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Funk and flash

Special to The Times

WHETHER you call it nouveau hippie or psychedelic garden party, you’ve probably seen the look on hip L.A. girls from Silver Lake to Laurel Canyon

-- feathers, fur and spangles, leather, chiffon and hand-crocheted lace. And long before it was trendy, it was at Kime Buzzelli’s tiny Show Pony boutique, which reopens this weekend after a three-month renovation.

Eight years ago, when Echo Park was better known for drive-by shootings than designer shops, Buzzelli was a pioneer. She approached Show Pony as an art space first, a retail store second, and lived and made her art in an apartment upstairs.

Selling one-of-a-kind pieces that often took weeks to make, work by fledgling designers as well as now-familiar names such as Magda Berliner and Brian Lichtenberg, Buzzelli built Show Pony’s reputation as a source for -- as she puts it -- “the thing that tricks out your wardrobe,” and it soon became a favorite destination for stylists. Once a month she invited artists and performers to participate in themed events exploring topics as diverse as pets and teen lust. Some days, she wouldn’t open at all.

“It had a sort of Factory feel about it,” says Buzzelli, 39, who painted a portrait of herself in a ruffled yellow frock and green fishnet tights riding a purple carousel horse, for a poster announcing the store’s reopening. She and the horse both wear flowers in their hair.

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A distinct Show Pony aesthetic developed, where more is definitely more. The 1974 book “Native Funk & Flash,” featuring costumes worn by the outrageous performance troupe the Cockettes, is a bible for Buzzelli, who also has a blog, the Moldy Doily (themoldydoily. typepad.com). “All the girls I’m friends with have macrame books from yard sales, but they also love the ‘20s and gypsies and the Marquesa Casati and Edie [Beale] from ‘Grey Gardens,’ ” she says. In short, the Show Pony girl is someone “who isn’t afraid to wear the things she loves, all at once.”

Change in store, neighborhood

Stylist Gena Tuso, a regular contributor to Nylon and Anthem, has pulled pieces from the shop for singers Pink and Regina Spektor. “Now you can go to Urban Outfitters and Forever 21 and you’ll see little leather strings with feathers and beads that you can put in your hair,” she says. But Show Pony “was the first store that I saw that stuff in.”

As Echo Park became gentrified, Show Pony changed too, bringing in manufactured lines and vintage clothing at lower prices and becoming more like the rest of the small independent stores that popped up all over the city during the boutique boom of the last five years.

“I never wanted to be that store,” Buzzelli says now. “It’s not about that for me.”

Ironically, she can thank the neighborhood’s skyrocketing rents for Show Pony’s current return to its roots. When Buzzelli found out the rent on her storefront was going to triple after the sale of the building, she saw it as a make-or-break moment. “It was, like, do we just get out, say it is what it is and let’s just go? Or do we gussy it up, remodel, make it that great space we want it to be?”

With the encouragement of friends who urged her to “up her game” -- putting in more of her own artwork, paring down the merchandise to “the best of the best” and bringing in new talent -- Buzzelli decided to stay.

Out went the circus-like red wardrobes and the clutter; in came sleek black lacquer shelves and chandeliers. Buzzelli, who had a solo show of her fashion-inspired drawings and paintings last year at the New Image Art gallery and has just created a collection of Vans shoes and clothing for 2009, designed the fabric for the curtains and the couch. “I sort of feel like this remodel is Show Pony grows up,” she says.

Once again, she’ll stock one-of-a-kind pieces, including more elaborate (and expensive) work that might not have sold in the store’s previous incarnation. For instance, Laura Kranitz, who makes feather hair clips, also creates neckpieces of glass beads and chiffon that take up to 60 hours to make and cost upward of $500. Annakim Violette, who designs filmy Ossie Clarke-esque chiffon dresses, also makes what Buzzelli calls “girly” taxidermy art, if there can be such a thing, including the pink goat’s head with glitter horns that now hangs on the shop’s wall. Miss KK, known for her body-conscious dresses, has been working on handprinted suede jackets, and Buzzelli is excited about a new line of lingerie called Leg Palace. Just don’t expect to find any wardrobe staples unless your staples tend to sparkle.

“I always felt like I sold out a little when I started carrying stuff that was really normal,” Buzzelli says. “It’s not like people don’t buy it, but I don’t want to be the one selling it. I like the thing that doesn’t make sense.”

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Show Pony, 1543 Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 482-7676.


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