Time traveling at Tavin in Echo Park

Tavin, a colorful gypsy caravan of a shop that opened in Echo Park in July, feels like it was plucked from an old cobblestone street on Paris' Left Bank and transported to Los Angeles.

Bird cages, jelly jars and Victorian garments dangle from the ceiling; rustic shelves and cabinets are crammed with books, hats, beaded purses and mirrored textiles; and the walls are a dusky pink plaster whose patina might have come from years of burning candles and incense. An opulent, eclectic collection of vintage and designer clothes hangs from old ballet barres; here, a sequined top ($34) seems perfectly at home beside a woolen poncho ($150), and a feathered frock ($78) nicely offsets a tunic from Guatemala that's been refashioned as a short, flirty dress ($42).

Each piece is a reflection of owner Erin Tavin's romantic, earthy aesthetic. The New York native and former actress came to Los Angeles for a role in 1995's "The Heidi Chronicles" and never left. She had been thinking about simplifying her life after a decade as a stylist and costumer for films and Disney's teen shows). Tavin had dipped her toes into the retail waters with popular booths at the Melrose Trading Post and the Rose Bowl Flea Market, but opening her own store continued to be some future event that she was merely preparing for until she saw the "For Rent" sign in the window of the space that once housed the Show Pony boutique. She applied for the lease on a whim, was approved the same day and decided to go for it: "damn the recession, damn the economy," she says.

As her husband, who is a performer with the circus troupe the Mums, and friends worked to create the multi-textured space from a simple storefront, Tavin embarked on a two-month spree of "shopping like a complete and utter madwoman."

She thrifted, went to costume houses, contacted private collectors and found young local designers such as Osei-Duro, whose avant-garde pieces are made of fabric from Ghana, and the team Josh and He Yang, whose hand-woven cloches are fit for a modern-day Anais Nin. Tavin also brought in luxe tops, leggings and sweaters from the line Park Vogel.

"I wanted to have some modern basics so the store feels sort of grounded," she says. Although the majority of the clothes Tavin sells are vintage, about half the pieces are custom-tailored by a seamstress in Atwater Village into more contemporary shapes, and even the ones she doesn't touch are bought for their timelessness.

"This might be from the '60s," Tavin says, pulling a black-and-white striped Sonia Rykiel sweater ($72) from the rack. "But I'm more interested in, does it look 'now'? Does it look contemporary?. . . I want you to be able to walk out and feel like, I look great, I look current, and I didn't go and spend $700 at Barneys."

Lately, thanks to word of mouth, the shop has been attracting celebrity tastemakers such as Chloe Sevigny and Miranda July, as well as designers and trend forecasters who buy in quantity. Recently, "True Blood" costume designer Audrey Fisher did a pull.

For the holidays, Tavin is bringing in a special selection of "gifty items" such as tiny leather-bound books, antique mirrors and locally designed jewelry. She's been stocking up on fancy ribbons and wrappings too. This savvy shopkeeper believes in going the extra step, which is why she types poems on her price tags and will spend two hours helping someone find the perfect party outfit. She's even been known to sell the dress off her own body. And on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings wine is served to visitors, which only makes it that much harder to go back into the real world.

"The women who get it say, 'Wow, I feel like I'm transported,' " Tavin says. "And that means a lot to me."

On Saturday, Tavin will celebrate its "First Winter" with a grog-and-chocolate holiday party from 5 to 9 p.m. 1543 Echo Park Ave. (213) 482-5832



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