Shop Lineup Brightens Copley Place

Merin is a New York City free-lance writer.

Recently a friend confided that whenever she feels particularly stressed or anxious, she takes an hour break and wanders through her favorite shopping mall. "The atmosphere," she said, "is so soothing, so pleasant and cheerful. It's cool in summer, warm in winter, and the shops are filled with lovely material goods that take my mind off my worries."

If you have similar inclinations, and find yourself in a state of anxiety in Boston, head directly for Copley Place Shopping Galleries, one of the best collections of shops in town. Even people who don't usually take much to malls find Copley Place appealing.

Especially come winter, when the outdoor temperature sinks below freezing and icy winds whip snowflakes through the air, Bostonians are grateful for the marvelously pleasant, climate-controlled park-like environment of the shopping galleries. 120 retailers and restaurants provide shoppers' needs and wants from A to Z.

The galleries are part of the larger Copley Place development--skyscraping office and residential towers and two hotels (Westin and Marriott) that rise dramatically between two good old Boston neighborhoods.

Back Bay, South End

Toward the Charles River is wealthy Back Bay, with its wonderful red-brick bow-front town houses. On the other side is the South End, a working-class neighborhood with a remarkable number of Victorian mansions converted to apartment dwellings.

Copley Place began its phased opening in 1983; the shops opened in 1984. It occupies a 9 1/2-acre site, and that's big enough to contain the Roman Colosseum, Chartres Cathedral, the Washington Monument, the Taj Mahal and still have almost 3,000 square feet left over.

There was no need for the architects to scrimp on space for the shopping galleries, and they didn't. The shops, each with its own bow-front entryway, are on two levels, each of which is about a city block long. The shops surround a nine-story atrium with a 60-foot waterfall sculpted of green travertine and red and black granite. Built by artist and Harvard professor Dimitri Hadzi, the waterfall looks like a moving tapestry.

A Variety of Trees

The atrium is beautifully landscaped with 64 varieties of trees, some of them 30 feet tall, as well as shrubbery and flower beds. The atrium is like a breezy, warm, sunlit park, even in the middle of winter--pleasant, as well as convenient. The building, constructed over a six-lane Boston extension of the Massachusetts Turnpike plus a bunch of railroad tracks, is an architectural feat.

As for shops, the Copley Place galleries collection is tops. Retailers have been carefully reviewed by the management, the goals being high-quality merchandise, a good balance of types of stores, plus affable, efficient service.

The list of shops includes many readily recognized and respected names in retailing. A branch of Nieman-Marcus is the anchor store. The range of smaller shops includes better-quality chains such as Capexio, Papagallo, Custom Shop Shirtmaker, The Limited and others for clothing, and Caswell Massey, Crabtree & Evelyn, Brookstone and Rizzoli for gift items and home furnishings.

There are also top designer boutiques: Saint-Laurent Rive Gauche, Polo/Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Charles Jourdan, Alain Manoukian, Alfred Sung and others.

Top Local Clothiers

Two local clothing stores are outstanding. For men, Enrico Celli has private-label Italian imports of the highest quality and finest design. The collection includes handsome silk and cotton shirts with tucked fronts and French cuffs, leather jackets in sporty colors, fine business suits. The clothes are expensive, but the beautiful silk ties are an affordable $20 and up.

One of the best women's stores is Tissage, with a wide price range of unusual and tasteful fashions. There's a hand-woven cotton purple shift that drapes gently on the hips ($125) and a black knit low-back dress made of Angora that's as soft as your cat ($475).

Portfolio features reasonably priced pieces of wearable art, including hand-painted flowered sweatsuit material pants outfits ($100), cotton dresses ($60), silk shirts hand-painted with clusters of stars and signed ($160) and star shifts. They're beautifully done.

There are several sources for gift items. The Gallery of Museum Shops, in a cage-like structure near the entrance to the shopping galleries, has gathered a fine selection of representative merchandise from each of Boston's fine museum shops. You'll find unusual prints, posters, cards and books. There are also handcrafts from South America, Africa and Asia, as well as some Oriental rugs, Mexican blankets, selected small antiques and jewelry reproductions.

American Crafts

The Artful Hand has fine American art and contemporary crafts. This is a spacious gallery of all kinds of hand-blown glass, hand-thrown ceramics, hand-woven textiles and hand-beaten silver jewelry; 600 American craftspeople are represented.

Among the most unusual items in the collection are Steve Malavolta's puzzle in hardwood and semiprecious stones ($65), Cynthia Saber's alabaster platter ($190), Jim Yesberger's sterling silver limited-edition Dragon Cuff Bracelet ($700) and Mary Harper's wonderful baskets of double-stitched Ponderosa pine needles ($75 to $175).

The Artful Hand also has a large collection of hand-made kaleidoscopes that use bits of colored glass, globules of tinted oils or mirrors to create awesomely beautiful patterns. Many are made by Peach, known for inventive technique. The price range is from several dollars to several hundreds of dollars.

Marion Ruth is another highly original Copley Place gift shop with a more traditional line of goods. Here you'll find hand-blown crystal from the top companies mixed in with high-tech Danish stainless-steel kitchen and office accessories. Many of the items are also found in the design collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art. There are elegant Italian porcelain vases in black and white ($52 to $75), brightly colored hand-painted platters by Tom Wesselmann ($95) and other artists and amusing Schnapps glasses that look like eggs and sit tilted to one side ($32, box of two).

Fashionably Functional

Less exotic and reasonably priced home accessories are sold at Crate & Barrel, a chain store with a large branch at Copley Place. Crate & Barrel has everything from color-coded cassette racks to computer tables, from clocks to canvas chairs. It has inexpensive bedding, Italian perforated steel wastebaskets, thermal carafes, dinnerware, small kitchen appliances, closet storage devices, wooden trays and tables. All are both functional and fashionable.

Another Copley Place store with a fabulous product is Island Canvas. This company makes the best and biggest variety of canvas totes and luggage. Some of the items are shoe bags ($15), ski bags ($20), tote bags (18 by 12 by 8 inches, $22), artists' portfolios ($45), garment bags ($20), tennis bags ($37), over-the-shoulder carryalls ($12), clutches ($17) and more.

Best of all, they come in a rainbow of bright colors--gold, red, turquoise, royal blue, green and others. You can mix or match a set and get all your new belongings home in style.

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