Wed, Jan 04, 2006 - Page 13 News List

'Shoppertainment' is addictive

Free time and a credit card in Las Vegas often means shopping rather gambling


A view of the main entrance at the Forum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.


When the doors to the Wynn Las Vegas opened at 12am on April 29, visitors stormed the entrance to see if Steve Wynn's US$2.7 billion luxury resort would live up to all the hype. Throngs clamored for a view of the waterfall behind the coniferous tree-covered mountain, a taste of Daniel Boulud's first Las Vegas restaurant or a round on the 18-hole golf course.

For me, it all came down to pure retail, with a burning question that sparked a pilgrimage from my home in Los Angeles: Could the Wynn Esplanade, a massive collection of high-end shops, measure up to Las Vegas' war horses, like the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace or the earlier Wynn creation, Via Bellagio? With such a dense concentration of stores on the 3km Strip, the "what happens here, stays here" vibe and the calculated luxury of the "esplanades," "vias" and "shoppes," even the most seasoned shopper can be rendered utterly defenseless.

And they say gambling is addictive.

For hard-core shoppers, even Banana Republic seems alluring. Every glassed-in mannequin sings a siren song. And suddenly, you find yourself in stores you wouldn't normally be drawn to, indulging in clothes you wouldn't normally wear and spending money you don't have. Or, in my case, wading through kilometers of storefronts just to size up the new kid on the block.

Las Vegas shopping is like most things the town does well: It's simply bigger, better and more fun.

The stores are not just stores, they're the backdrop for shoppertainment. At the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian, singing gondoliers spirit shoppers down a winding canal while street performers entertain those on foot. Desert Passage, the mall at the Aladdin, has a Moroccan bazaar theme, replete with a manufactured thunderstorm that brews every half hour.

For my first stop, I chose the climate-controlled, color-morphing Mediterranean skies of the Forum Shops at Caesars, a colossal assemblage of designer stores attached to Caesars Palace. It is said to be the most lucrative shopping mall in the country. I marched past animatronic Bacchus and Venus sculptures, gigantic fountains, statues and colonnades, and climbed a spiral-shaped escalator -- all to get a sense of the real spectacle: the stores themselves.

There are just so many of them, from Diesel to Dior. The window shoppers peeped at the ornate Victoria's Secret, more burlesque show than store, and fogged up the display cases at the Tourneau Time Dome, the largest watch store in the country. Collectors bought Las Vegas keepsakes, ranging from a US$3.99 magnet depicting the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign, for sale at Magnets Maximus, to a US$320 pair of crystal dice, sold only in the Las Vegas outlet of Baccarat, the French crystal company. And even I had specialty shops to get excited about -- like Giuseppe Zanotti, the Italian shoemaker, and Scoop NYC, the chic sportswear boutique -- neither of which has an outpost in Los Angeles.

Despite the thick mass of people meandering around the Forum, the higher-end shops were deserted. (No worry: One high roller a day will meet the store's quota.) In the mod and colorful Emilio Pucci store, a salesperson pounced the moment I paused in front of a large, US$690 handbag -- hoping, no doubt, that I was today's big spender. "Fabulous. Bluebell print. You must have it, no?"

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