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Thankfully, the numbers of tourist-trap souvenir stores in the Old Town selling high-priced ‘handmade’ amber and flax products have been reducing in recent years. Instead there’s a plethora of fascinating one-off shops and workshops displaying the best of authentic local design – elegant clothing, quirky fashions, useful and decorous objects for the home, even ranges of scents and chocolates.
We consulted with experts at the Design Forum association who objectively recommended the best of the bunch for us. Then we checked them out for ourselves. Now we’ve tied them together in an easily doable Old Town walking tour. These places are good for men and women – only a few sell clothes only for women, and those that do usually also have intriguing bits and pieces for the home.
Check the map and join the tour wherever’s most convenient to you. Please check the places online beforehand for opening times, as some are closed at weekends, or on Sundays and Mondays. Some may have even closed for good – retail is a risky business. We’ll start by the fountain on Didžioji Street, north of the Town Hall.
The tour begins…
Most of the way down narrow but lively Savičiaus Street you’ll find LeMuse (Savičiaus 12), where designer Lina Pliuraitė oversees a tiny team of seamstresses who work with quality fabrics from Italy such as punto Milano to make loose-fitting garments for women of a variety of sizes. Besides the gorgeous dresses tinted with natural colourings such as burgundy and ‘earth’, are clothes made specifically for yoga. Much of what you’ll see in this little shop is 70% wool.
Other eye-catching stuff is here too, like the Kiss the Frog brand of minimalist earrings and pendants based on folk tales, and handmade, aromatic Blue Sparrow candles in used wine bottles with scents like plum and rhubarb, verbena or pomegranate.
Further up Didžioji is the longstanding store of seasoned designer Ramunė Piekautaitė (Didžioji 20). By far the most upmarket stop on our tour, this is an essential call for anyone who occasionally needs a classical yet noticeable dress for special events. Silk, wool and cashmere are the materials of choice – with a splash of polyester – and the impressionistic colours are arranged to pair with each other, blue and yellow for example. Accessories in this brightly lit, professionally run spot include bags, belts, purses, even a branded perfume.
Even further up Didžioji, past the Town Hall, is House of Naïve (Didžioji 38), an oddly named hub for lovers of chocolate and eye-catching shoes and clothes. Essentially a husband-and-wife business, chocolate is the husband’s passion, but not the sweetened, artificially flavoured variety. He buys organic cocoa beans from small farms in exotic countries, and the peeling and chocolate making is done here in Lithuania. Two different lines are divided into Forager, which includes flavours like porcini mushroom, kefir and ambrosia, and a limited-edition selection that stresses the bean’s original flavour.
The wife takes care of the locally made shoes and clothes, which can be combined, adapt to each season and are always durable. The chunky shoes in particular have playful details like tassels and have a strong expression in shape and colour. We loved the impossibly shiny burgundy dancing shoes that look like something out of The Wizard of Oz.
Over on Rūdninkų Street, Adatytė (Rūdninkų 4) is a family-run shop with easy-fitting locally designed dresses made of 95% bamboo, as well as cotton clothing, woollen coats, pastel-coloured hats and scarves, a small range of children’s clothes, cute toys, greeting cards made of wood and some amazing jewellery. Just in are some locally made bracelets with hematite stone beads based on the Morse code, spelling words like ‘karma’ or ‘family’. Wildlife and nature necklaces made by the tiny brand Sculp are here too, with bear heads, beautiful shells, cratered moons, cactuses and other shapes.
Connect with your inner witch or wizard at the nearby Smells Like Spells (Mėsinių 7), an enchanting little workshop that takes its Norse, Baltic and Tarot scentology seriously, creating soy-wax candles, home fragrances, incense and perfumes related to the god, goddess, rune or symbolic meaning that’s closest to your heart. Irresistible scents are concocted with, say, rose for love, juniper for the home or verbena for spells, while the rune-covered candles come with lengthy Wicca-style descriptions – in English too – in a simply designed box. You can even create your own magical scent. Tarot readings take place in a homey atmosphere in a room at the back.
