HOLIDAYS : Making It Personal


There are reasons why a man's wife balks at a blender or toaster under the tree, logical explanations as to why Dad might groan when he opens a box of generic underwear. There is absolutely nothing personal about such presents. The more a gift is individually suited to the recipient, the more special the gesture.

One grand example of this gift genre: commissioning an artist to paint a portrait. Reseda resident Jim Gaines, who has been painting for 60 years, now devotes most of his time and creative energy to portrait work. His oil-on-canvas works start at $1,500 for an unframed, single subject from a head and shoulder view and can run as much as $3,000 for two subjects or one with a three-quarter view.

Gaines says the surprise element is one of the biggest draws of his business, particularly when lovers or spouses arrange it for their significant other. "It's the greatest thing in the world," he says. "People are very moved by it, it's a powerful thing."

Although Gaines prefers to re-create the image from a roll of black and white film, working from his memory to capture a person's coloring, he can work from a good color photograph.

Artist Jim Gaines, (818) 342-0668.

What better time than Christmas to present someone with a connection to his family's past? Giving someone a "branch" of the family tree is a uniquely personal gift. Glendale genealogist Jan Jennings traces the roots of ancestors for an hourly rate of $25.

The time required to unearth the information varies, depending on whether or not the subject's family has been living in the United States for years or whether the subject is a first-generation American.

Even in the cases of immigrants from this century, Jennings says she can trace records dating to the 1920 census. She needs a minimum of parental names, but prefers to have the grandparents' names as well. The more she has to work with, the less time-consuming the search.

Jennings, who has 13 years experience, has presented families with books written about their lives and has managed to trace some families back as far as six generations.

"It's a really neat present because it is so very personal," said Jennings.

Genealogical Searches by Jan Jennings, (818) 790-2642.

Custom shirts are another example of a truly individualized gift. The Custom Shop in The Promenade mall in Woodland Hills makes dress shirts in a variety of fabrics using individual measurements. The shirts can be made for men with chest sizes ranging from 30 to 62 inches. The store's traditional-style shirts can also be made for women but there are no special, feminine styles available.

The store offers cotton-blend fabrics as well as luxe Sea Island and Egyptian cotton in 250 colors and patterns. Prices range from $49.50 to $79.50 per shirt, depending on the fabric.

Customers who order only a single shirt, however, pay a $25 cutting fee, so it pays to order several. However, if a customer orders one shirt, likes it and wants to order more, the store will waive the previous fee when the second order of five or more is made.

The one glitch in arranging for custom shirts as a gift: getting the required measurements. Penn Taliaferro, manager of The Promenade store, says one clever woman strolled in with her husband on the pretense of simply getting the measurements on file for the future. Later in the week, she stopped back to place her Christmas order.

The Custom Shop at The Promenade, Woodland Hills, (818) 346-1241.

Having a fragrance created for a significant other is another unusual idea. At Body Scents in Encino, employees trained in the art of scent making can create fragrances for men and women. Owner Joyce Wilkoff or one of her staff will ask if the man or woman for whom the gift is intended likes flowery or sweet aromas. The buyer is then given choices to smell.

The store's "aromatherapy" experts then begin to mix with similar "notes," as the individual scents are called.

The final solution can be housed in crystal and silver perfume flasks, as well as some antique fabric bottles; prices for the containers range from $40 to as much as $70 for the precious metal containers. All hold approximately one ounce. Fragrances themselves are priced from $8.50 to $27 per ounce. The store offers labels to affix to bottles that read "Created for . . .."

If a customer orders a spritz instead of a pure oil compound, the volume increases because alcohol is added; many women buying scents for men opt for this. Spritz solutions are $13 for about four ounces. Although men are a little nervous about having their own scent at first, says Wilkoff, once a woman gives it to him, "he really loves it."

Body Scents (located inside Flair Boutique) 17237 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (800) 782-9672.

A tailor-made story is a special gift for a child that can be created by anyone with a home computer and somewhat sophisticated printer. The idea is to write an original story about a child and plug his or her name into it. Print it out in large type, and add some pictures or original art. Buy a folder, punch holes in the sheets and secure them to the binder and voila: an instant personal story.

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