OBJECTS OF OUR DESIRE : What Southern Californians Are Buying to Impress Their Friends and : Humble Their Enemies

Rochelle Reed is a Southern California writer.

Rolex watches. BMWs. Cuisinarts. Ralph Lauren.

If you think that any of this dream gear still connotes the magical quality known as status, pack up your Vuitton luggage and head for the Midwest.

Here in Southern California, status symbols change with the season, and there's nothing less status-y than last year's stuff. Today, flash a Rolex at your wrist--even the stainless-steel model--and your peers won't be impressed. Likewise for Jeeps, Guess? jeans, Filofaxes and cappuccino makers. If you haven't charged them on your platinum American Express card yet, don't bother.

On the other hand, if you're as yet the first person you know to serve cafe au lait , then a cappuccino machine may still be a valid status symbol in your group. Status symbols depend almost entirely on whom you want to impress. A businessman's Jaguar is a college student's Suzuki jeep; a teen-ager's stone-washed jeans become a Christian Lacroix gown to a society maven. Just remember that status symbols wear out quickly--you only impress those who haven't acquired them yet.

In recent years, the baby-boom generation has largely given up its hedonistic, materialistic singles life to marry and begin families. Consequently, status symbols now are less personally oriented, meaning fewer expensive watches, fancy handbags and designer clothes. The focus today is on home and family, and status symbols have become "cocooning" items such as kitchen equipment, digital VCRs, lighting fixtures, even building materials. The new yuppie sense of responsibility has also led to an emphasis on quality products--the safest car, the best stove, the wisest life insurance--with intrinsic value rather than showoff appeal.

What do status symbols really mean here in trendy Southern California? In short, they're to humble our enemies and awe our friends. There's even such a thing as reverse status--driving a beat-up Volkswagen bug to the Academy Awards, or sporting a drugstore plastic wallet when all your friends have invested a week's salary on a leather import. But without a doubt, the most impressive thing you can do is think up the next status symbol. Depending on who you are, where you live and how much money you make, here's a list to test your status quotient. After all, there's nothing more status-y than being able to say, "I had it first."

ARCHITECT-DESIGNED HOMES

For the designer-label generation, what next but designer homes? Frank Lloyd Wright houses--there are eight in Southern California--are the ultimate in status. Other big architectural names of the past: Robert Schindler, Richard Neutra, Cliff May, Gregory Ain. Local contemporary architects rank equally high, especially Frank Gehry, Brian Murphy, Fred Fisher and the Morphosis firm. $225,000 and up.

LUXURY STATION WAGONS

Sure, there are Range Rovers, Jaguars, Porsches and Suzuki Samurais, but these days the well-heeled, mid-30s professional couple is most proud of the family station wagon, a luxury Volvo in gold or silver with real leather upholstery and a de rigueur baby seat. Need we mention that "Child on Board" tags are definitely out? $18,000 and up .

CASH, NOT CREDIT CARDS

Forget gold, platinum or preferred. Much more impressive is real cash. Stop conversations in restaurants by whipping out actual money, then startle fellow diners and staff by not tearing the receipt tag off the check. Once upon a time, cash meant you were drawing unemployment, but now the state sends out checks. New bills are vital; rumpled money could falsely indicate that you're dealing contraband (uncool). And use $50s and $100s; anyone can get $20s at automatic teller machines.

GRANITE COUNTERTOPS

Just because you personally picked out your handpainted kitchen tiles in Mexico, Italy or France, carried them back in your luggage and then painstakingly set them yourself is no reason not to immediately pick up a crowbar and rip them out. Without exception, the most prestigious counter material in today's smaller kitchen is rock-hard, slate-gray granite with bullnose edges. For additional status points, use granite as the backsplash as well. $100 a square foot and up.

CASIO WATCHES

Cheap, durable, affordable to everyone. Think of the Casio watch as the highest form of an anti-status status symbol, one that announces to your peers, "You bet I could afford a Rolex but deep down I think they're tacky." When the Casio needs a new battery, throw it away and buy another. $20 and up.

