F stands for fashion but these days, smart shoppers also know it stands for forex, short for foreign exchange.
That is because the Singapore dollar can buy you a lot more style from the world's fashion capitals than it has been able to in a long, long time.
The beleaguered euro, the common currency of much of Europe, has been affected by recession woes there and is at a seven-year low against the Singapore dollar.
While the euro is still worth more than the Singapore dollar, the exchange rate as of Monday this week was one euro to around S$1.71, a far cry from the days of S$2 plus.
The British pound has also been falling against the Singapore dollar, hovering at around S$2.05 on Monday, quite a drop from last August, when it was at S$2.44.
Savvy Singaporeans are making the most of the narrowing exchange gap.
Coupled with the tax rebates foreigners enjoy on their purchases, the big savings mean that many are cashing in on high-end buys, getting more bags for their buck.
A forex-focused fashionista is Suleyanna Suwandi, who saved hundreds of dollars when she bought a Louis Vuitton Speedy 30 handbag.
Last month, the marketing executive got hold of a Singapore-based friend who was making a visit to her native France and asked her to buy the bag from the Louis Vuitton boutique on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
The 445 euro purchase amounted to $779 then, when the exchange rate hovered around the 1.75 mark.
The mother of a two-month-old boy says: 'I managed to save around $300 due to the low euro. Those savings were good enough for me to buy a Kate Spade diaper bag.'
She had earlier toyed with the idea of getting a second-hand Louis Vuitton bag which cost $800 but stopped short of making that buy once the euro dropped.
No wonder she is planning yet another purchase at the end of the year - another Louis Vuitton bag she has been eyeing.
While hitching a buy from friends returning from Europe is popular, online shoppers are delighted by the savings enjoyed from lower exchange rates and direct purchasing, too.
For example, personal assistant Rashimah Rashid is contemplating buying a Delightful Monogram from Louis Vuitton online.
The 30-year-old estimates that the bag will cost under $1,000, shipping charges included. The bag retails at around $1,140 at Louis Vuitton boutiques here.
'Buying online cuts the hassle of travelling or waiting for shopper-friends to return from their extended trip,' says the bag lover, adding that she and her husband are regular online shoppers on sites like Britain's largest online fashion and beauty retailer, asos.com.
'So I might as well buy online and wait for two weeks,' she says.
Indeed, vPost, the online shopping and shipping service of SingPost, has experienced a two-fold rise in traffic since May.
Its popular vPostEurope service, which was launched in 2008, allows customers to shop at online European merchants like Prada, Burberry, Ferragamo and Harrods, and have their items shipped to their doorstep.
In April, the company implemented shipping charges based on the parcel's nett weight exclusively for shipments from Europe, rather than the standard industry practice of charging by volume, which can work out to be more expensive.
Recently, it added Holland as a shipping address on top of Britain 'to take advantage of lower or free local delivery, due to geographical proximity, when customers buy from online Europe merchants in continental Europe', says its spokesman.
'A greater awareness of our service, together with the weakening of the British pound and euro, has attracted online shoppers looking for luxury goods and value buys from Europe.'
IT manager Stephanie Tang, who runs a blogshop peddling European designer bags, has cottoned on to cashing in on the favourable forex, with bulk buys from Europe.
Next month, she is off to Italy with friends for a two-week shopping spree in Milan.
The trip was planned to coincide with the July Italian saldi (sales). During this period, retailers, including high-end ones, have discounts starting from 30per cent.
Unlike online luxury concierges which rely on shipments from overseas contacts, Tang flies directly to cities like Florence and Milan to obtain designer bags from boutiques and factory outlets.
She keeps the tax rebates on the goods - which amount to an average of 10 per cent, depending on fluctuations - as a service fee.
Two months before her trip, the 40-year-old posted an announcement on her eight-month-old blog, www.luxebagshop.blogspot.com, which sells designer handbags from brands like Bottega Venetta and Prada that she hauls back from Europe.
Enter the site and the words 'Take advantage of the low low Euro' in bold yellow letters remind you of the dollars you can save.
Says Tang: 'Already, I have six to seven pre-orders from friends and their friends. I never got so many orders before the euro went down.'
News of the falling euro made headlines in April when it dropped to a seven-year low against the Singapore dollar to trade at 1.833.
The savings that result from such a differential can be big. Tang points out that the Chanel Classic Flap bag, which goes for about $4,330 here, costs around $2,963 in Milan before tax rebates.
While the Singapore offices of the Gucci Group, Hermes and Louis Vuitton and high-end British online retailer Net-A-Porter declined to comment on sales figures, a recent report in Reuters shed light on how the low euro is affecting the luxury market.
French brand Longchamp and Italian jeweller Bulgari were quoted during the Reuters Global Luxury Summit earlier this month as saying that their brands were benefiting from the weaker euro.
Longchamp chief executive Jean Cassegrain told attendees at the summit that it had been difficult for the brand when the United States dollar was weaker against the euro.
'Now we are back in a territory where we can make interesting margins,' Cassegrain says.
SALES ON THE RISE
Deutsche Bank estimates the weaker euro against the dollar and the yen would add 2 to 4 per cent to its sales forecast for the global luxury goods industry, said the Reuters report.
An example of retailers already benefiting from the lower euro is Chic Outlet Shopping Villages in Europe, a collection of nine shopping 'villages' in European cities like Paris and London.
Over 800 luxury boutiques in these villages offer past seasons' collections from labels like Christian Lacroix and Theory. Price reductions here can be as high as 60 per cent.
In an e-mail interview, its director for marketing, public relations and tourism and of value retail management, Sally Beames, told Urban that the total tax-refunded sales from South-east Asian visitors increased by 78 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period last year.
There was a 7 per cent increase in the average spending from South-east Asian visitors, who spent $442 in the first quarter of this year.
'The weaker Euro exchange rates contributed to this increase in footfall from South-east Asian visitors as well as a growing awareness among Singaporean, Malaysian and Indonesian customers. Word-of-mouth recommendation of the Villages is strong in South-east Asia,' she says.
'We anticipated growth in visits from Asia when the Euro weakened. Strong partnerships with Singapore Airlines and local travel agents including CTC holidays and ASA holidays also make our Villages accessible,' says Beames.
Its stylish website, at www.chicoutletshopping.com, is available in 11 languages and features a selection of step-by-step itineraries on how to plan a visit.
As for Tang, she will be closing orders soon for her European spree, because 'there are only so many bags I can take out to the airport'.
This article was first published in Urban, The Straits Times.