Only four years ago, Buenos Aires, like all of Argentina, was in the middle of economic chaos, inching dangerously close to bankruptcy. But now the peso is on the uptick and the capital is flourishing again—actually, more than flourishing. It's arguably South America's most exciting metropolis, with a vibrant youth scene and an ever-developing design culture that mingles comfortably with the city's tradition of master craftsmanship. All of which makes Buenos Aires a fantastic place to shop. Sure, the mammoth, impersonal shopping malls are still going strong. Yet there is a rank of small and eclectic boutiques—some well established, selling classic leather goods and polo paraphernalia, and others catering to young fashionistas. In a few cases, new shops have accompanied the rebirth of entire neighborhoods, such as Palermo Viejo, where cool hunters roam the old streets in search of edgy design and vintage modernist furniture. The mix of offerings—part South American, part European—is what defines porteño style and has made Buenos Aires hot once more.
This equestrian temple is much loved by gauchos, polo players, and those who just want to look like them. The jam-packed space offers plenty of hardworking saddles and bridles, but it also sells clothing and accessories that would be as chic on the street as they would on an estancia. The buttery suede jackets (from $220) are exquisite and the wool ponchos (from $230), in sober tones with subtle graphic designs, are beautifully made. Other great finds include leather-and-cloth belts with colorful geometric patterns and white polo trousers stitched with a red Arandú insignia. At 1259 Paraguay; 54-11/4816-3689; www.tal-arandu.com.
LA CASA DE LAS BOTAS
At this other horseman's paradise, not far from the hopping streets of Palermo, Jorge Da Silva Villagrán and his team custom-make beautiful leather riding boots in classic shapes and heights. Da Silva Villagrán takes your measurements (feet, ankle, midcalf, knee) then escorts you to the workshop, where you pick out your leather from a selection of four weights and four colors. Surveying the no-frills atelier, manned by a staff that looks as if it knows its way around a paddock, you might feel a bit out of place ordering riding boots for purely sartorial reasons. Don't. Da Silva Villagrán himself will tell you that young porteñas are wearing his designs with skirts all around town. He'll even tailor them for comfort, using extra-supple leather. Boots start at $275 and take a month to complete; you'll receive them via FedEx. $ At 5062 Paraguay; 54-11/4776-0762; www.casadelasbotas.com.ar.
"Paul Smith goes to Maui" best describes this hip men's clothing store in Palermo. Here sexy young women lounge on daybeds while men parade in and out of the dressing rooms, trying on fitted shirts in colorful floral patterns ($50), clingy wool sweaters in electric shades ($65), and T-shirts emblazoned with nostalgic images and slogans ($25). A stone's throw away on El Salvador street is the adorable baby-brother boutique, Felix para Niños, where you can get many of the same cheerful, whimsical clothes in children's sizes. At 1670 Gurruchaga; 54-11/4832-2994; www.felixba.com.ar.
Occupying an enviable corner of Plaza Dorrego, the site of San Telmo's picturesque—and always sensational—flea market, this vintage clothing emporium carries a staggering range of treasures, all of excellent quality and in superb condition. Geared toward serious collectors, Gil sells antique linens (from $50), dresses dating back to Victorian times (from $400), and hats from the 19th century (from $25). The first floor of the three-level shop is dotted with artful arrangements of tortoiseshell accessories, jewels (real and faux), and old ponchos. On the lower level is a stash of rare beauties—clothing sorted by era, only accessible to customers accompanied by a salesperson. At 412 Humberto 1; 54-11/4361-5019; www.gilantiguedades.com.ar.
With its two locations in Palermo, Gropius is proof that the craving for Midcentury Modern furniture rages on in both hemispheres of the Americas. One shop is a warehouselike space selling copies of designs by such luminaries as Wegner and Mies van der Rohe (from $100); the second store is devoted to original vintage pieces. Though the latter is not the place to hunt down any Prouvé chairs—the big-name stuff has all been pretty much picked clean—it nevertheless offers a wide assortment of items from the fifties and sixties, some of it quite remarkable. We particularly liked a series of geometric blond-wood coffee tables with glass tops ($140-$275). Both shops ship worldwide. $ At 6027 and 5851 Honduras; 54-11/4774-2094 and 54-11/4774-1535.
Of the many shoe stores that line the streets of Palermo, Mishka stands up to just about any designer in Europe or America. The forties-inspired open-toe sandals and glittery stilettos ($80-$95) would be right at home on the shelves of Barneys. As a matter of fact, Mishka has begun exporting its creations to a number of boutiques in Paris. The company has several locations in the city, but this one has the largest collection. At 4673 El Salvador; 54-11/4833-6566.
At this airy, high-ceilinged boutique, paper, it seems, is an obsession. Rolls and rolls of patterned giftwrapping hang along the walls; tables are stacked with notebooks, photo albums, and stationery in every possible style and color. There is inexpensive mass-produced stock, or you can dig deeper for exceptional handmade sheets in varying thickness and texture. Our favorite is the pastel-colored stationery with matching envelopes. At 4945 Honduras; 54-11/4833-3081; www.papelerapalermo.com.
Though named after the Mayan city where the so-called Lord Chocolate was entombed, Tikal has a recognizably contemporary edge. The artisanal, organic collection of chocolate—in such flavors as bitter, lemon, and dulce de leche—comes beautifully packaged in orange silk paper. Truffles and chocolate-covered coffee beans are another specialty of this shop with just two tables; so is the homemade ice cream, all variations on the cocoa theme. At 4890 Honduras; 54-11/4831-2242.
Where to Stay
The city's two grande dame hotels recently had a little work done: The façade of the Alvear Palace (www.alvearpalace.com) has been returned to its original 1932 glory, and the 165 rooms at the Four Seasons (www.fourseasons.com) just emerged from an extensive redo—and got a spa in the process.
To sample what Argentina does best—steak and wine—there's La Cabrera (5099 Cabrera; 54-11/4831-7002), a hot spot in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Palermo, and the classic La Brigada (465 Estados Unidos; 54-11/4361-5557), a local favorite for its impressive cuts and even more impressive cellar.
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.