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Fashion : A SPECIAL REPORT: SPRING INTO FALL : Shopping : Fantasy Island : If Your Idea of Bliss Is to Shop Till You Drop, Then You May Find Paradise in Newport Beach

There is an antidote to claustrophobic, overcrowded shopping malls that have become a way of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in Southern California.

The alternative is called Fashion Island. Even the name of this Newport Beach outdoor shopping center makes it sound like a resort getaway. And a recent $100-million dollar face lift of the original late ‘60s construction only enhances the mall’s image. This is shopping as an oh-so-civilized experience.

From the moment you cruise along the palm tree-lined entrance and set foot on the 75 landscaped acres perched above Pacific Coast Highway, you can easily be convinced that the drive from anywhere is worth it.

Stores are arranged in a European village-like layout with Mediterranean accents. A progression of tiled paseos, sun-dappled dining terraces and meticulously cared-for gardens flow around a series of birdbaths and fountains. Classical music, piped through hidden speakers, mingles with cool sea breezes. And spectacular ocean sunsets can be admired from one of two informal restaurants or broad plazas overlooking Newport Harbor.

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The shoppers seem to be as well put-together as the surroundings. Parents pause to snap pictures of their children playing at the fountain. Nannies push prams. Shopped-out visitors lounge on the grass. Weekends, everyone is serenaded by strolling Mediterranean musicians wearing understated tapestry vests who contribute to the atmosphere of casual refinement.

Fashion Island didn’t start out to be a shoppers’ paradise. The complex opened humbly enough, as the retail hub of the surrounding Newport business park. Anchor stores J. C. Penney, the Broadway, Buffum’s and J. W. Robinson’s were the beginnings. But in 1978 they were joined by upscale Neiman Marcus. Next came Bullocks Wilshire, recently converted to I. Magnin.

And in 1982, the J. C. Penney’s auto supply building in the mall’s vast parking lot became the first Amen Wardy store, a retail fantasyland filled with top designer labels for Orange County’s elite. Three years later, the J. C. Penney store itself was transformed into the tri-level atrium court that houses some of the mall’s trendier stores as well as the popular Farmer’s Market.

Now, nearly a quarter of a century and 175 stores later, Fashion Island is a post card-perfect vision for shopping centers of the ‘90s. Along with its posh storefronts, many of which have a second address in Beverly Hills or West Hollywood, this “island” is one of tranquillity for crowd-weary celebrities. Cher, who often shops with guitarist Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi in tow, is a regular at the mall’s Modasport, Fogal, Theodore and the Optical Shop of Aspen, which features its own water and juice bar. Sambora, sporting Jean Paul Gaultier sunglasses in black pebble-textured frames from the eyewear shop, also adds to his wardrobe at Theodore, as do Teri Garr and Mickey Rourke.

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The Joan Vass store, known for its all-cotton knitwear, has another location in West Hollywood’s Sunset Plaza. Marcello’s, a stylish shoe store, offers a sizable selection of Cole-Haan designs as well as footwear by Robert Clergerie and Yves St. Laurent. Other unique stores include Red Balloon for distinctive children’s wear and Priorities, which carries many California designer names.

The social aspect of Orange County’s leisure lifestyle has not been lost on the merchants. I. Magnin and Neiman Marcus carry a range of understated and at-home evening wear as well as swim and resort clothes, year-round. Other shop windows are filled with the glitzier cocktail clothes and rhinestone-blitzed accessories.

Pierre Deux, the French country home furnishings and fashion store, occupies an impressive space. Seen from the grounds outside, with its canopy of colorful fabric drifting in the breeze on the balcony, it could be mistaken for a private villa in the South of France.

The romantic theme continues inside with informal room settings that showcase the company’s vibrant floral fabric designs.

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The island even has its own native charm--in the form of local artists and craftspeople selling their wares from mobile carts or cabana-like stations. Strollers can watch a work in progress by a painter with the acclaimed Laguna Fine Arts program. A handful of small original stores, including Phelps traditional men’s wear, Benchley Luggage and the bustling Newport Children’s Bootery add their share of support to the well-bred family atmosphere. They mix amiably with such modern dining establishments as Five Feet Too, a sleek, gray and lavender backdrop for innovative Chinese cuisine.

