The Franklin Mills Mall has been a hidden, dirty little secret of mine for some time. I’ve scoffed at it, rolled my eyes at it, and been truly scared of it. But I still go there for one reason (well, two): the Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue outlets, Last Call and Off Fifth.
I went there again Saturday afternoon, just before a torrential downpour. You could hear the rain pounding on the roof, and it made the Saks outlet feel like a cozy little haven—just me and about 497 racks of discounted clothes. It felt like settling in with a good book.
Here's why these outlets are great: They both have their own entrances so you don't ever have to go brave the mall proper to shop them. Good for avoiding stun gun fights, and also good for quick, in-and-out shopping trips (and for dodging torrential downpours).
The lesser of the two outlets is Off Fifth, but it's still worthy of a visit. Check out the shoes first (I spotted a few Manolos, some Alexander Wang loafers, a handful of Brian Atwoods, and a couple of styles by Sophia Webster). The bags here aren't great, and the jewelry skews a tad cheap (I am really over the huge "statement necklaces" everyone is carrying now), but the men's section is good, as is the baby section (adorable Laura Ashley smocked dresses and one fabulous Burberry sweater that was about as big as a small hand and inexplicably $168—marked down). But the real score is the casual wear (soft, drapey sweaters and cardigans; leggings; easy sundresses).
Next door is Last Call, the Neiman Marcus outlet, and this is where you'll find the big boys: Alexander McQueen, Prada, Lanvin, Oscar de la Renta, Proenza Schouler, Balenciaga. The shoe section here is incredible: gorgeous copper pumps by Tom Ford, a pair of sparkly pink Miu Mius that were tragically half a size too small for me; a pair of studded Prada loafers. It was heaven. And this was the clearance section. All of the shoes were about 40 percent off the regular price, with additional markdowns. (Granted, each of these shoes originally cost somewhere in the four figures, so you're still paying a decent amount—think at least $400.)
But at the back of the store is where you'll find the couture section, and this is the really good stuff, which you will assume because it's all secured to the racks by wires. This is to prevent theft, of course, but I also think it's to dissuade people into not piling heaps of couture into their arms for a Pretty Woman-like fashion show. (I was totally tempted to do this, but I restrained myself into trying on only one gold Lanvin wrap dress, which thankfully did not fit or I would now be out $2,500 and probably a husband.)
I chatted with the store's general manager, Gregory Devaney (fun fact: he was in the seminary when he realized his passion for design and fashion; he designed new habits for the nuns!), and he confided that lots of news anchors and personalities shop here, as well as "federal judges and doctors." (No, he wouldn't name names.) He paraded me around the store to show me some of the gems: a $40,000 Alexander McQueen gown from the runway (on sale for $10,000), a gorgeous silk Balenciaga gown, this paillette-covered Prada from 2011. (Shopping tip: If you see him, ask him for tutorials on scarf-tying; he's a master.)
My mom was with me (I do my best shopping with her), and we left with a silk Lanvin scarf for her ($160, down from $470; I have joint custody); these Helmut Lang skinny jeans for me ($68!); this dress that I will wear as a tunic; and a forest green sequin jacket that looked ghastly on the hanger but really great on.
But the best part of the shopping experience is that as soon as you're finished, you can pop right out into the parking lot, stash your bags in the trunk, and tell everyone you scored the couture right off the runway.