In the streamlined '90s, few people grant themselves many luxuries. So, in a world where buying necessities takes up the bulk of income, even the smallest luxury feels like a major indulgence.
Mention the word cashmere and most people immediately associate the soft, caressible fabric with indulgence. At Casual Corner stores, including the one in Topanga Plaza, $79 will buy a woman's long-sleeve cashmere sweater. It's an unheard of price for something typically costing $100 or more. Casual Corner, 6600 Topanga Canyon Blvd., (818) 348-6600.
And here's a nice idea for a man's cashmere gift: socks. Most are priced in the $20 to $50 range per pair. The J. Crew store in Woodland Hills offers red, green, black, gray and cream-colored socks that sell for $18 a pair. J. Crew, 6100 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills (818) 888-2739.
For those whose tastes run to more intangible extras, a series of floral presents delivered monthly is another luxury gift idea. This is particularly appropriate for people who appreciate flowers and feel they have enough "stuff" in their lives. At The Wild Flower in Northridge, $100 will buy as many as five floral gifts and their delivery. The Wild Flower, 8300 Tampa Ave., Northridge, (818) 885-1212.
Of course, with so many guests parading in and out during the holidays, fancy pure linen Damask hand towels combine luxury with practicality. Strouds, which has several stores in the Valley, carries imported versions. Each sells for $16.99.
A much greater luxury awaits the recipient of a gift certificate for a massage. At Skin Spa in Encino, several 1 1/2-hour packages are available for about $100. One particularly fragrant offering is the Spa Jouvance. It includes a body polishing, cocooning heat wrap and half-hour massage. Skin Spa, 17401 Ventura Blvd., (818) 995-3888.
For the avid letter writer on the gift list, an engraving plate used to create fine personal stationery is another welcome extravagance. At Love 'n Kisses, a Sherman Oaks gift and stationery shop, engraved stationery is available. And though a set of 50 sheets and envelopes plus an engraving die might run as much as $170, it's possible to just give the plate itself. One name die, as it is called, costs $23. Love 'n Kisses, 15030 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 995-1965.
The gourmets in the crowd will always appreciate a basket loaded with pricey spices. At Cost Plus in Woodland Hills, a variety of Indian herbs and seasonings in festive packages sells for about $5. There are Spice Islands bottles (also sold at grocery stores) filled with precious saffron threads, heady orange peel and other unusual flavoring elements. Cost Plus, 21825 Erwin St., Woodland Hills, (818) 999-3501.
A gift certificate for car detailing is another novel indulgence, but one that Southern Californians can relate to. At Steve's Detailing and Car Wash in Woodland Hills, two special holiday gift certificates are available. The mini-detail package, $49.95, includes an exterior wax and wash with wheel cleaning and interior services. For $99, a similar exterior service is supplemented with more elaborate attention to the interior. Steve's Detailing and Hand Car Wash, 6326 Canoga Ave., Unit F, (818) 999-0199.