Five Feet Too, with its panoramic ocean view, is closed weekends. But it’s a choice spot for weeknight drinks or dinner, as Vice President Dan Quayle discovered when he hosted a charity fund-raiser there last fall.

The pace hardly compares to that of most malls, thank heaven. Even on Saturday afternoons, your chances of finding a parking place close to the store you want are excellent.

SHOPPING GUIDE:

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Amen Wardy, Suite 451, (714) 720-0255. Couture lines such as Ungaro, Galanos and Valentino, as well as Amen Wardy private label. Accessories, $100-$5,000; apparel from $300.

Benetton Maxi, Atrium Court Suite 307, (714) 760-6577 and Benetton Uomo, Suite 585, (714) 640-8424. Benetton Maxi for women and children is larger than most L.A. area Benetton stores, prices from $6-$150. Benetton Uomo is the only men’s wear Benetton store on the West Coast, prices from $8-$185.

Cavalli, Atrium Court Suite 321A, (714) 759-3345. Advanced European lines, Sara Sturgeon and Nico Verhey, locally designed jewelry, Italian shoes. All prices from $45-$400.

Cotton Rainbow, Suite 1049, (714) 720-1410. Hand-dyed, batik-patterned cotton coordinates by L.A. designer Kjersti. Infants to adults. $10-$75.

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Fogal Hosiery/Merletto Lingerie, Suite 811, (714) 644-6425. Swiss-made hosiery in 110 colors, thigh-highs, cashmere tights, $14-$175. Merletto offers only Italian-made La Perla women’s and men’s intimate apparel, beach and streetwear, $40-$800.

Go Sport, Suite 923, (714) 644-9952. Swimwear, bicycles and cycling wear, rock-climbing gear, skiwear, surfboards, leisure wear, home gyms. $3.99-$2,200.

Joan Vass, Suite 235, (714) 640-0125. New York designer Joan Vass’ simple, multifunctional cotton knitwear, $40-$210. Silk and chiffon dresses and hand-knit sweaters, $200-$1,000.

Marcello’s, Suite 237, (714) 721-0120. Women’s shoes by Cole-Haan, Robert Clergerie, Bali, Yves St. Laurent, Anne Klein, Pancaldi and Paloma, $90-$200, with exotic skins up to $1,200.

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Modasport, Suite 255, (714) 720-0535. New York and L.A. lines, Regina Rubens, Carmelo Pomodoro, Marina Spadafora, private label. From $100.

Pierre Deux, Atrium Court Suite 301, (714) 644-9056. Floral print fabrics from Provence, France, coordinating home furnishings, clothes, accessories. Fashion items, $95-$700. Home furnishings from $7.50.

Priorities, Atrium Court Suite 207, (714) 720-0070. Sportswear, jeans from California designers Michelle Lamy, Mark Eisen, Lisa Anne, Melivier, leathers from North Beach leather, $50-$600.

Optical Shop of Aspen, Suite 347, (714) 640-8230. Eyewear from Kansai, Oliver Peoples, Jean Paul Gaultier, Alain Mikli, L.A. Eyeworks, $89-$6,200.

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Red Balloon, Suite 339, (714) 644-8808. Children’s playwear from Flapdoodles and Iya, tailored clothes from Eiseman, dresses on European labels David Charles and Mona Lisa, $15-$200. Women’s casual clothes, accessories, $25-$150.

Theodore, Atrium Court Suite 221, (714) 759-3555 and Theodore Man, Atrium Court Suite 220, (714) 759-3535. For women, European lines, Katharine Hamnett, Byblos, Montana, Kenzo and Switzerland’s Pro-Line, $200-$1500. For men, Byblos, Montana, Istante (by Gianni Versace), Pro-Line, J. Taverniti, $100-$1,500.


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