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


I demurred and after a few more failed attempts, he found readier prey in a woman who asked to try on some down-filled moon boots for US$250. Moments later, as the woman handed over her credit card, I asked her where she was from. "Western Florida," she said. Where it gets cold enough for moon boots? "It's a souvenir."

This was no ordinary shopping mall.

I could not say the same for the Fashion Show Mall, the other major shopping center on the Strip. It is huge: 600,000m2, to be exact. It has over 250 stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, an Apple store, and some smaller boutiques like Talulah G, which stocks the hard-to-find Chloe calfskin Paddington Bag for US$1,200 and True Religion jeans, which start at US$182.

But without significant shoppertainment -- save its rising runway that features flashy fashion shows three days a week -- you could be anywhere, to which I say: If you're going to be anywhere, you might as well get a discount. The Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, a 30-minute drive from the Strip, in Primm, a town on the California border, offer merchandise similar to that at the Fashion Show's Neiman Marcus, BCBG and Cole Haan shops, for discounts of 50 percent and 60 percent.

It was time to hit the Wynn. In 1998, when Wynn opened the Via Bellagio, it was the first to lure such luxury retailers as Chanel, Giorgio Armani, Hermes and Prada to a Las Vegas resort. Since then, new high-end stores have appeared in lesser resorts, the Forum Shops have expanded (though the Gucci at the Bellagio, placed next to its Italian rivals, Fendi and Prada, seems more alluring than its Forum counterpart) and Wynn has sold the Bellagio.

Anticipating Steve Wynn's personal one-upmanship was making me wildly curious, so I hopped a cab for the 2km ride up Las Vegas Boulevard to the Wynn Las Vegas. Eleven minutes later, I arrived at the entrance, which I made the mistake of bypassing in order to visit the Penske-Wynn Ferrari-Maserati dealership at the other end of the grand circular drive. A warning: You can only access the showroom from inside the casino, and the line can be as long as the one for a Cirque du Soleil show. And if you're in the market for a new Ferrari (they start at around US$200,000), you'll have to wait for that, too, the dealership's allotment was sold out within two months of opening.

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I finally arrived at the Wynn Esplanade. A majestic choir, perhaps? An astounding array of luxury boutiques I had always wanted to shop in? Or relief for my aching feet? There was no choir, and although I spotted the first Las Vegas retail branches of Oscar de la Renta, Jean Paul Gaultier and Manolo Blahnik among the hallway of marquee-name shops, it was the comfort of the plush, parasol-patterned carpet beneath my feet that truly impressed. There was also a calm about the place, as if it were kilometers away from the din of the casino.

What differentiates the Wynn Esplanade is the Wynn experience. If there's a theme, it's "our palace is your palace." Shoppers and gawkers are equally represented, gazing up at the fabric-covered domes and pausing in front of the lush greenery.

Inside Cartier, when I said I was "just looking," I was given a glass of champagne and shown a specialty dice charm for US$3,150, made exclusively for the Wynn. You don't even need money: In Chanel, a woman without a purse paid US$1,795 for one just by showing her room key. I was studying a case of yellow diamonds at Graff, the London-based jeweler, when a middle-aged man in shorts, socks and sandals came in. "I was just hoping to take a picture of the marble floor," he said.

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