Buenos Aires: Faded Elegance, High Design

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Phone Number Note: To reach Argentina from the United States, dial 011 54 11 before all phone numbers listed.

About 15 blocks square, San Telmo is a walkable neighborhood. It’s peppered with boutiques showcasing the latest fashion and cram-jammed with antiques stores, creating a new/old atmosphere that is what Buenos Aires is all about. Stores are usually open between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. (sometimes closed from 2 to 4 p.m. for a lunch break) Monday through Saturday, and lots of places are closed Sunday. There’s often just one of something on display, so if you don’t see what you want in your size, be sure to ask the shop owner.

Feria de San Pedro Telmo

(Antiques)
Plaza Dorrego (corner of Defensa and Humberto Primo)
No phone number available
Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

This legendary antiques fair draws people from all over BA. Dozens of outdoor vendors hawk wooden gramophones, silver, heavy glass seltzer bottles, and other beautiful old things brought here in a hurry by European expatriates arriving a century ago. The best and most authentic antiques are on the raised plaza (where a tango milonga takes place after dark), but the street fair (feria) spills up onto Defensa for several blocks in both directions, drawing dreadlocked hippies drumming and selling handmade jewelry, street performers, and food sellers.

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L’Ago

(Design and Home Accessories)
Defensa 919 and Defensa 970
4362-3641 / 4362-4702
Open daily 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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Residents of Buenos Aires are noted for their sharp taste in design, and nowhere is this more apparent than in home-décor boutiques like L’Ago, where you might wind up buying a locally crafted, hand-painted steamer trunk to ship home all the stuff you didn’t need that you bought here. Plastic art deco–style bananas? Check. Goatskin rug? Check. Cool lamps and light fixtures? Got ’em.

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Paseo del 900

(Antiques)
Defensa 834
No phone number available
Open Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Closed Monday

Toward the back of this beautiful, long gallery of indoor vendors, dozens of stalls sell Napoleonic-era china and crystal chandeliers. In front, pulp fiction, old movie posters, and expired currency boggle the eye. Watch for real antiques mixed with obvious and not-so-obvious fakes. Haggling over prices is not as common in BA as it is in other parts of South America, but some people here will do it. Try saying, “Usted puede hacerme un discuento?” (“Could you make me a deal?”) Don’t touch anything or take pictures without asking first, as the sometimes-crotchety vendors can be quite protective of their wares.

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Puntos en el Espacio

(Clothes, Shoes, Accessories)
Perú 979
4307-1742
Open daily 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Forty-three different designers have contributed exclusive garments to this spacious, modern store. Deals abound, such as a pair of handmade purple leather boots for the equivalent of $50. Clothes come direct from the runway at Buenos Aires Fashion Week, like hand-stenciled wrap dresses and men’s corduroy blazers with built-in gloves. Some designers are better than others, but everything’s interesting and the variety and cuts of clothing can’t be found elsewhere.

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Tienda Porteña

(Clothes, Shoes, Accessories)
Carlos Calvo 618
4362-3340
Open daily 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

This boutique is like crack for the fashionista. Local designers come in twice a week to drop off their latest and greatest, and since the owners usually buy only three of each design (one in each size), once something is gone, it’s gone. You’ll find everything from casual to cocktail: beautifully topstitched overcoats, canvas-and-rubber rain boots with a bunch of snaps and straps, hand-screened summer dresses and men’s dress shirts. Lingerie and great jewelry, too, plus a back patio where you can have a coffee and catch up on the neighborhood zines.

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Wussmann

(Design and Home Accessories)
Venezuela 570-574
4343-4707
Open Monday-Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Wussmann is in a hundred-year-old building that’s been remodeled with unusual touches, such as a glass cutout in the floor that shows a cellar-level bookstore below. Handmade journals, writing paper, and letter-storage boxes cost as much as they would stateside, but the quality matches the price here. You can design your own business or greeting cards with a salesperson, who will print them out on Wussmann’s 19th-century printing press. You have to wait for your cards, but only a day. This service will cost you about what you’ll pay for a nice dinner in BA (roughly 45 bucks).