A sweet-faced girl in black Goth robes has painted a line of blood from mouth to chin; she's holding hands with her best friend, who could pass for Little Bo Peep. This hugely influential, style-mad kiddy-land, enthusiastically adopted by everyone from John Galliano to Gwen Stefani, may be slightly less wacky than it once was, but that doesn't mean throngs of wildly dressed teenagers don't still travel in from the suburbs on weekends accoutred in their outrageous finery to walk up and down, window shop, eat ice cream, and admire each other's costumes.
This is the headquarters for those giant babies, locally known as Lolitas, who favor tiny skirts distended by vast crinolines, patent shoes with bows, oversize pink-gingham newsboy caps, and other cutie-pie cult items. Even if you find the appeal of these garments fairly incomprehensible, you can't help but admire the passion with which their young adherents put the look together.
A multistory building containing dozens of shops specializing in whatever is newest for the younger set (on a recent visit, this included fuzzy pink sweatshirts and matching pom-pom boots.) It's fun to stroll inside, but the real action is out front, where the metal display cases, shaped like giant flowers, are surrounded by extravagantly dressed young people.
It's not enough for you to wear a fairy-tale getup: your puppy has to have an active fantasy life too. Indulge in the local penchant for dressing pooches with the purchase of a Harajuku-style dress for your lapdog; or a cable-stitched poncho for a sportier pup; or even a hooded jacket with bunny ears, for a bit of interspecies fun.
This excellent resale shop—most of the stock is too recent to be called vintage—has all the big brands and is delightfully free of the musty smell that plagues so many secondhand stores. Unfortunately, the prices are hardly bargain-basement—an Undercover cotton top with visible childlike stitching and many deliberately dangling threads is marked $350.
STILL, SOMEHOW, I BELIEVE WE'LL ALWAYS SURVIVE, NO MATTER WHAT is scrawled on the side of one of the neighborhood's many small, raffish boutiques, though this wistful sentiment is contradicted by the sunny dispositions of most of the shoppers. This area might remind you of New York City's SoHo—too many shops to count, a combination of vintage stores, young-designer venues, and chain boutiques—though with its hilly topography and winding streets, it also feels a little like San Francisco. It's more sprawling than it might at first appear; allow several hours to explore.
The local affection for jeans is given full sway in this small shop, whose interiors seem based on a Montana mountain cabin, albeit one with a stained-glass door. The stock includes such cross-cultural staples as plaid lumberjack jackets, flannel shirts, and a full range of Japanese denim. Above one rack a sign reads denim care station. "They are waiting for repair," the saleswoman offers.
A French song is playing in the background the day I unearth this hard-to-find, intensely hip shop located down a small alley. Though you'd swear the goods are vintage, the clerks insist they're all brand-new. A brown dress with a teardrop print is $98; oblong bags made of fake pink snakeskin are meant to be carried with the store's silky polka-dot frocks.