It was the most gorgeous of gifts.
Not long ago, a thoughtful British husband decided to pamper his busy wife with a wardrobe reinvention. He booked a personal stylist at Bicester Village, the luxury outlet and dining destination in leafy Oxfordshire, less than an hour outside of London.
Following a preliminary video consultation, the stylist curated an array of designer clothing and accessories from the property’s 150-plus boutiques and arranged them in a private suite with plush velvet seating. Over Champagne and cake, the lucky guest modeled her finds.
Not only did she end up with elegant new attire, but it was a fun and glamorous day out.
That’s the kind of elevated experience available to guests at Bicester, one of 11 open-air retail Villages near European and Asian gateway cities, including Paris, Milan, Barcelona, Brussels, Dublin, Frankfurt and Shanghai.
These chic shopping promenades are worlds away from American-style outlet malls with cookie-cutter units and fast-food courts. Bicester, for instance, feels like a charming English town center, with flowers blooming everywhere.
The retail playground boasts a store selection rivaling Fifth Avenue or Bond Street; a slate of award-winning restaurants, cafes and food trucks, including Soho House’s Farmshop and Cecconi’s; and service levels on par with five-star hotels. There’s even an actual playground for kids, where security guards bestow beribboned teddy bears on little ones. The vibe is festive and the sophisticated crowd is international.
“Guests need to leave with a feel-good factor, but they don’t know why,” said Desirée Bollier, chair and global chief merchant for the Bicester Collection. “We are selling the invisible, which is leaving you with memories. There is an element of surprise and delight.”
Of course, the savings are equally exciting. Fashion, lifestyle, beauty, and homeware boutiques offer discounts of up to 60% off suggested retail prices. Bicester Village shoppers find everything from power brands like Prada, Saint Laurent, Gucci, Celine, Bottega Veneta, and Ferragamo to hype labels like Off-White and Palm Angels. If shoes are your Holy Grail, hotfoot it to Aquazzura, Christian Louboutin, and Roger Vivier.
In the mix at every Village are local labels exclusive to the Bicester Collection. For instance, iconic French houses like J.M. Weston (hand-finished shoes) and Baccarat (legacy crystal) have that je ne sais quoi at La Vallée Village, outside of Paris. At Bicester itself, best-of-British brands such as Bamford (artisanal body care and fragrances) and Annoushka (fine jewelry favored by Kate Middleton) hold court.
Adding novelty are pop-up shops and activations. This summer, La Vallée’s F.A.M.E. festival salutes the worlds of food, art, fashion, and entertainment via a packed schedule of workshops, live performances and exhibits.
Shoppers are also spoiled with an array of services that enhance convenience. Don’t want to lug bags? Register with the concierge for hands-free shopping (prices vary per village), whereby purchases are collected from stores and delivered to your chosen location at a designated time. Prefer not to wait in line at popular boutiques? At Bicester and La Vallée, leave your name and number with a host who will text you when it’s time to go back.
Even transportation is sorted at most of the European Villages, with express shuttles from city centers for nominal fees and, in the case of Bicester, a train from London Marylebone station that deposits travelers next to the Village.
“The whole idea of retail hospitality is part of our DNA,” says Bollier. “What would make our guests comfortable? Hospitality is a hug. It’s not programmed.”
Select guests can kick back at invitation-only Apartments, art-filled spaces that look like sumptuous living rooms. There, VIPs can do everything from relaxing over drinks to browsing trunk shows or taking in a concert. At Bicester, a team of Apartment concierges will even organize private tours of nearby attractions, including Blenheim Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Waddesdon Manor, home to the Rothschild collection of arts.
Private shopping suites and personal stylists are available to everyone and are complimentary at most Villages. The expert team will do everything from handpicking Christmas presents for friends and family to editing a bridal trousseau.
As for the busy wife, she and her husband were so thrilled with her shopping spree that he’s already booked a second extravaganza.