Europe’s Largest Department Store is an International Shopper’s Dream
After decades of being the go-to destination for Spain’s fashionable set, El Corte Inglés is celebrating their 75th anniversary. As the largest department store in Europe and fourth largest in the world, El Corte Inglés offers international shoppers access to luxury brands, exclusive Spanish designers, one-of-kind cuisine and an experience worthy of the most luxurious of clientele. We were invited to Madrid to celebrate the anniversary of the store and the opening of their newest locations: Serrano Man and Serrano Woman, in the trendy shopping district of Salamanca. While Barcelona and beachside towns seem to get most of the attention when it comes to Spanish destinations, sartorial travelers will want to make stop in this stylish neighborhood.
Streets are dotted with the usual luxury shops like Gucci, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, but there’s nothing like traveling to a far-flung destination and coming back with some one-of-a-kind merchandise. Shoppers can buy a Gucci Dionysus bag anywhere, but there’s only one place in the world to find rare pieces from Spanish designers like Juanjo Oliva, Formula Joven and Tintoretto. To find out what makes El Corte Inglés such a popular destination for international shoppers, and the well-heeled fashionistas of Europe, we spoke with Magaly Alves, the Head of Fashion at the luxury department store.
El Corte Inglés offers major brands like Alexander McQueen, Louis Vuitton and Prada, but their biggest draw for many shoppers is their extensive selection of Spanish brands, which range from well-known runway mainstay Loewe, to Suarez, a fine jewelry line favored by Spanish royals Queen Letizia and King Felipe VI. But what Alves believes sets them apart from anyone else, is their commitment to Spanish design. “Our clientele comes to El Corte Inglés because of the diversity within our fashion collections. We, of course, have high-end name brands and contemporary collections that are sold globally, but we try to put an equal emphasis on our Spanish designers,” she told JustLuxe. “With over 80 freestanding stores worldwide, a spot on the El Corte Inglés floor is an amazing opportunity for designers to grow exponentially at the commercial level.”
For them this means helping to expand the Spanish luxury market and giving not only well-established names, but also young designers, a chance at a national outlet. “El Corte Inglés believes in young talent and is committed to fostering relationships with up-and-coming designers. The national fashion shows, together with art and design competitions in the design schools, are platforms for young designers, and it gives our team the opportunity to evaluate the creative vision and potential growth of each designer that hits the runway,” she said. “Not only do we look for luxury, but we want to see that the designer can evolve their collections over time.”
In addition to attending local Fashion Weeks in Madrid, Barcelona and Ibiza, Alves will also travel to major events, like NYFW (one of her favorites) to find the right look for the store. In fact, many up-and-coming names get their start within their doors. “For many years we have not only helped and pushed the career of young designers, but also helped them to promote their collections and sell,” she explained. “Last year we did a Fashion Academy where many students were given the opportunity to participate. The winner got the opportunity to have his winning collection produced by El Corte Inglés and sold in our stores. This is not the first time we have helped designers to sell and expose their creations as several [similar events] have taken place at different fashion design schools.”
In fact, she and her team do this so effectively, that many popular designers started here with only a small capsule collection and no name recognition to speak of. “Many well-known Spanish designers have used El Corte Inglés as a platform to gain exposure within the fashion community. Some of those brands include Adriana Iglesias, Carmela Rosso, Jorge Vázquez, Juanjo Oliva and more,” she noted. “In the case of Juanjo Oliva, he as a designer has gone from creating a capsule collection named ‘Juanjo Oliva for Elogy’ to designing an exclusive collection for El Corte Inglés. (One that, she adds, is a bestseller.) These partnerships with El Corte Inglés give designers the opportunity to reach beyond their target consumer and enter into new areas of the field.”
We shopped the new Serrano Man and Serrano Woman stores as well as the flagship, El Corte Inglés Castellana. While the latter offers 18 floors—including entire floors dedicated to beauty, dining, wellness and even a wine cellar—the Serrano stores were by far our favorite. The Castellana store sells almost everything you could imagine, from century-old wine to dream dollhouses for the littlest fashionista, but their latest openings feel more finely curated, intimate and courteous. Perhaps used to seeing too many tourists, an attendant at the flagship store brusquely told me I was too big to fit into a mint green Red Valentino dress I had picked out. At the Serrano store, I was graciously shown to a fitting room and offered a few other selections that I might like; I walked out with several Moschino and Valentino pieces that are sure to be staples in my collection.
El Corte Inglés just debuted a new appointment-only VIP space at their Castellana location, but the company is working on ways to bring a more luxurious experience to their growing international base, like their new app that helps overseas customers get an inside look at brands, understand shopping services and tax refunds, or book time with a personal shopper. “We’re continuing to experiment with new and different ways to provide our clientele the best possible experience, whether that be special access to designers or first looks at their new collections. The VIP space at Castellana is just the beginning of that, as we have plans to roll out more VIP spaces at our other locations in the coming years,” Alves said.
Their new Serrano stores already feel like a one-of-a-kind shopping experience. Located across the street from one another, they’re easy to navigate and even easier to get to—Seranno Woman opens into the five-star Villa Magna Hotel, a luxurious retreat that offered us a reprieve from the busy streets of Madrid. At Serrano Man, El Corte Inglés partnered with three Michelin-starred chefs to create an exceptional culinary experience on the top floor. Here shoppers can dine at Chef Roberto Ruiz’s Cascabel, a Mexican-inspired eatery, Chef Jordi Roca’s Rocambolesc, a confectionary with artisan ice creams, pastries and chocolates, or three-time Michelin star chef David Munoz’s Street XO. While there are surely more authentic dishes to be had in the Spanish capital, Street XO served up flavors so deliciously complex that we’ll be stopping here the next time we’re in Madrid—even if we don’t plan on doing any shopping.