PERSONAL TAB AT RESTAURANTS

You're so rich and famous that you just sign the check and your accountant pays the bill at the end of the month. This practice is so easy and fun that you find yourself treating perfect strangers to lots of pricey meals. Then when your fortunes take, shall we say, a downswing, waiters snarl loudly, "Sorry . . . you're no longer allowed to sign. I'll need a credit card for this amount." $1,000 per month and up.

HARLEY-DAVIDSON MOTORCYCLES

Look carefully at the next biker you spot grinding his or her gears at a stoplight. It might be Mickey Rourke, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Priscilla Presley, James Caan, Sylvester Stallone, any of the Jacksons, Motley Crue, Fleetwood Mac or possibly Liz Taylor on the bright red bomb given to her by Malcolm Forbes, who has a matching bike. Young stockbrokers and celebs alike prefer the Soft Tail and hard-to-get Heritage (very '50s-looking) models. $4,000 and up.

PROTON TV MONITOR

Aesthetically perfect, the sleek, black 27-inch Proton stereo monitor receiver is the television equivalent of a Porsche. No phony wood grain, no clumsy knobs, no rabbit ears. $1,300.

GREAT HAIRCUT, SKIN, NAILS

Spend enough money on a terrific cut and color (either sex) and you can buy all your clothes at the local discount store. Great skin--meaning not too much sun, regular facials and a super dermatologist--will even make up for less than stylish hair. As for nails, keep them short, rounded and preferably buffed rather than polished. $45 and up for the cut, $40 and up for the facial, about $15 for the manicure.

GIANT EXOTIC CUTFLOWERS

Long ago, daisies went the way of orange-crate coffee tables--out, out, out. Mums are verboten, roses are passe, tulips are fine in February. To make a floral status statement, choose ginger blossoms, haliconias, dendrobiums and other exotic flowers, the bigger the better. $8 per bloom and up .

VACATION DESTINATION: AUSTRALIA

Outbacks and barbies, kangaroos and koalas, the Sydney Opera House and the Great Barrier Reef. Australia is the place, much trendier than Europe even though the food isn't great. Hop up to Bali for a real status trip. Replaces trekking in Nepal as the hip vacation spot. $5,000 and up .

PHILIPPE STARCK CHAIRS

Irascible, hirsute Frenchman Philippe Starck is the chair designer of the moment. French President Francois Mitterrand hired him to decorate his private government apartment. The result: the Richard III, which looks like a cozy club chair wearing high heels, all facade and no backside. His three-legged Costes Chair (above) is the rage of Paris and is popping up in Southern California interiors. $825.

YOGA

Raquel Welch's videotape really started it; then low-impact aerobics reinforced the appeal. You don't have to jog and jiggle to get into shape. Various ancient shivanandas would faint at the athletics that pass for yoga these days, but if you want to look lithe, limber and lean, learn the Salute to the Sun. Move fast for an aerobic workout. $5 per class and up.

BOGNER SKIWEAR

Look for zany colors, real down stuffing and the little gold B. Fashion-conscious skiers declare that European Bogners (the ones you actually buy abroad) are better cut (sexier) than the sometimes Pillsbury Doughboy-looking suits stocked in the States. Don't forget your cashmere ski socks. $550 and up.

MEMBERSHIP IN THE SPORTS CLUB L.A.

Sweat side by side with Jack Nicholson; limber up with--believe it or not--Sarah Vaughan. All the big athletes belong here--Magic Johnson, Marcus Allen, Lou Ferrigno. Musicians are no strangers--Bob Seger, Kenny Loggins. The newest hangout of models, actresses and well-heeled executives (who buy the most expensive membership, the Executive Package). Valet parking, permanent lockers, laundry service for workout wear, charging privileges for massages, haircuts, dinners, clothes. Sign up now for the waiting list. Executive Club--$1,650 initiation, $125 per month.

