For Angelenos, shopping may be a Zen exercise second only to Porsche-waxing, Rolodex-flexing, or embarking on strange high-protein diets. Los Angeles stores therefore offer more selection than those in any other city on the planet. Surprisingly, the best new entries are concentrated in a few narrow swaths: among the bodegas and storefront churches of Silverlake and Los Feliz (funky clothing shops), in the shadow of the Beverly Center (small, high-design boutiques), and along La Brea (sleek mid-century modern furniture). A few even landed in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood. Here, 15 of our favorites:
E 3532 Sunset Blvd., Silverlake; 323/665-5855. When she owned a Melrose shop in the late eighties, Elizabeth Marcel was famous for her hats-decorous, unstructured creations that helped define L.A. style. After a stint in Rome, where she sold her club wear off a blanket in the Piazza Navona, Marcel's back in the groovadelic Silverlake district with a new shop. Her hand-dyed boas ($25-$60), feathered purses ($75-$250), and dresses ($75-$350)-overdyed prints, Erté silhouettes in stretchy next-century fabrics-have quickly developed a cult following among musicians and models.
Monah Li 1756 N. Vermont, Los Feliz; 323/666-4030. It was inevitable that someone would try to inflect the clingy little black party dress with the vividly colored silks, heavy rayons, and rich brocades that clot the fabric warehouses, and perpetual club maven Monah Li has succeeded brilliantly in a part of town better known for coffeehouses than for fashion. Imagine the Victorian-influenced rich-hippie dresses that Marianne Faithfull used to wear, with a form-fitting nineties twist ($200-$400).
Near the Beverly Center
Every Picture Tells a Story 7525 Beverly Blvd.; 323/932-6070. We've all seen the people who walk by a Julian Schnabel painting and sniff, "My child could've done that." This is a store for parents who imagine that their offspring may have talent as art collectors as well. A fabulous collection of original paintings and lithographs by children's book illustrators such as Garth Williams (Charlotte's Web) and William Joyce (Dinosaur Bob) is augmented with vintage wooden toys ($10-$15), Russian tin toys ($10-$15), and picture books as lovingly displayed as works of graphic art.
ga ga 8362 W. Third St.; 323/653-3388. For an appealing, idealized image of Midwestern childhood circa 1924, stop by ga ga. The airy, light-filled shop is stuffed with canvas tepees ($150) and children's bath products ($6-$15), whimsical frog umbrellas ($13) and pretty building blocks ($15), hand-painted coat racks ($115) and vintage toys ($48-$72).
Miu Miu 8025 Melrose Ave.; 323/651-0073. The latest incursion of Miuccia Prada's mighty global empire is as paradoxically testosterone-drenched as you might expect from the first store in the United States to feature Miu Miu's men's line. Inside the severe concrete bunker, walls are painted in cheerful Coca-Cola red and white; a battalion of mesh shirts ($160) and khaki pedal pushers ($180) are splayed from their hangers as if they were ready to march off the racks and take Melrose by paramilitary force. With its suede jackets ($800-$900), artfully clunky shoes ($270-$340), and earth tones of every hue, Miu Miu has the perfect unisex look for the end of time: a cross between Half-Breedera Cher and G.I. Joe.
Noodle Stories 8317 W. Third St.; 323/651-1782. A stark, white, minimalist storefront displays five sparsely hung racks of clothes that draw a wide cross-section of Hollywood women. They adore the simple, flawlessly edited selection of Rozae Nichols evening dresses ($300-$500), geometric Three Dots tees ($35$70), and really, really nice Aida Barni cashmere sweaters ($200-$500).
OK 8303 W. Third St.; 323/653-3501. A shrine to the post-bachelor-pad life, with a flotilla of Noguchi lamps ($100-$700), a selection of crucial design books ($20-$100), a forest of futuristically iconic Ericophones ($95), and shelves full of arty biomorphic glass in the most tasteful hues of harvest gold and avocado green ($150-$500). "Check this out," says owner Larry Schaffer, beckoning a customer into his private sanctum at the back of the store. He unwraps a mysterious cardboard box and proffers . . . a vintage seventies Braun hair dryer.
Zipper 8316 W. Third St.; 323/951-0620. For the L.A. resident who frequents Amanresorts, has been seen browsing the tantric aisle at the Bodhi Tree bookstore, and knows which vendors at the Rose Bowl swap meet carry the choicest California pottery, Zipper is the closest thing in town to a general store. It's an all-purpose purveyor of feng shui supplies and geometric candles ($42-$50), boxes of surreal chocolates shaped like menacing bald men ($32), and pea-green pottery tumblers ($8), not to mention neo-fifties cereal bowls ($24) and rococo cardboard coffee tables from local artist Elizabeth Paige Smith ($550-$1,900).
La Brea Corridor
Outside 442 N. La Brea Ave.; 323/934-1254. This is where to buy a piece of the brave new California as promised by David Hockney: brightly painted vintage poolside furniture ($200-$5,000) that says as much about groovy mid-seventies and early-eighties Los Angeles as Foxes and Boogie Nights put together.
Skank World 7205 and 7221 Beverly Blvd.; 323/939-7858. Back when Eames was the stuff you took to the dump to make room for your reproduction Deco pieces, and the most common response to the name Eero Saarinen was "Gesundheit," this dusty little showroom was the first, brave outpost of the Arne Jacobsen, Greta Grossman, Florence Knoll mid-century thing that has since infected the design world like a rhinovirus. Furniture-obsessive David Lynch (who designed a couple of tables for the store) used to drop by almost every Saturday; when he didn't, he called. And now that Skank World has doubled in size, an old store becomes new again. How retro.
Orange 245 S. Robertson Blvd.; 310/652-5195. If you've ever dreamed of owning the contents of your third-grade classroom, stripped down to bare metal, lacquered, or painted tangerine, then Orange is for you. The vintage furniture store displays the discarded artifacts of California's 1960's golden age-industrial desks ($800-$1,500), taborets ($145-$475), the most beautiful mauve wastebaskets ($75-$225).
Craftsman Style 1453 Fourth St.; 310/393-1468. The L.A. area may be home to more 1920's bungalows than everywhere else in the country combined. This small antiques store near the Third Street Promenade is an appealing source for items such as Stickley chairs ($3,000-$7,000), pottery ($200-$6,000), and hammered-copper mica-shade lamps by Dirk Van Erp ($25,000) that flatter original Arts and Crafts interiors.
Sur la Table 301 Wilshire Blvd.; 310/395-0390. Part of the Seattle-based cooking-implement empire, Sur la Table is Santa Monica's newest culinary shrine, perfect for a part of town whose sprawling Wednesday and Saturday farmer's market has nearly achieved the cultural prominence of the Vatican. The faithful gather to attend culinary classes from esteemed cookbook writers and to contemplate such unapproachable objects of veneration as Rösle nesting bowls ($41-$79), Henckels steak knives ($150 for five), and copper stockpots ($99-$279).
Algabar 920 N. La Cienega Blvd.; 310/360-3500. In a city where Thai food is easier to find than pizza and where people decamp for a month in Bali as casually as their parents used to weekend in Palm Springs, Algabar is a Saks Fifth Avenue for the new century. Atz the incense-scented store, chic Asian exotica becomes accessible. Its iron teapots are imported from Japan ($60-$150), 100-year-old beds from Indonesia ($5,000), extravagantly silk-screened velvet throws from local artist Richard Fischer ($800-$1,500), and teas from the French firm Mariage Frères. Owner Gail Baral stocks antiques and clean-lined furniture priced for the points-on-the-gross crowd, as well as stylish sake sets ($15-$40) that everyone can afford.
Soolip Paperie & Press 8646 Melrose Ave.; 310/360-0545. An elegant new paper store across the street from the Pacific Design Center, with rough-hewn notebooks ($8-$115), cards ($2-$18), and stationery ($3-$12 for 10 sheets). (The Soolip Bungalow annex in the rear carries luxury bath products and cashmere-and-silk throws.) Sometimes it's the thought that counts, and since the handmade gift wrap here is more exquisite than anything you might put in it, a thought can count for a lot.
Jonathan Gold is a columnist for Los Angeles magazine and L.A. Weekly.