Warsaw’s rebirth is complete. A city once regarded as dark, drab and dowdy has come to be recognized as one of the most thrilling cities in Europe. That’s something reflected in her architecture, attitude, restaurants and bars. It’s also mirrored by her growing taste in fashion. A city that used to dress itself in tracksuits and slip-ons is now awash with logos and labels. Looking good, all of a sudden, is essential.
With its studios, ateliers and boutiques, Mokotowska has come to be represent Warsaw’s sartorial heart, an elegant street with a heavy Parisian accent: high style and high prices define it. And yet, lurking under all the prohibitive price tags, bargains do exist. At least, they do in one place. Tucked in a courtyard, Designer Secret proffers a glittering roll call of designer names at rock bottom prices: in some cases, up to 85% off. In fact, it’s such a good deal you find yourself asking what the catch is. The answer is, there isn’t any.
The brainchild of Londoner Max Doe, DS originated as an invite-only designer discount market offering cut-price clobber from last season’s collections. The events were a success, and prompted Max and his wife to open a shop two years back. This year, they’ve taken the next logical step, moving from the Panorama mall to Warsaw’s couture heart.
Divided on gender lines, the offer ranges from chic and simple to daring and provocative. There’s fancy footwear (Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Giuseppe Zanotti, etc.), accessories (Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Ann Demeuleester, Dsquared 2, and many more), bags (a Marni python skin bag, reduced from zł 6,400 to zł. 1,590), and above all, clothing. New deliveries arrive each month, with Max sifting through 250,000 items per month to handpick articles to add to the estimated 150 labels already in stock. Among those, Stella McCartney is handed her Polish debut, while other rare finds like Commes Des Garcons make it a place of pilgrimage for Warsaw fashionistas.
This is not some outlet store offering reject goods, the stock is high quality and often unique: crikey, there’s even a wedding dress from Carolina Herrera. Without fail though, the talking point returns to the concessions. A silk Westwood dress has been slashed from zł. 11,760 to zł. 1,490; at the lower end, a classic black tunic from Maison Martin Margiela has been cut from zł. 800 down to zł. 220. To quote Max, “these are luxury brands at H&M prices”.
The proprietor though is keen to stress that DS is more than just a shop. Part of the reason for leaving Panorama can be traced to the desire to provide a more personal experience. And that’s exactly what you get here: shopping mall anonymity and snooping assistants are traded for something that’s intensely intimate. “We’re not just selling clothes,” says Max, “this is a lifestyle thing – we want to know the customer, to build a relationship with them”. It’s an aim that’s achieved through monthly events (for details / invites, like their Facebook), not to mention the Prosecco that gets poured for partners who wait for the other half while they browse the portfolio. These are nice touches, for sure, but the reason that Designer Secret isn’t much of a secret anymore is much more basic: it’s simply very good. (AW)