On Location: El Born, Barcelona

As stylish as it is proud and independent, the Catalan capital is a discriminating shopper's heaven. By Grandin Donovan
BorneBarcelona_mainParis and Milan may get all the Euro credit, but with gorgeous architecture from Gothic to Modernisme, scores of sleek furniture and interior design shops, and a mind-bending array of fashion boutiques, Barcelona is surely the sleeper style capital of the continent. It has thrice hosted the southern half of Bread-and-Butter—Europe's most important indie-fashion trade show—securing its industry cachet just as the Sonar festival made Barcelona a must-go for electronic music heads.
To see the best Barcelona has to offer, head east away from the more tourist'ey Barri Gothic to El Born, the medieval merchant quarter whose streets still bear the names of the trades once plied there: silversmiths on Argenteria, sword-makers on Espaseria, and milliners on Sombrerers. A far cry from the Passeig del Gracia, where international fashion houses offer the same high-street shopping of any major city, this ancient warren is peppered with precious, one-of-a-kind boutiques that carry local Catalan and Spanish designers whose work is all but impossible to find outside the Iberian peninsula. Refinery29 pays a visit.
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Shop.
RqueR, Carrer del Rec 75, Barcelona; +34 93 315 23 91
Talk about pride: Conxa Jufresa's shop stocks almost exclusively Spanish designers, many of them Catalan. Her handpicked roster includes new notables like Syvilla, Sita Murt, David Valls, Viviana Uribe, Madre Mia, Juan Pedro Lopez, and Victorio & Lucchino. If you're looking for local talent, this is the place to come. Eveningwear and casuals get equal rack-space, and the second-floor gallery showcases fresh fashion and accessory designers monthly.
On Land, Carrer Princesa 25, Barcelona, +34 93 310 02 11; www.on-land.com
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This hip shop has a deep line-up of Barcelona's leading urban casual labels. Girls look for Josep Font, Montse Ibáñez, BoBa, Zauzo, Art Point, Altru, Beatriz Furez, and Cecilia Sörensen. Men can expect cool Euro brands like Divinas Palabras, Hergenhahn, Gorni Kramer, i.k.k.s., Fresh From the Lab, and Josep Abril. Plenty of stuff you can't find stateside.
Coquette, Carrer del Rec 65, Barcelona, +34 93 319 29 76; www. coquettecollection.com
This shop's motto is "Born to be Beautiful," and given its stable of sophisticated women's designers, Coquette more than lives up to the claim. The year-old loft-like space features polished lines from Italy's Pinko, France's Tara Jarmon, Brazil's Tereza Santos and Isabel Capeto, Paris's See by Chloé, and Hoss-Homeless and Monoplaza from Spain. We love the exceptional leather bags from Cordoba's Vincent du Sartel—one time designer for Louis Vuitton and art director for Spanish leather heavyweight, Loewe—and accessories from Galicia's Erva.
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Mercado, Plaza Comercial 3, Barcelona, +34 93 268 86 31; www.mercadodelborne.com
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Much more than your run-of-the-mill high-streetwear shop, Victor Zabrockis's boutique and gallery carries an unparalleled selection of designer books, urban art, chic homewares and impossible-to-find-elsewhere T-shirts—all tied together with an Amazonian canoe centerpiece. Mercado is set up as a creative co-op, with a network of "curators" scattered across the globe to "pinpoint creativity" and send in product. Gallery space features hot contemporary artists like Gary Baseman.
Menchén Tomàs, Carrer del Rec 46, Barcelona; +34 93 310 64 69
Olga Menchén and Francesca Tomàs aren't exactly new kids on the block—they've been turning out womenswear for over 12 years. Conservative at first glance, their trim-cut skirts, tops, and dresses reveal surprising details upon closer inspection—think wool appliqués, complex embroidery, and sly pleats. Cotton jersey and linen in the summer; velvet, serge, and poplin in winter. Restrained modern with the occasional flourish.
M TX – Mertxe Hernández, Carrer del Rec 32, Barcelona; +34 93 319 13 98; www.mertxe-hernandez.com
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Mertxe designs tour T-shirts for Quebec's Cirque du Soleil, but her personal line of cute, girlish casuals is a better display of her seamstress acrobatics. Every item is unique—think free-hand embroidered skirts, printed tops with textile collages, plenty of gossamer fabric, visible stitching, cutouts, and funky appliqué treatments. Eveningwear is glam and architectural, and the whole collection has an artsy but unpretentious edge. Accessories include equally chic bags and necklaces.
BoBa, Carrer del Rec 42, Barcelona; +34 93 310 67 43
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As much a mission statement as it is a name, "BoBa" stands for "bonito y barato"—beautiful and cheap. This 3-year-old label, helmed by duo Marta Giménez and Jorge Zauzo, turns out playful women's casuals in a bright, Mediterranean palette of hot reds, coral pinks, minty aquas, and the like. Fun, youthful patterns and cheeky prints—ducks, birds, rabbits, elephants—are balanced by sexy, grownup cuts and studied craftsmanship. Look for no-brainer scarves, asymmetrical pleated skirts, and vertical-patchwork summer dresses. Eveningwear tends toward black and white, with accents like gold piping and brass buttons. Be sure to check out the curious woven-felt necklaces and brocades.
