EVERY SINGLE DAY, it's effortless to find locally grown produce at farmers markets throughout the city. But edibles aren't the only assets that markets bring to the table.
Hidden among columns of cucumbers and rows of radishes is some amazing fashion. Elizabeth Sayles' line of antique jeweled pendants and bracelets -- now sold at Fred Segal Santa Monica and Barneys New York -- was discovered at an L.A. farmers market. And Sayles is still here, for those who know where to look.
Not every farmers market find is a prize. Many sellers bring clothes that even Santee Alley wouldn't sell. But the same inexpensive hippie handicrafts and global accessories that have been sold at markets for years are now perfectly aligned with spring's biggest trends. And that makes for some very delicious shopping indeed.
The following markets are where we found our favorite treasures. And we found that the rules for buying produce at farmers markets also apply when buying fashion.
Bring cash, come early for the best selection and attempt a better deal by negotiating. Most important, make sure the goods are ripe and in season. Because nobody wants to look rotten.
Barneys and broccoli
On Sunday mornings, the stylish stretch that's home to Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta becomes an equally chic open-air market. Mingling alongside the blooming bouquets, colossal eggplants and a creperie that fills the air with sweetness is Elizabeth Sayle's line of reworked antique jewelry called Harlow. Well-to-do Sunday strollers aren't the only ones enjoying these goods. Harlow is now stocked at Barneys New York, Fred Segal Santa Monica and Roseark after being discovered here. Sayles traipses the globe to find Victorian mourning lockets, Art Nouveau pendants and vintage etched pocket watches that become the centerpieces of her designs. They hang from ornate Edwardian chains or crocheted ropes that the self-taught designer makes by hand. Is that bracelet too big? Brennan will re-size it on the spot. Having second thoughts on the 178-year-old Argentine religious necklace you just picked up last week? Return it for a full refund. Market shoppers enjoy another perk: a sizable discount. Prices aren't set, but a piece that retails for $600 in a swanky store may go for as little as $290 at Sayles' sidewalk stand. "What I charge on the street is what I feel is fair," she says. "I want people to be happy."
Melrose Place, between Melrose Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays.
Every Thursday, photographer Yoshi Hashimoto, whose work is in the permanent collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, comes to City Hall's south lawn and sets up the table that serves as his storefront. He isn't peddling artwork at this weekly bazaar. Instead, Hashimoto sells leather and raffia sandals that he stumbled upon during a Moroccan photo expedition. Woven closed-toe flats are the same yellow as the fresh squash sold down the aisle. An open-toe variety is as red as the strawberries that are the day's draw. But a pair of colorful lace-up sandals with cutout detailing is the standout, and a mere $35. A walk around the corner to the Main Street side of the market brings you to Benzair Melchor's stand of shamefully inexpensive leather bags, hemp rings and copper bracelets. This laid-back stall feels like a head shop, and we scored gear that would make Cheech and Chong proud: a pair of $10 beaded dangle earrings and a tiny tooled leather pouch for the same price.
City Hall South Lawn, 1st Street between Main and Spring streets. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays. www.down townfarmersmarket.org.
40 looks for $40
At lunchtime on Wednesdays, the downtown L.A. corner of 5th Street and Grand Avenue turns into a scene from an ancient bazaar. Sellers shout about their olive oils and made-from-scratch peach preserves. Shoppers and growers engage in spirited games of haggle. Cubicle dwellers pack every inch of the sidewalk, scarfing homemade empanadas and kettle corn as they browse. Vendor Harpal Soni is smack dab in the middle of the commotion. For the last seven years, Soni (known as Paul to loyal customers) has imported silk wrap dresses from India that he sells for $40. The vast selection of richly patterned tribal and floral prints can be twisted and tied into 40 different styles -- one-shoulder, bandeau, halter style, you name it. Need more variety? Each dress features two different, reversible prints. We went gaga for a green tribal printed piece that had an equally attractive turquoise print on its other side. Mastering the 40 styles can be tricky, but Paul started us out with a basic halter. He even included printed instructions and invited us to e-mail him if we got stuck.
650 W. 5th St. between Grand Avenue and Flower Street. 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays.
Canyon Lady Central
Stroll past the market's petting zoo (and its frisky baby pigs and goats) and you'll hit an outdoor mini-mall, specializing in the flowing wovens and handmade jewelry that are de rigueur from here to Topanga. Most of the goods are mass produced -- but there are a few artisans in the crowd, including Wanda Gale, who makes delicate necklaces with semiprecious stones and shells ($21-$120). Across the way, there are flowing Indian-print caftans, $400 stingray-skin computer bags, a Sotheby's real estate stall and, at the heart of it all, the Jennifer Jones Collection. Jones' space is essentially a boutique in search of four walls -- a stall packed with handbags, hats, jewelry, clothes and other accessories. We couldn't resist a summery white fedora that reminded us of Thakoon's must-have crinkled hat -- except it was just $25. A white peasant dress with black embroidery was another stylish find at $35. And if it doesn't fit? Bring it back next Sunday and Jones will exchange it. And she takes credit cards.
Brentwood Farmers Market, 741 Gretna Green Way, between San Vicente Boulevard and Montana Avenue. 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sundays.
Trinkets from Tibet
Families and college students fill a small pedestrian mall next to the Fox Theatre in Westwood Village's epicenter. It's a lively Sunday scene that feels like a carnival without the Tilt-A-Whirl. A row of flapping red Tibetan flags marks an intriguing tabletop jewelry store. Yak bone bracelets ($25) designed by Sonam (just Sonam, no last name) rest beside twisted silver chains that could come from a duty-free shop at an exotic port of call ($35). A case of pricier pieces includes a bold turquoise and red coral necklace ($250). We fell in love with a $35 sterling silver necklace that featured two deity pendants and an inscribed ring. But we had no cash -- a major market sin -- and Sonam doesn't take plastic. After the ATM, the asking price jumped to more than $100. Say what? Turns out we were quoted for a single pendant -- not the whole necklace.
Westwood Village Farmers Market, Broxton Avenue at Weyburn Avenue. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. www.west woodvillagefarmersmarket.com
Made it myself
This parking lot emporium is pretty random, and that's how shoppers seem to like it. Varieties of lettuce are sold alongside eclectic books. The crowd is more hipster than the other markets, but you won't find run-of-the-mill American Apparel spandex here. Instead, house rules state that every fashion item must be handmade. Expect knitted baby clothes and woven key chains. Cozy crocheted hats in Missoni-like patterns. Jewelry that's feathered and beaded in your standard hippie style. One seller even resorted to stringing together soda can pull-tabs into a bracelet, taking "made by hand" to a whole new level.
Echo Park Farmers Market, Logan Street south of Sunset Boulevard. 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays.