Ooh-L.A.-L.A., How Chic


As the malling of America proceeds, finding things that are unique becomes an increasingly difficult challenge. But in a city like L.A., the quest is a snap. The hottest fashion items arrive here while they're still sizzling. And sometimes, they aren't just available first in L.A., they're for sale only in L.A. So anyone who falls for those "be the first kid on your block" pitches is in luck.

The huge white Tommy Hilfiger boutique on Rodeo Drive is the only free-standing store in the designer's red, white and blue logoed empire. Rather than stock it with everything Tommy that's carried in department stores, Hilfiger decided to launch a few special collections in Beverly Hills, using his flagship location as a laboratory.

Even before the store opened here six months ago, the red label collections for men and women existed as a custom service for celebrities. When the Rolling Stones or Sheryl Crow went out on tour clothed by Hilfiger, they wore the sort of brocade dandy suits and tight, bright leather miniskirts that are now offered to those who play air guitar in front of their bathroom mirrors.

"The red label clothes are meant for someone who wants to be noticed," Hilfiger spokeswoman Alexandra Macalwaine said. The cost of courting as much attention as a glitter rocker is about $2,000 for a woman's suit, complete with red silk lining.

The white label collection for women includes classic career clothes and a few escapees from the red label design room, like a short, bare, blue suede dress. Cashmere sweaters and tapered shirts mix with suede jackets and tailored trousers. Shirts cost $115 to $195, leather jackets from $750 to $1,350.

Blue label, also sold exclusively in Beverly Hills, is the male equivalent of white label. Suits, made in Italy, run from $995 to $1,250. Silk and cashmere polo shirts, linen trousers and cashmere blazers come in a range of country club brights. There's not a logo to be seen on any of the red, white or blue label clothes.

Tourists who want to bag a souvenir gravitate to a line of Tommy toiletries being tested in Beverly Hills. Shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and face scrubs start at $12.

If the Shoe Fits: New Balance, the sixth-largest manufacturer of athletic shoes in America, cherishes its reputation as a maker of high-performance running shoes. So the company was caught off guard when its retro 576 model became a craze among stylish Parisians.

The French, who long giggled in their Pernod about the American penchant for wearing sneakers off the playing field, have lately embraced the lowly footwear.

"In Europe, the shoes are now bought primarily by women in fashion boutiques, not in sports stores," New Balance vice president of marketing Paul Heffernan said. "We weren't trying to be cool, but it seems that we are."

The Boston-based company is making available only 50,000 pairs of the 576 in this country. Of course, the 576, which comes in eight different colors of suede, isn't the first sneaker to be popular because it's cute. Heffernan admitted that 75% of the athletic shoes purchased in the U.S. are bought for looks, price and feel, not performance.

Los Angeles is the first city to get some of the sneakers. Front-runners in Brentwood and Sportie L.A. on Melrose sell them for $125.

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