A Leisurely Approach to Fashionable Caracas

Merin is a New York City free-lance writer

Avenida Abraham Lincoln in the Sabana Grande district is the area's main shopping thoroughfare. It is a broad, tree-shaded, pedestrians-only boulevard lined on both sides with stylish fashion boutiques and gift shops.

Avenida Lincoln, however, requires a leisurely approach. The street is long, more than a mile from one end to the other, beginning at Plaza Venezuela and ending at about Chacaito, although some shops are beyond that point.

Begin strolling at either end, where you can be dropped off by taxi (these are metered and affordable) or by the metro (which has large stations conveniently at both Plaza Venezuela and Chacaito).

Midway is another metro stop, called Sabana Grande, that saves strollers from having to walk the whole mile.

Those who need rest can sit on tree-shaded wooden benches that are placed along the length of the boulevard. Refreshments and/or quick-munch lunches can be bought from fast-food outlets and outdoor cafes sandwiched between the retail shops.

Shops are identified by building name rather than by street number. However, almost all natives of Caracas who walk down Avenida Lincoln know where specific buildings are, and are very friendly in pointing tourists in the right direction.

Although Avenida Lincoln's shops offer much merchandise, shoes are by far the boulevard's best buys. There are dozens of shoe shops from which to choose. Some tailors, stationers and dry cleaners also sell shoes.

The shoes are irresistible. High styles and low prices. There are fancy ladies' dress shoes with precariously high heels, splendid tassels for men and sports models for fleet-footed pedestrians on the run. Also, delicate sandals for beach wear and chunky oxfords sturdy enough to endure years of negotiating paved city streets or rough terrain.

Not many sport famous labels, but Venezuela manufactures shoes for top designers worldwide. And the prices are about one-half to two-thirds less than shoes of equal quality would cost in the United States. Here are some of the best shops:

Calzados Annese (Edificio 165, Local 3) is a stylish shop with stylish shoes. It features low heels and flats made of leather that have been stamped with fabulous and sometimes eccentric geometric patterns. Some of the shoes are solid in color, others emphasize the leather stamping with two- or three-tone color schemes.

There are two-tone blacks and browns, as well as brighter combinations of reds, blues, greens and magentas. Heels cost from about $55 U.S., flats are priced from about $51. Annese also provides stamped leather handbags designed to mix and match with many of the shop's shoe styles. A magnificently versatile and roomy pouch bag costs $78. In addition, the shop sells lovely clip-on butterflies and bows (from $10 to $15) with which to dress up undecorated pumps.

Nardi (Edificio Acapulco, in front of the General Electric Telephone Co.) specializes in casual shoes for men, women and children. Featured are oxfords and loafers with soft-as-butter leather uppers and gummy rubber soles. These come in a variety of unusual colors such as apple green, pink, sunshine yellow and sky blue, and many sport the Sisley logo. They cost from $34.

Nardi makes its own label of men's loafers (from $49) and oxfords (from $68) and women's dress pumps (from $36) in sturdier leathers and an equally appealing array of colors. Under the Gini label are white, black, tan and pastel-colored, rubber-soled, super-soft leather oxfords (priced from $37 up) for men or women.

Kids' styles use soft leather, rubber soles and bright colors, and cost from $18 up. There is usually a selection of styles from past seasons that are sold at half-price.

Emelie Rodin (at the corner of Calle El Colegio, one of the boulevard's side streets) has high-fashion, very tailored women's shoes with interestingly shaped heels. Many of the styles feature handsome combinations of smooth and textured leathers. Some use black or brown as basic colors that are accented with silver or gold details. Flats cost from $52; high heels are slightly more expensive. There are handbags to match all shoe styles.

El Zapateria Tartana (Edificio Zenit, next to Banco Nacional de Descuento) has stunning suede oxfords and flats (from $31) in black, blue and red. Sale shoes (usually only several pairs or one size left of a lot) cost from $8, and include items ranging from golden slippers bedecked with bows to gray loafers with leather fringes.

Alexis Canchica R. (in the Sastreria Francesa, Edificio Celeste, Local C) has particularly good buys in men's and women's multi-colored casual shoes. Oxfords made of soft leathers in combinations of green, pink and yellow or blue, green and yellow sell for about $10.

Eledan (Edificio Aldo, Local C, on the corner of Calle Jabillos) sells snakeskin shoes. Ladies' dressy pumps with heels of various heights cost from $52, and come in a complete palate of fashionable solid colors and color combinations. The shop also features a selection of trendy Mandarina Duck-label suede flats with elastic fasteners (from $36 to $42), as well as very dressy silver-colored braided leather heels ($39).

Avenida Lincoln also has wonderful leather goods. La Maleta (Edificio Aldo) sells beautiful brown suede suitcases with light tan leather trim (large cases are priced from $215), natural leather garment bags ($230), gray and brown leather suitcases (from $199), belting leather maroon-colored suitcases ($299) with matching carry-on bags ($144), and black butter-soft leather carry-ons ($139). There is also an abundance of briefcases with gleaming metal snaps, buckles or locks (from $131) and a wide variety of copies of Louis Vuitton bags.

Jugetes Caracas (Edificio 96, in front of Galerias Bolivar) has handsome natural leather luggage. Roomy, sturdy suitcases cost from $89. Other styles include wheeled carry-on bags with zippered space extenders (about $70) and multi-pouch shoulder bags (about $100).

Several shops are tops for trendy Venezuelan-made fashions. Life Size (Galerias Bolivar, Local A) features brightly-colored floral shifts ($26), blue clingy dresses ($20), halter tops ($6) and oversize shirts ($17), as well as snazzy suits with black peplum jackets ($20) worn over skinny, short, polka-dot-patterned skirts ($14).

Vogue (Edificio 265) is the street's premier men's shop, featuring linen suits (from $150), cotton robes ($86), Italian silk ties (from $6) and magnificent, locally-made leather jackets (from $5,000).

People's (Edificio Minerva) styles are mostly casual and mostly made of pure cotton. There are high-waisted walking shorts ($19) and miniskirts ($24), some adorned with flounces or fringe. Made-to-match tops feature square necklines ($15) or turtle necks ($18). For men, there are fringed jeans ($32), white big-pocketed trousers ($14), high-waisted navy trousers with navy-style double button fronts ($41) and double-breasted jackets ($38).

Carnaby C.A. (Edificio Continental, Local 3) has attention-getting cotton shirts in flashy, hot colors and wild prints ($52), along with trousers or shorts to match.

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