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Discovering Downtown New York

Check out the polished-calf shoulder bags at Kazuyo Nakano (223 Mott St.; 212/941-7093); satin purses worthy of Empress Eugénie at Jamin Puech (252 Mott St.; 212/334-9730); and Blue Bag (266 Elizabeth St.; 212/966-8566), where every item is so delectable it's tough to choose just one. The milliner's art thrives in the capable hands of Lisa Shaub (232 Mulberry St.; 212/965-9176), Elma Blint (245 Elizabeth St.; 212/965-0494), and Amy Downs (103 Stanton St.; 212/598-4189).

Sigerson Morrison (242 Mott St.; 212/219-3893) is right up there with Manolo Blahnik on every fashionista's short- list of must-have mules--but don't miss the lace-up rubber boots and Audrey-style beaded sling-backs at Shoe (197 Mulberry St.; 212/941-0205), or the ultramodern heel technology at Goffredo Fantini (248 Elizabeth St.; 212/219-1501), where strappy sandals are lined with padding for your pavement-pounding comfort. At Jade (280 Mulberry St.; 212/925-6544), there's a rainbow of lacquered-wood slides, all made in Vietnam. DDC Lab (180 Orchard St.; 212/375-1647) sells super-snazzy footwear like hard-to-find Royal Elastic sneakers. Well-heeled guys stop by Terra Plana (260 Elizabeth St.; 212/274-9000), whose shoehorns have been on display at the Museum of Modern Art.

for the home

The merchandise on view at downtown's home-furnishings shops so deftly straddles the vintage-modern axis that it can be hard to tell what's new and what isn't. Area . . . id (262 Elizabeth St.; 212/219-9903) specializes in chairs and sofas from the 1950's and 60's, recovered in millennial fabrics. At Capitol Furnishings (259 Elizabeth St.; 212/925-6760), brand-new Lucite lamps compete for attention with 1960's Kosta Boda glassware and original Biedermeier dining chairs. Fad (262 Mott St.; 212/941-6516) offers iconic specimens by Wegner, Saarinen, and Robsjohn-Gibbings, while at one of Las Venus's two locations (163 Ludlow St. and 113 Stanton St.; 212/982-0608) you might score a gently used Eames desk chair for $165 (the same chair newly made goes for $895).

Shì (233 Elizabeth St.; 212/334-4330) carries satin cushions in jewel tones, while À Détacher (262 Mott St.; 212/625-3380) makes a très chic white felt pillow with black felt appliqué. Kinnu (43 Spring St.; 212/334-4775) has handwoven bedspreads and antique spice boxes from India. For more Asian furnishings, visit Design in Textiles by Mary Jaeger (51 Spring St.; 212/941-5877) to check out table runners made from antique kimonos and silk douppioni pillows.

a bit of everything

The dazzling lifestyle stores Zao (175 Orchard St.; 212/505-0500) and Language (238 Mulberry St.; 212/431-5566) rival Paris's esteemed Colette with their slick selections of clothing, home furnishings, books, and objects--not to mention in-store art galleries with rotating exhibitions. Speaking of lifestyle, camouflage turns up on floor cushions at Ssurplus (219A Mulberry St.; 212/431-3152); backpacks and chairs at Alife (178 Orchard St.; 646/654-0628); and urban armor--T-shirts and knit caps--at Recon (237 Eldridge St.; 212/614-8502). In these parts, it's more than a fashion statement.

Manhattan native Julia Szabo writes frequently for the New York Daily News.

where to get beautiful

While other neighborhoods may teem with spas and calming beauty stores, here you'll have to search a little harder for a place to relax after shopping. Where to go:

Day Spa & Salons

Book ahead for a Thai massage or a destressing facial at Prema Nolita (252 Elizabeth St.; 212/226-3972). Kropps & Bobbers (173 Orchard St.; 212/260-6992) does wonders with manicures, body massages, air-brushed tattoos--and hair. At Dandie (100 Stanton St.; 212/598-4490) you can get an edgy haircut or extensions.

Beauty Stores

The new Fresh (57 Spring St.; 212/925-0099) sells irresistibly fragrant, inventively packaged products such as candles scented in cocoa, tobacco, or Turkish rose. Brooke Shields and Bianca Jagger are fans of Fresh's Chocolate Milk Lotion. Designer Claire Blaydon (202A Mott St.; 212/219-1490) has bottled the essence of the downtown experience with Nolita, a perfume she created with the neighborhood in mind. It comes in four varieties--hyacinth, rose, orange blossom, and gardenia--that will calm even the most high-strung shopper.

where to get a bite

Snacks On The Go

The fashion set finds stylish gelato at Ciao Bella (285 Mott St.; 212/431-3591). For those not watching their waistlines, there's Pomme Pomme (191 E. Houston St.; 646/602-8140), which serves Belgian-style frites. Bread & Butter (229 Elizabeth St.; 212/925-7600) does a mean PB&J.

Restaurants & Cafés

Café Gitane (242 Mott St.; 212/334-9552) is at the center of the Nolita action, and its outside bench is filled in any weather. There's a buzzing bar scene and a fabulous garden at Rialto (265 Elizabeth St.; 212/334-7900). Little Italy is steps away from both neighborhoods--but the culinary adventurer needn't roam that far. Wednesday nights there's a paella party at the otherwise pan-Asian Rice (227 Mott St.; 212/226-5775). Or take a trip to Australia at Eight Mile Creek (240 Mulberry St.; 212/431-4635); to Ethiopia at Ghenet (284 Mulberry St.; 212/343-1888); to Mexico at Casa Mexicana (133 Ludlow St.; 212/473-4100); to France at Le Père Pinard (175 Ludlow St.; 212/777-4917). If it's Italian you crave, head to Peasant (194 Elizabeth St.; 212/965-9511), where everything is prepared the rustic way.


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