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Far from the madness of the malls and the mega-shopping districts, there are places where you can find great gifts
and enough peace to actually think about the person
you're buying for. Here's where to go and what to pick up.
FROM the car window, the stretch of Ventura Boulevard just west of Laurel Canyon looks a lot like the local shopping mall, with chain stores Gap, Banana Republic, Chico's and Urban Outfitters. But take to the sidewalks, and you'll discover boutiques with a bohemian bent, and unique gifts for everyone on your list. For your free-spirited girlfriend, LTH Studio has jewelry by local artists, including Native American trade bead bracelets by Stormie ($70 to $395), each imbued with a different meaning, such as love, healing, etc. (And God knows we can use those sentiments around the holidays.) Then there are Jules & Co.'s amoeba-shaped silver earrings scattered with pink semiprecious stones ($475), right on par with spring's nature-inspired jewelry trend. If you're on a budget, don't fear: Craggy, sparkling amethyst candle holders pack a big punch at $38.
LTH Studio, 12182 1/2 Ventura Blvd., (818) 985-1278.
For just $25, you can pick up a colorful, Japanese print hair clip at Ryu, a Japanese import store with far more than the requisite tea sets and kimonos. A $145, hand-painted pink cashmere shawl would thrill Mom, as would a $115 metallic, etched leather clutch. The best part? The store's colorful shopping bags are so beautiful, each one hung with a paper crane, there's no need to gift wrap.
Ryu, 12322 Ventura Blvd., (818) 766-8058.
For the well-dressed baby or toddler, Naked Baby is a walk-in closet of Trumpette cowgirl socks ($28 for a box), Trunk Ltd. Beatles tees ($63) and Splendid sweats ($38). But the most unusual gift may be one of the charming, do-gooder tees by Tiny Revolutionary, the best emblazoned with the slogan "Drive a Hybrid -- Save Some Green for Me."
Naked Baby, 12334 Ventura Blvd.,(818) 760-8851.
For more gifts that give back, Storyopolis is a treasure trove of children's books. Not sure whether your best friend's kid will like "Goodnight Moon" or "Where the Wild Things Are"? You can let the owners do the work for you. Just tell them the age of your giftee and they'll do the rest, creating a basket of books, stuffed characters and more.
Storyopolis, 12348 Ventura Blvd., (818) 509-5600.
Buying clothes for someone else can be a gamble, but it's worth it at Yak & Yeti, which stocks Nepalese handicrafts that are suprisingly chic. Hoodies, $27.99, are artfully decorated with scraps of tapestries, while vibrant $59.99 patchwork print circle skirts are reminiscent of designer Dries Van Noten. And at $8.99, the ethnic scarves could have walked straight off the Balenciaga runway. The only problem? Getting the smell of patchouli out of them. Then again, maybe that's not a problem.
Yak & Yeti, 12406 Ventura Blvd., (818) 754-1938.
WHILE the average holiday shopping excursion feels like an exercise in soul-sucking commerce, flexing your retail muscles on and around Hillhurst Avenue in Los Feliz feels like taking a spin in the Wayback Machine to a happier time when the streets were wide and not yet overflowing with the disgruntled masses, and owners and designers worked their own stores -- and seemed genuinely happy to see you.
Setting the dial for the late '70s and early '80s would drop you on the doorstep of White Trash Charms, a spare boutique chock-full of charms, necklaces and rings influenced by the trappings of the "Me Decade," including 45 RPM record adapter inserts, cassette tapes and lightning bolts. In addition to her own line, designer Brooke Dulien has created pieces for Playboy (a rounded rabbit-head design in sterling silver, $100) and Disney Couture (Tinkerbell perched on a pearl runs $50). One of Dulien's newest arrivals can help celebrate yours -- a tiny version of the diamond-shaped "baby on board" sign in pink or blue enamel ($75) -- a kitschy yet cool holiday gift for that expectant mother in your life. And lest you think White Trash Charms is for ladies only, offerings include dressy silver cuff links (in the shape of a bow tie) and chunky, masculine-looking rings made by L.A.'s Han Cholo depicting turreted castles ($325) or Battlestar Galactica Cylons ($225).
White Trash Charms, 1951 Hillhurst Ave., (323) 666-9585.
A few feet away at Undesigned by Carol Young, it's the early '70s eco-consciousness vibe that's taken root. Young, a former architecture student, focuses on sustainable and eco-friendly apparel, which she designs in the back and sells in the front of her postage-stamp-sized boutique. Among the popular gift items are handmade critters (stuffed squirrels, kittens, fish and owls, $40 to $44) made from cast-off scraps of organic bamboo denim and polka-dotted silk. Other nifty gifts are the handbags designed by Young's former architecture school classmate Josh Jakus that repurpose factory excess wool felt (and unzip to lie flat as a single piece for dry cleaning or storage).
Undesigned by Carol Young, 1953 1/2 Hillhurst Ave., (323) 663-0088.
A couple of cranks further back in the time machine -- and a short car ride away to the stretch of Hollywood Boulevard between Vermont and Hillhurst avenues -- will put you on the doorstep of the Kennedy administration and a new upscale men's vintage boutique called Everything's Jake. Owner Jonathan Kanarek (a 2007 finalist in Esquire magazine's "Best Dressed Real Men in America" contest) opened his doors in September.
And though most of his merchandise is high-end clothing from the '40s through the '70s, including tuxedo and suit jackets ($150 to $180), full tuxedos ($400), dress shirts ($65 to $100) and the occasional silk robe (in a burgundy hunting print, $225), there is a host of accessories suitable for gifting the retro-dad: mink-lined drink coasters (four for $225); hand-painted silk ties from the '40s ($100 to $150); and a wide selection of vintage leather valets, humidors, cigar cutters, cuff links and pens.
