if you live with your dog in a very dry locale, your dog might still need a raincoat.
Suzy: Be prepared, that's our motto. So, of course, it has the website and all the information. Maybe you don't want to go to Tokyo, maybe you just want to order online, or give a friend whose got a new dog the right gift, a Japanese raincoat. You just never know. It's serious information, but hopefully there's a Suzy touch to the blend. And I explain some marketing stuff. Why does a handbag cost $1,000 these days?
Kelly: I'd be very curious about that myself. [laughs]
Suzy: It's kind of frightening. I mean, I wouldn't pay $1,000 for a handbag. My idea of a wardrobe is $1,000, and that's everything for the season. I can't afford that on a handbag.
Kelly: Right. Exactly.
Suzy: It's got all of those kinds of things, plus the destination information. One of the things about the destination information that I really have to stress, is that the book covers a lot of cities. This is not like I went through my rolodex and pulled out things that have already been in "Born to Shop" books. I particularly stress new information and cities not covered by "Born to Shop." I'm off to Sydney, I'm going to Dubai, we're covering Capetown. We're covering places that don't have their own "Born To Shop" guides. So, it's really a tour of the world, right there and bound in a book.
Kelly: That's great. What are you going to be on the lookout for in Australia?
Suzy: Well, you know, there's a lot of makeup brands in Australia, some of which I already know and more of which I have to investigate. And my father is 89 years old and he doesn't walk real well. So, I was thinking if I could find him a really big kangaroo, that might beat a wheel chair.
Kelly: OK, so maybe a nice big pouch. Maybe he'd be more comfortable like that.
Suzy: Exactly. We're looking at a geriatric and aging community here, and they have problems that we baby boomers have to solve. So, I'm looking for kangaroo travel for geriatrics. I'm out there looking for everything. I'm going to stay away from "My mom went to Australia and all I got was this crummy t-shirt" kind of stuff.

I'm a very good eater. So I love foodstuffs. I like that combination of art -- Aboriginal art is something I'm very interesting in. And then we've got the Driza-bone raincoat that we all need to know more about. There's some Australian stuff, and then we're going to put another shrimp on the Barbie.

Kelly: Great! So, you've been to so many cities in the course of researching this book. I'm just curious, as a final question, what do you consider to be the world's best shopping destination right now, and why?
Suzy: Yeah, see, I wish I could answer that. All I can tell you is Oslo on a Sunday is very slow. There is not great shopping in Oslo on a Sunday. Beyond that, I'm always finding places; I'm finding districts in cities. I'm not a big mall person or a big brand, big name kind of person. But you put me in a market or a neighborhood, and when I'm there, that is my favorite place in the world and the best place to shop.

I think I've got endless curiosity and unfortunately a limited pocket book, but endless imagination and wanderlust to boot.

Kelly: That's great. I think that's probably all we have time for today. I've been talking with shopping guru Suzy Gershman, who's the author of our book, "Born to Shop New York City," which is on sale now, and who is the author of our forthcoming book "A Shopper's Guide to the World."

So, Suzy, thanks so much for being with us today. I had a lot of fun talking with you.

Suzy: Well, thank you for inviting me, and I look forward to telling you about my next trip.
Kelly: And enjoy your trip to Australia.
Susy: Thank you.


Kelly: Join us next week for another episode of all things travel. I'm Kelly Regan, and we'll talk again soon.

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