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If, like me, you go to Italy and dream about owning a beautiful Italian-made handbag or wallet by Gucci, Fendi or Ferregamo but can never quite stretch to spending those outrageous sums of money, then allow me to let you in my big lux secret: The Mall.

The Mall is located just north of Florence, Tuscany. Last October, I was lucky enough to go there for the second time. Do you know it? Its not really a secret ~ but I’ve never met anyone else who has heard of it, certainly not any fellow Aussies. I don’t know why. It’s definitely the best designer label outlet centre I’ve ever been to, bar none.  And I’ve been to quite a few outlets. Who doesn’t love a bargain?

Its an outdoor mall located about a half an hours drive north of Florence, nestled in beautiful open countryside. I have to say the setting is just beautiful. According to their website there is a special coach that picks up and drops off from very close to the Santa Maria Novella train station in the centre of Florence, on Via Santa Caterina da Siena 17… although I’ve never taken it.

Both times I’ve visited we’ve hired a car and driven there, in order to be able to do it on our own schedule. The first time we went was perhaps six years ago. We hired a cute little Fiat Punto, and managed to navigate our way from Florence into the car park… and we were stunned because the carpark was like a super car showroom. There were Lamborghini’s, Ferrari’s, Porsches, one after the other in the car park! My first thoughts were “oh no… we can’t afford this place…”

…and then we walked up the perfectly manicured street into the Mall itself. It was gorgeous… and the people! the customers! Oh my goodness…. just as stunning! they all looked like supermodels or pouty Victoria Beckham look-alikes. I thought well, if nothing else, it’ll be a great place to people-watch. Having hired a car and navigated our way there, we pressed on.

Just about every high fashion label is there; Dior, Ferragamo, Prada, Armani, Tods, Burberry, Fendi, Bottega Veneta, Diesel, Alexander McQueen, the list goes on and on. I would suggest allowing a good few hours to look through them all. Most of them are larger than your average city-centre label shop would be, but the building (temple) dedicated to Prada and the one dedicated to Gucci are huge. The Prada shop is more like a department store. Its over two levels and the shoe department alone is huge. Of course there’s ladies and gents perfume, handbags, wallets briefcases, satchels and so on, and up the sleek shiny escalator is clothing… everything from jeans and T’s, to casual dresses and stunning evening dresses, mens suits, leisurewear and so on. It was quite busy both times I’ve been there, but not crazy-lady grabby-busy. Quite genteel and ordered.

It seemed to me that most of the stock is simply unsold or excess stock, and not necessarily out of season, as I was there late summer and there were summer and trans-seasonal pieces throughout all the shops. They say that the discounts are at least 20% off the original prices, but I can tell you right now, that must be the absolute minimum, because I bought a beautiful Balenciaga day dress reduced from €1300 to €175. Nowhere on the ticket did it say the original price, but that evening I did an online price check and found the dress had been listed two years before with a very well known pret-a-porter site for €1300. My husband picked up a fabulous hand embellished biker jacket at Alexander McQueen for €375. Definitely not super-cheap, but a one-off purchase… not something he’d ever pay full price for.

There are certainly some pricy things there. But there are definitely some incredible bargains there too. The first time we were there, my husband picked up a lovely Black Label Armani shirt with the faintest dirty fingerprint on the hem. It was the only one there, and it happened to be in his size. I think he paid for €10 or €20 for it. It wasn’t much. The tailoring and quality was impeccable, and he got so many compliments every time he wore it that when we got home to Sydney he sent me in to Armani in the city to get him another one. I told them what I wanted and in very hushed tones they ushered me into the private viewing area, handed me a glass of champagne and had a lovely male model try them on for me… That’s when it hit me that this must really be a very fancy shirt… so I asked how much they were… AU$500 each!!! Ouch. I didn’t buy another one in Sydney, but last year Armani had a whole rack of them. In mauve.

As a non-EU tourist we are also entitled to a (currently) 20% VAT refund for purchases above €155. It can be several smaller priced items – as long as they are are billed together in the same receipt at the same time and from the same shop and add up to more than €155. Don’t forget to ask the sales people for the receipt because they won’t do it unless you ask, and you must have your passport with you to prove that you’re not an EU citizen. Don’t forget the passport. For maximum convenience, you can even process your refund(s) at the designated office located at the foot of The Mall, although we didn’t bother as there was quite a queue, and we knew that we would have to go through the whole process at the airport anyway with other things we’d bought. I must say though, its a laborious and painful task to do at the airport, and you MUST show the items BEFORE you check in, so allow plenty of time to stand in those queues. There’s one queue to show the goods, and another queue to submit the paperwork…. we bought quite a lot between us, so it was worth the hassle, but if you know you’re not going to claim anything else then I would do the paperwork right there.

There’s a restaurant upstairs on the grounds too, very shiny and clean, where you can fan your poor husband who might suffering heart palpitations and feed him gelato and a nice cold beer, while you sip a glass of wine and work out your budget and buying strategy.

I bought a lovely little leather handbag in Prada for €300. With the VAT refund it ended up costing €240 — plus the exchange rate at the time was pretty good, so I think it ended up costing me about $315. Its not super cheap, but that is a whole lot less than some handbags I’ve seen in some Sydney chain stores. And my Balenciaga dress ended up costing me about $150 after the tax refund. Really. Bargain!


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