Take the time for a five to ten minute plod southwards to Baltas Miškas (Raugyklos 6), an emporium featuring almost a hundred designers creating everything from bowties to carved Lithuanian ducal chess sets to coiled Kuta bracelets to the diffuse shades and postmodern shapes of Colours of Connection’s earrings. A side-room houses organic cosmetics, facial scrubs, revitalising ointments and a few highly prized creams for the gents too, courtesy of local brands like ODA and Manilla.
Lane of design
Retreat to the fountain on Didžioji and head down one of the Old Town’s loveliest lanes, Stiklių. There’s a wealth of shops and cafés here but to start we recommend Linen Tales (Stiklių 4), a tiny chain that also has an outlet at Vilnius Airport. All the flax-woven articles here are made in-house, with compatible colours, and are stonewashed for extra softness, emphasising the material’s amazing natural ability to keep you cool in summer and warm in winter. Men should seek out the shirts here, but there are also bathrobes and pyjamas, towels and bedlinen, aprons and laundry bags, and stuff for the table right down to the cutlery pockets.
A few steps on is My Minds (Stiklių 6), an eclectic array of shoes, clothing and jewellery by around 40 little-known or upcoming solo designers, where everything is limited-edition to the extreme of just five or ten copies. Take the classy unisex shoes by Emillion, for example, or the red leather shoes with wild bows of silk by Agnes Krasauskas, or jewellery made from Murano glass blown in Lithuania, or the charming pendants of porcelain birds.
Terra Recognita (Stiklių 7) exhibits and sells pieces of art centred on smooth stones found on the Baltic Sea coast. The work of sculptor Saulius Vaitekunas fills the room, the walls crammed with ‘cuckoo watches’ – not timepieces but made with parts taken from pocket-watches. From the ceiling hang swirls of aluminium clouds, no two of which are alike – or sound alike when hit with metal. There are also stunning rings and necklaces of Baltic pebbles encrusted with intricate silver figurines.
Next door is Julia Janus (Stiklių 7), a fashion and lifestyle brand for men and women in harmony with the Baltic climate, landscape and mentality. The clothing feels youthful and modern yet curiously conservative, mostly wool in greys, blues and black including some fantastic hoodies and tops with prints of close-up abstract photographic images. The brand has no limits when it comes to size – up to XXXL – while the plates and cutlery on display “for the northern kitchen” are full of asymmetric forms.
Some minutes further on is V2 (Dominikonų 5), a ‘concept store’ featuring the work of international designers plus a few locals: multi-coloured doughnut pendants by Tadam; ceramic bowls and jugs created with innovative techniques by Beatricė Kelerienė; jewellery and talismans inspired by pagan traditions by Los Angeles-based Jurga Juozapa; and a wood-and-linen coffee tool made by Crooked Nose Design.
Weave through the streets to find Soirée (Totorių 7), intoxicatingly filled with plants and flowers in tasteful, often minimal compositions. The owners are skilled designers of unique bouquets and unusual plants. Soirée also has a second shop, in Užupis (Malūnų 6), if you’re over that way (see below).
Finally, our tour ends (or starts) at perhaps the most important stop showcasing Lithuanian design, Locals (Gedimino 9). Found on the third floor of the flashy, slender GO9 shopping centre, it features about a hundred designers, artists and visionaries creating everything conceivable for body and home – clocks made out of tree cuts, cotton nightwear with a mint-scented pillow, cinnamon perfume, soft and tasselled woollen throws, conspicuous jewellery by Okiiko and Tadam, even framed artworks at the back.
A few steps further afield…
In the self-styled artists’ republic of Užupis you’ll find all kinds of diverting galleries and workshops. Užupio keturiolika (Užupio 14) is a concept store that has evolved into a brand, creating clothes that can serve as the foundation of a woman’s wardrobe, made from natural, high-quality fabrics and an appreciation of tradition and craftsmanship. Nearby, Soirée (see above) has one of its ‘flower-designer’ stores (Malūnų 6).
Also in Užupis, the two-woman team that is LT Identity runs a workshop and separate store (Užupio 2a) creating wearable stuff based on the conviction that Lithuanians are slowly but surely forging their own identity. Famous images and iconic photos of Lithuanian personalities are playfully (but reverently) reworked Warhol-like into clothes for adults and kids. Another of the duo's brands, Baltai (‘Balts’), is a collection of clothing and accessories designed to warm body and soul in a cold and foggy landscape.