WHITE TRUFFLES AND CEPES

Big, ugly, odoriferous lumps from the forests of France are currently the status food fad. Michael McCarty of Michael's pays $1,400 to $1,500 a kilo for white truffles (about $100 a plate), "and some people will order three white truffle courses," he says. For your own white truffles or cepes (Godzilla-sized mushrooms from the Dordogne region of France), search gourmet markets such as Irvine Ranch. Truffles, $500 a pound and up; cepes, $10 a pound and up.

CHEAP DATEBOOKS

A few years ago, $150 Filofax datebooks were all the rage. Now the wealthiest among us are proudly flashing Week-at-a-Glance appointment books. Look for the style with blue pages. $5.95.

TRENDY TAKEOUT

"It's almost cheaper to eat out than to cook at home," goes the current rationale. Actually, eating at fast-food places or inexpensive ethnic restaurants is probably cheaper than serving up steaks on the barbecue. Not so with trendy takeout foods, available now even at your local supermarket. For the price of gourmet carryout duck-breast and goat-cheese pizzas, Chinese chicken salad and such other delicacies as marinated jumbo shrimp, you might as well call your favorite restaurant for a reservation. $7.50 per pound and up .

MICHAEL GRAVES TEAPOTS

The little bird gets hot and falls off, but no other teapot shrieks status as effectively as the Michael Graves teapot. Recent brides report receiving as many as four of these, which is why bridesmaids are often given teapots. $100.

GIORGIO ARMANI UNDERWEAR FOR MEN

Boxer shorts are no longer the preferred look in manly foundations. Armani makes slim, hip-hugging briefs in pure cotton; wear them as a bathing suit in a pinch. You must buy them in Italy, of course. $7 a pair.

PURE LINEN SHEETS

No more percale, polyester or black-satin nights. The very best beds these days are clad in 300-threads-per-inch linen sheets made in Italy. For a full set of these, figure on spending more than you paid for your mattress. $650 and up a set.

DESIGNER BABYWEAR

Adults haven't had designer-fashion fervor for a while, but that's not to say little Jason and Jennifer aren't outfitted like a couple of swells. Choose from child-sized Agnes B., Sonia Rykiel, Esprit, Izod, Bill Blass, Baby Guess? and, for shoes, Enrico Coveri (Italian, of course). $20 and up.

PERSONAL DOG TRAINER

For those too busy to attend dog obedience school, personal dog trainers will now come to your home and teach Sparky to sit, stay, come, heel and quit chewing the plants. Cheaper than dog psychiatry but not by much. $50 an hour and up.

FLY FISHING

Just as when Gable lured Lombard into the great outdoors, fly fishing has returned as a status sport. To experienced anglers, just describing the experience of floating a fly softly on top of running waters can bring tears. So can the price of a status-y graphite Orvis SUBSCRIPTIONS TO EUROPEAN MAGAZINES

Anyone can plonk down $4 to $6 per magazine at a newsstand, but to subscribe--now that's status. Never mind that half the time the issues don't arrive, or they get to you months late. Having Tatler or British Vogue or World of Interiors in your mailbox will definitely make a heavy impression on your mail carrier. $34.50 a year and up.

STATUS CATS

No pound pets for the status seeker-- only fancy breeds are acceptable. Among the ritziest these days is the leopardette, a cross between an Asian leopard cat and a black domestic tomcat. Look once and you see an ordinary housecat. Look again and notice the amber eyes, spotted coat and shades of copper, silver and sorrel. But go ahead and say, "Here, kitty, kitty." About $600 for males, $2,000 for females.

CREDITS: Volvo from Westside Volvo, Culver City; watches from Feldmar Watch, Los Angeles; motorcycle courtesy of Buster McNeil; TV monitor from Proton, Compton; flowers from Petals of Paradise, Los Angeles Flower Mart; Costes Chair from Modern Living, Marina del Rey; skiwear from Vail West, Beverly Hills; truffles and cepes from Michael's, Santa Monica; teapot from Pottery Barn, Santa Monica; babywear from Agnes B., Los Angeles; leopardette from Jean Mills, Covina; styling by Polly Hoyt.

fly-fishing rod and reel. $340 and up.

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