Everything's Jake, 4644 Hollywood Blvd., (323) 662-5253.
JUST a 10-minute drive out of the shadow of South Coast Plaza, an eclectic enclave of boutiques is cropping up in Costa Mesa's southwest area. You won't find palm tree-lined streets dotted with organic juice bars or posh cupcake cafes. This is a landscape of strip malls and industrial parkways -- not the most obvious setting for these amazing boutiques, which elevate shopping to a creative experience full of one-of-a-kind finds.
Stylist Christina Smith opened Goat, nestled on a corner near the bustle of Newport Boulevard, one year ago. The sleek, modern space houses an array of denim and contemporary lines that read like a who's who of hip international street style. Acne, Jovovich-Hawk, Society for Rational Dress and Alice Ritter pieces are hung on the perimeters of the store, while Rebecca Minkoff bags and Sciapo boots are under the spotlight on a walnut shelf. There are plenty of great gift finds here, including a burgundy patent chain wallet from Shih ($85), bangles with canary diamond chips from Brett Rubico ($400 for stainless steel; $560 for gold) and this season's must-have connected scarves ($150), which cowl just perfectly, the first pieces Smith created under the Goat label.
Goat, 186 E. 16th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-1111.
Evocal is part boutique, part performance space. Hand-painted trucker hats, T-shirts and Converse sneakers are created by the same graffiti artists and designers who perform spoken word and break-dancing during the store's weekly events, which means this is the place to get a gift for that guy who has everything. Artists can even customize an item for a one-of-a kind present.
Evocal, 814 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-4548.
Visiting Patina is like walking into a house full of old treasures. You could spend hours here, winding from room to room to see all the fun merchandise from Frye, Free People, Rory Becca and Local Celebrity. My favorite discovery? A stash of vintage boyfriend bracelets ($48) from the 1950s that make a particularly great gift if you can match the name to a friend's special guy.
Patina, 178 Wells Place, Costa Mesa, (949) 548-1930.
The airy, industrial Generic Youth is filled with owner Jeff Yokoyama's popular line of surf-style clothing. The fleece hoodies ($60) and graphic T-shirts are super soft and most styles are unisex, making them great buys for anyone who loves a plush, worn-in sweat shirt with a touch of nostalgic 1980s flair. Yokoyama has invited a different brand to move into half of his store space for 30 days at a time, which guarantees that there's always something new. This month it's Atwater, a men's surf/street brand of logo tees, button-down shirts and amazing, custom airbrushed board shorts.
Generic Youth, 1609 Pomona Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 650-5511.
ABBOT KINNEY Boulevard in Venice may not have it all, but it does have a little of everything, making it the perfect place to jump-start your gift list. Some notable finds during a recent trip include Stronghold, which, in addition to its namesake denim, sells Filson bags, Pendleton shirts and White's boots. Among the gift ideas are Stetson fedoras ($120) and newsboys caps ($40) and private-label "carpetbags" made with repurposed carpet fabric and leather buckles. Made by a New Mexico couple that plies its trade at New West reenactments, the small is purse size ($235 ) and the large ($295) could double as a weekender -- perfect for the carpetbagger in your life.
The Stronghold, 1625 Abbot Kinney Blvd., (310) 399-7200.
Across the street is Surfing Cowboys, a source for midcentury, surf-flavored furniture, furnishings and art. Donna and Wayne Gunther, former fashion photographers, have compiled a collection that includes framed black-and-white photos of Muscle Beach, circa 1960, Delta Airlines travel posters and 1930s belly boards. Stuff stockings with surf magazines from the '60s ($20 to $800) or one of the store's signature T-shirts bearing the insignia of the First Cavalry Division on the front and "Charlie Don't Surf" on the back ($24).
Surfing Cowboys, 1624 Abbot Kinney Blvd., www.surfingcowboys.com, (310) 450-4891.
If there's a well-dressed fellow on your list, Enda King Men probably has a shirt for him. The namesake owner stocked his shop with nearly 400 classy, button-front shirts (prices range from $95 to $295) including 1 Like No Other's striped, limited-edition shirts with contrasting collar and cuff lining; Ryan Michaels' Western-style velvet shirts with contrast stitching; and handcrafted Takumi shirts that meld Japanese textile tradition with European tailoring). King also stocks the rest of the goods for guys including Goorin Brothers hats, strappy leather belts by ThreeSkin ($225), comically large belt buckles and a deep selection of denim.
Enda King Men, 1415 and 1419 Abbot Kinney Blvd., (310) 396-1242.
That barely scratches the surface of what can be found on Abbot Kinney these days, from rare tomes at Equator Books (1103 Abbot Kinney) to U.K.-flavored clothes and accessories at Brick Lane (1132 Abbot Kinney), including the labels Ted Baker, Ben Sherman, Anya Hindmarch and Pringle of Scotland. Jeannie Y (1301 Abbot Kinney) is stocked with Japanese and Japan-inspired brands such as Tokyo Denim, Mean Lovers and high-end Hello Kitty bags and wallets from Ash & Diamonds (including a pink metallic wallet for $282). Also new to the street is the Venice outpost of Silver Lake's A+R store (1121-1 Abbot Kinney), co-owned by Image contributor Rose Apodaca. It is a haven for hip home wares, such as handgun flower vases ($55) and the intriguing porcelain bust of Lenin decorated with a blue Delft-ware-like pattern ($1,000).
Power shoppers have been known to dip into Jin Patisserie (1202 Abbot Kinney) for a spot of tea or the restorative powers of a sea salt caramel. But if you're in the mood for lunch, the avocado fries at Hans Röckenwagner's 3 Square Café + Bakery (1121 Abbot Kinney) are a snack that manages to be both naughty and nice.