Everyone loves a bargain and when it comes to European and international designer brand bargains, it's hard to beat Bicester Village near Oxford.
The roll call of designers and top drawer labels in the designer outlet mall's 150 plus shops is mind boggling. Celebrity shoppers are regularly spotted. Recently, even "Princess Kate" the Duchess of Cambridge, stopped in to buy pyjamas for little Prince George.
150 Boutique Designer Outlets
This is where to find genuine savings on last year's models or discontinued lines from an A to Z of top names - from Armani to luxury kitchenware maker Zwilling. Alexander McQueen, Dior, Balenciaga, Burberry, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Valentino, Versace, Vivienne Westwood, Saint Laurent, Ferragamo, Paul Smith, Marni, Missoni, Gucci, Fendi, Givenchy, Kate Spade, Dolce & Gabbana, Chloe, Boss, Ermengildo Zegna - the list really does go on and on.
So Popular It Has Its Own Railway Station
Discount prices have drawn thrifty international fashionistas to Bicester Village, ten miles from Oxford, for years. And for years they kept it almost a secret.
It's not a secret anymore. In fact, Bicester Village now claims to be the world's most successful designer discount outlet mall. It's one of the UK's most popular tourist destinations, attracting six million visitors a year. It's so popular, in fact, that in October 2015 it got its own railway station - the first between London and another city, as reported in The Guardian, in 100 years. It's less than an hour, by train from London Marylebone Station.
Glamour at Bargain Basement Prices
Bicester Village bills itself as a place for luxury shopping in chic designer boutiques. But it's the savings that bring the customers. Even though goods aren't cheap by any measure, they are much cheaper than in the equivalent shops on Bond Street or Fifth Avenue. And the selection of shops is impressive - ranging from some of the better UK high street brands to a stratosphere of genuine global designer brands.
All of the shops claim to offer at least 30 to 50 per cent off normal retail prices. But arrive at the change of the season, when shops are making room for next season's goods, and savings of 70 to 90 per cent are not unheard of. We saw a skirt from a hugely famous designer that was reduced from £105 to £7.
Because of the deep discounting, some companies are understandably shy about being photographed. No surprise when end of season reductions are often breathtaking. At Ralph Lauren, we once saw a gorgeous red coat reduced from around £4,000 to less than £500, a sweater reduced from about £6,000 to £500. In another shop, a D&G skirt was reduced from £500 to £199 and at Burberry, a classic duffel coat, with the brand's trademark plaid lining fabric, was reduced from £410 to £199. The center operates a tax free shopping scheme so overseas visitors can save another 20 per cent in Value Added Tax (VAT) refunds.
The boutiques sell apparel for men, women and children; shoes - ranging from utilitarian Clarks to totally frivolous Jimmy Choo, household goods and electronics. Many of the internationally familiar designer shops carry goods only available in Europe. Other shops are European or UK originals - Mulberry, Pringle of Scotland, Charles Tyrwhitt, Hackett.
There's also a good selection of the better UK high street brands. The names and the shops change often. Before you go, check the full listing of shops on the Bicester Village website to see what's available.
Now Glamorous Dining Too
It took a few years for the management of Bicester Village to realize that shopping is hungry work. The first time we visited, several years ago, there was a pub to park your bored "bag man" and not much else.
All that is changed and shoppers in 2018 can expect a good range of cafes, kiosks and coffee/tea shops. The lastest to open its doors is Cafe Wolseley, a branch of the very trendy Wolesely in London. It's open from breakfast through late dinner (closing at 10 p.m.) and brings the elegant dash of a European brasserie to Bicester. They take reservations but always try to keep a few tables available if you suddenly realize saving so much money stimulates your appetite.
But Let the Buyer Beware
There are genuine designer goods and bargains at Bicester Village, but, as with all discount outlets, since this kind of shopping has grown more popular, many of the brands manufacture products that are cheaper versions, just for sale in the outlets. If you ask, staff in the shops tell you whether the goods are originals or made for the outlet. But, if you are considering a major purchase - a £4,000 handbag for £2,000 for example - it's probably a good idea to have a really good look at the original goods in a full price shop first. In particular, check lining materials, clasps and zips, soles on boots, seam finishes.
- Hours - The mall is opened six days a week, including extended hours on Saturday and Sunday, and closed on Friday. Hours vary from day to day and season to season so check the Bicester Village website to plan your visit.
- Getting There - By car: Exit the M40 motorway at Exit 9 (the Oxford Exit, about halfway between London and Birmingham). The village is signposted all the way from the motorway. The trip takes about an hour and a half. By train: There is regular train service from London Marylebone directly to Bicester Village with two trains an hour making the 45 minute trip. The cheapest round trip fare (in summer 2018) is £11.30 when purchased in advance as two one-way tickets. For train times, check National Rail Enquiries. By bus: Stagecoach run regular services from Oxford City Centre. The S5 bus leaves from Magdalen Street outside the Randolph Hotel.
Things to do nearby
This is in an area rich in visitor attractions and well situated for anyone touring the region who needs a bit of luxury retail therapy. It's on the edge of the North Cotswold region, near Warwickshire and Shakespeare country. Here are some of the things to do within an hour or less of Bicester Village: