Peeks at Boutiques

When it comes to world-class shopping, Los Angeles and its environs rival New York, Paris, Milan, London and Tokyo. Most major designers have set up shop somewhere in Southern California or their clothes are available at specialty or department stores in the area. Chain stores quickly interpret the most popular styles in every permutation of size, color and price for mall shoppers.

Welcome to the global boutique, where shopping just isn't that much fun anymore. Why? Because the same stores, brands and styles are found in virtually every city or mall around the world.

Boring.

So The Times fashion staff has decided to scour Southland neighborhoods in search of unique shopping opportunities. We'll periodically ferret out clusters of interesting boutiques, looks and ideas in neighborhoods throughout the region and share what we find with readers.

Keep in mind that unusual items are often found in small stores featuring lesser-known designers. Trendy looks like the current bohemian or Asian styles can be found for less than designer prices by shopping ethnic neighborhoods. And we all know that a shopping expedition can be for scouting and recreation--not for buying.

We fanned out on Robertson Boulevard for the first of our occasional series on Shopping the Neighborhood. The shopping stretch between Beverly Boulevard and 3rd Street has become a magnet for many only-in-L.A. stores like Curve and Lisa Kline. It's also a destination of choice for young designers from outside of Los Angeles, like Kate Spade and Cynthia Rowley.

Clothing in general is pricey (most items, even T-shirts, cost $50 or more) in this neighborhood. But tracking the trends at the upscale boutiques, many of which feature clothes by up-and-coming designers from all over the world, is a good way to shop for ideas to duplicate for less.

After all, shopping can be an education.

The Route: We started from the public parking lot near Alden Drive and headed north on Robertson toward Beverly Boulevard. There we crossed Robertson and went south toward Third Street. Here are the stores we visited:

Freelance, 113 S. Robertson, (310) 247-8727. Fringe, glitter, fake fur and feathers reign supreme at this funky emporium with fashion-forward footwear from France in the $200 price range.

Waterworks, 109 S. Robertson, (310) 246-9766. Expensive French and English toiletries, antique bathroom fixtures and luxurious bath accessories. If you can afford a $96 soap dish, this is the place.

Tehen, 107 S. Robertson, (310) 860-9294. The French active-wear company offers knit basics in cotton, linen, silk and wool from $40.

Kate Spade, 105 S. Robertson, (310) 271-9778. All the classic totes, diaper bags and wallets the New York handbag designer is known for, along with newer knit jersey designs for fall, laptop computer cases, raincoats, pajamas and more. At $5, the Kate Spade mint candy are an option to spending $200 for a purse.

Parallel, 103 S. Robertson, (310) 276-7033. Wearable, yet hip clothes that fit well. Stretch cotton three-quarter sleeve shirts for about $60, T-shirts with urban prints for $40 and skirts in the fresh below-the-knee length starting at about $68.

Les Habitudes, 101-109 S. Robertson, (310) 659-2906. This fantasy boutique is full of heavily beaded evening gowns, wedding dresses, capes and jackets that most of us can only dream about. Most pieces from John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood and Eavis & Brown London start at more than $1,000.

Les Habitudes Bis, 8811 Alden Drive, (310) 273-2624. Clothing and shoes from past seasons discounted 50% and more.

Indigo Seas, 123 N. Robertson, (310) 550-8758 . Stepping into this boutique is like taking a mini-vacation to the south of France. The home furnishings store offers turn-of-the-century French antiques such as shell pots, Eiffel Tower collectibles, pottery, linens and pillows that will make your house look as fabulous as the Ivy restaurant next door. Few antiques are less than $100, but some tchotchkes from exotic tropical locales are under $25.

Ghost, 125 N. Robertson, (310) 246-0567. Ghost's signature clingy, whisper-thin dresses are expensive and only for those comfortable with their bodies.

MAC, 133 N. Robertson, (310) 854-0860. Body glitter, fake eyelashes and other funky cosmetics from the Canadian cosmetic line. The store offers a greater selection than department stores, and the staff will gladly let you play.

Maxfield Bleu, 151 N. Robertson, (310) 275-7007. This multi-designer store has expensive men's and women's separates from designers like Gucci, Voyage, Katyone Adeli, Dolce & Gabbana and Pucci.

Curve, 154 N. Robertson, (310) 360-8008. When L.A. fashion designer Delia Seaman and her partner Nevena Borisova opened Curve in 1997, they single-handedly breathed fresh air into Robertson's shopping scene. The bright store showcases colorful designs from up-and-comers like Fofo, Alpana Bawa, Beth Orduna and Michelle Mason.. Most items are more than $100.

Harari, 110 N. Robertson, (310) 275-3211. This store was peddling Japanese-inspired print silk dresses and shirts long before they were trendy. Even if you don't want to spend $180 on a short-sleeved shirt emblazoned with geishas, you can soak up the atmosphere at this peaceful spot that is a favorite with earth-mother fashion plate Stevie Nicks.

Slane & Slane, 120 N. Robertson, (310) 854-3804. Sisters Heath and Landon Slane opened their store in 1998 with a vision of creating silver jewelry that has the high quality, detail and prices that have traditionally been reserved for gold.

Storyopolis, 116 N. Robertson, (310) 358-2500. Even after your kids are done looking at the well-stocked shelves of Curious George, Eloise and Muffy books, you'll want to stay to check out the art gallery and the fantastic selection of greeting cards inspired by childhood stories.

Robert Clergerie, 108 N. Robertson, (310) 276-8907. Many women swear by these French shoes, which start at about $200.

Agnes B., 100 N. Robertson, (310) 271-9643. Tres chic suits and separates for women in lightweight wool and cotton start at about $280. Agnes B. also makes children's and men's clothes, leather goods, watches and cosmetics. The French line is perhaps most famous for its boxy snap sweatshirt cardigans.

BCBG, 104 S. Robertson, (310) 860-9690. This location has the largest selection and the most current designs of any of L.A.'s BCBG stores. Check out the cashmere halter tops ($78) in juicy colors.

Madison, 106 S. Robertson, (310) 275-1930. Some consider Madison to be the best shoe store in Los Angeles, and there's no denying the selection is diverse, with high-fashion styles from Sergio Rossi, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Marc Jacobs displayed alongside New Balance sneakers and $26 beaded thong sandals. Other offerings include Matilde cashmere sweaters, Earl Jeans, Tocca dresses and Daryl K pants.

Cynthia Rowley, 112 S. Robertson, (310) 276-9020. Wonderfully bright, youthful party clothes in silk and tulle that are flattering and feminine, as well as cotton capri pants and sleeveless tops bursting with blooms, straw bags with fake hummingbirds perched on the fronts, and a selection of the designer's new dishware emblazoned with shoes, handbags and other fashiony designs. The dishes start at $24 each while most dresses are more than $200.

Rinaldi, 132 S. Robertson, (310) 278-2275. Trendy shoes and leather goods in the $100 range. Check out the zebra-print faux fur clogs, $79.

Product, 134 S. Robertson, (310) 860-9393. Wardrobe essentials including cargo pants, button-down shirts and sleeveless shells in stretch cotton.

Horn, 140 S. Robertson, (310) 278-2052. Store locations in Berlin and L.A. stock dresses and skirts by Monah Li, knit shirts by Custo, sweaters and dresses by Blumarine and Plein Sud, cowboy hats and leopard undies.

Lisa Kline, 136 S. Robertson, (310) 246-0907. Julia Roberts, Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston and Drew Barrymore frequent this youthful boutique for of-the-moment T's by Three Dots, pajamas by Cherry Pie, Skimpies underwear, Daisy Girl halter tops and Free Love wrap skirts, both made from 1950s tablecloths.

Cynthia Leight Opticians, 123 S. Robertson, (310) 858-7399. Opened just two weeks ago by Cynthia Leight, co-founder of Oliver Peoples eyeglass line, this shop carries glamour girl sunglasses coated in rhinestones, in jewel-toned pinks, oranges and purples, as well as hip eyeglass frames for men and women. The staff is gracious about letting shoppers handle and try the expensive frames by Francis Klein, Matsuda, Anne Valentine, Paul Smith, Oliver Peoples and others. Most styles start at $200, and an optical shop is on site to fill prescriptions.

Lisa Kline Men, 123 S. Robertson, (310) 385-7113. Trendsetter Lisa Kline opened her first men's store in May carrying lines like James Perse, Paul Smith, Theory, Blue Marlin, Fake London, Kik Wear, Fresh Jive, Kenneth Cole, TSE and Ted Baker, vintage collectibles and interesting cuff links. .

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THE SCOOP

Where: Robertson Boulevard between Beverly Boulevard and 3rd Street. The area straddles Los Angeles and West Hollywood.

Hours: Most stores open at 11 a.m. and close by 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Parking: A public parking structure is on Robertson near Alden Drive. Daily maximum rate: $12. Robertson has a few metered spots for two-hour parking 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Some stores have parking lots for their customers.

Stores: See accompanying list.

Where to Grab a Bite:

The Ivy's patio on Robertson, north of Alden, is a lovely spot for salads, burgers, pastas and pizza, but the restaurant is pricey. A salad, for example, can cost up to $18.

The Newsroom across the street has less expensive ($9 to $12) Caesar salads and turkey meatloaf sandwiches. It also offers health foods, such as fruit smoothies, for less.

Cuvee, just north of 3rd Street on Robertson, is a gourmet deli with reasonably priced salads and sandwiches ($7 to $10), tables outside, and a nice wine selection.

ATM: Most stores take credit or debit cards. But if you need cash, the closest ATM is at the Unocal station on the corner of Robertson and 3rd.

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