Agua del Carmen, Carrer Bonaire 5, Barcelona, +34 93 268 77 99; www.aguadelcarmen.com
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If there could ever be such a thing as "hip-frump," Agua del Carmen would certainly define it. Started in 2000 by friends Rona Milián and Carmen Bautista, it features lots of wools and wovens, '60s patterns, and retro-styled skirts in a sober palette of wine, moss, and peach. This is what Carol Brady might have worn if she hit the wacky-tobaccy. A nice play on eveningwear fills out the mostly-casual collection.
Irene Bartomeu, Carrer Carders 29 & 31, Barcelona, +34 93 315 00 70; www.irene.bartomeu.com
Irene Bartomeu does two collections of laid-back, bold-colored ladies casuals a year: ponchos, pants and jackets in the winter, and skirts, dresses, and tanks in summer. Combining an array domestic textiles—some textured, some discretely printed and others more boldly graphic—into two-toned halters and 3-paneled skirts, she makes sure each item is unique. Vintage ties are recycled into shoulder-bag straps, and her mascot giraffe adds a spot of kitsch.
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Iguapop Shop & Gallery, Carrer Comerç, 15, Barcelona; +34 93 310 07 35; www.iguapop.net
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This U-shaped whitebox space combines an up-to-the-minute urban art gallery on one side, and a streetwear shop on the other. Alongside better-known indie tags like Boxfresh and Zoo York, you'll find items from Spanish brands 65 Uptight, Skunkfunk, Theremind, and Vertico's Puppets, as well as Basque label Loreak Mendian. Graphic heels from T40 are especially tight. The gallery is one of the focal points of BCN's bursting street-art scene; dig on the exhibition catalog—it would turn Deitch green.
Majoral /Alea Galeria de Joies, Carrer Argenteria 66, Barcelona; +34 93 310 13 73; www.sargantana.net
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One of the few silver shops on the street of silversmiths, the boutique up front gives way to the Alea gallery in back, where different designers' special works are featured monthly. Enric Majoral's house collections, in gold and silver, use clean geometries and organic forms, with influences ranging from grapevines to Calder to Mediterranean sea-life. Expect slightly distressed and flat-hammered finishes, with red coral and oxidized silver for contrasting tones.
Rafa Teja Atelier, Carrer Santa Maria 18, Barcelona; +34 93 310 27 85
This accessories shop carries unique bags and jewelry, but is more famous for its psychedelic selection of scarves and shawls. Ranging from sheer and simple textiles to wild, embroidered and gem-woven pieces, they can accommodate any age and style. Limited-run skirts and jackets are handcrafted from carefully-sourced Kashmiri, Chinese and Indonesian textiles.
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Moramarco, Carrer del Rec 56, Barcelona; +34 93 268 98 70
Not your local Sunglass Hut, this fine eyewear shop carries the best European and American peeper-protection out there. In addition to Dior, YSL, Diesel, Prada, Gucci and Rayban, they'll have new Tom Ford specs and harder to find boutique brands like JF Rey, IC Berlin, Freuden Haus, Imatra by Sofilo, I.a. Eyeworks, and Zero RHT. Italian proprietors Papo and Marta Russi also stock selected vintage styles.
Lomography Shop, Carrer Mirallers 2, Barcelona; +34 93 319 70 06; www.lomospain.com
Who doesn't love the bright, dreamlike color these cult-cams produce? Floored in pretty prints, this shop has everything the neophyte or enthusiast could ask for, from Frogeye to Fisheye, Actionsampler to Oktomat.
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Museu Textil I d'Indumentària, Carrer Montcade 12, Barcelona, +34 93 319 76 03; www.museutextil.bcn.es
El Born is also home to the Museum of Textiles, a must-see attraction to get your chops up on old-school couture. Housed in a medieval merchant's mansion, its collection spans the centuries, including Coptic and Moorish textiles and Romanesque embroidery; medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo ecclesiastic and court vestments; and modern styles from Art Nouveau and Deco, through the post-War New Look and into the op-arty '60s. Everything is beautifully presented, and the quality of preservation is mind-boggling. Be sure to check out Paco Rabanne's metal and plastic mod-chainmail dress from 1965. Special exhibitions on the ground floor tease the border between fashion, art and performance.
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Eat.
Petra, Carrer Sombrerers 13, Barcelona; +34 93 319 99 99
Duck into this deep-blue frontage and you will find a modded-up menu of neo-Basque fare. The gnocchi with crab sauce is sublime, and the unctuous pink gazpacho—with a ball of cucumber sorbet in the center—will drive you back for the rest of your stay. Delicious and amazingly affordable.
Born Cooking, Carrer Corretger 9, Barcelona; +34 93 310 59 9; www.borncooking.com
A godsend for those wise enough to rent an apartment instead of a hotel room, this NYC-expat-run place is primarily a caterer, but provides supremely fresh takeaway for home-cooked goodness at an honest price.
Mosquito Tapas, Carrer Carders 46, Barcelona; +34 93 268 75 69; www.mosquitotapas.com
This pan-Asian, fusion tapas joint excels drawing flavors from China, India, Thailand, Japan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The potato chaat is crunchy, herby, and salty-sweet with tamarind and coriander; hoisin pork with rice noodles is soft but smoky, and the chicken tikka brochettes with yogurt are tender and savory.
As stylish as it is proud and independent, the Catalan capital is a discriminating shopper's heaven.
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