PHILADELPHIA — For those with an eye for acquisitions, no tour of the City of Brotherly Love is complete without a visit to Rittenhouse Square.
This historic section, mapped out in William Penn's original city plan, became an exclusive residential area during the last century. High-rise apartments have replaced most of the Victorian mansions on the square, and the brownstones that still line the side streets have been converted to stores that house Philadelphia's exclusive and trend-setting shops.
Within a three- or four-block area is a sampling of boutiques and specialty shops, and such designer names as Jaeger, Laura Ashley and Burberry's.
Nan Duskin, on Walnut between 17th and 18th streets, is the district's most famous and impressive emporium. Duskin draws its clientele not only from Philadelphia's main line, but from around the globe. The store's two selling floors are well-stocked with only the finest, most luxurious fashions and accessories.
Duskin is perhaps best known for its women's boutiques, but the men's shop, reflecting the fashion acumen of buyer Michael Lauerman, is a showroom of top-quality jackets, shirts, trousers and accessories for business, sport or dress occasions. Shoppers may order, by appointment, suits from H. Freeman & Sons, an exclusive Philadelphia tailor (two fittings required, orders take four to six weeks to fill).
There are shearling and leather trench coats imported from France ($900-$1,700). Stylish casual dressers will delight in the cotton or wool woven pullovers and cardigans from designer Paul Bianculli ($395).
These sweaters are reversible, with bright-colored geometric shapes scattered over a white or black field on one side, and white or colored shapes racing across a colored field on the other. Spectacular over Bianculli's corduroy or heavy cotton trousers. Traditionalists will find eight-ply cashmere sweaters ($450). Complimentary clothing consultations are given.
Duskin's reputation for women's fashion has been built on designer labels. The store has Chanel, Valentino and Hermes boutiques, and carries Ungaro, Lanvin, Ferre, among 25 designers. Donna Karan, Claude Montana, Yves Saint Laurent and Escada supply sportswear. A Delman shoe salon offers footwear by Maud Frizon, Bottega Veneta, Charles Jourdan, Ferragamo, Pancaldi and more.
At Fragrances, you'll find 35 scents, including Nan Duskin's Ebullience. Handbags, supervised by Miss Ethel (a delightful Duskin tradition), contains a variety of bags and clutches by Bottega Veneta, Carlos Falchi and Judith Leiber, as well as unusual dress bags of leather, lace and beading, by Philadelphia designer Grace Agustino.
Look for Gloria del Piano's hand-screened silk scarfs in flower and bird patterns ($220-$300) and a stellar costume jewelry collection.
Nan Duskin's ambiance and amenities are legendary. The dressing rooms are large enough to live in, and on Saturdays, shoppers are entertained by a pianist and served a wine and cheese buffet.
Nan Duskin is flanked by several stylish ladies' boutiques. Pegasus, 1737 Walnut St., offers designer fashions under its own label. The collection is trendy, but high-style. English knits and sweaters (some exclusive) are featured, as are Japanese designers Junko Koshina and Yuki Torii. Hats, belts and jewelry are provided to accessorize for an individualistic look.
Patricia's Leather Lines Etc., 1724 Walnut St., sells Patricia Khara's leather and suede clothing and accessories. This is the only outlet for her beaded and sequined suede sweat shirts ($225 or $175 beadless) and tank tops ($25). There are also handsome pantsuits, skirts, jackets ($150), belts, bags and carryalls.
Around the corner, at 117 South 17th St., Toby Lerner stocks American and imported designers for sport, business or evening, complete with accessories and shoes. This is a small, pricey boutique that specializes in assembling a collection of fine wearables.
On Rittenhouse Square, at 228 South 18th St., Philip Mendelson caters to conservative tastes. This attractive store, divided into small compartments, features Perry Ellis and Tomorrow's Surplus labels, among others, and provides a business-to-sport selection for up-market shoppers. A special sales room offers attractive seasonal reductions.
Trendy young shoppers will find the unusual at Urban Outfitters, a Cambridge, Mass., firm with two outlets in Philadelphia. The Rittenhouse Square branch, on the corner of Walnut and 18th streets, is in an elegant Victorian mansion, built in 1898. The building is a marked contrast to its contemporary contents. Leopard skin umbrellas on shocking pink or eye-piercing blue backgrounds ($9) and matching rain boots ($26) dangle artfully from a central spiral staircase.