THE SHOPHOUND ON THE ROAD:
L.A. Shopping: Venice Edition
Guild, Bazar, Bountiful & Alternative
Guild, Bazar, Bountiful & Alternative
May 15, 2012
Last week The Shophound was M.I.A. from New York as we switched coasts for a week in sunn Los Angeles. While we were on vacation, we naturally spent a bit of time checking out L.A.'s retail scene because, well, what would a vacation be without some shopping?
For anyone used to New York's highly concentrated shopping neighborhoods, the thing that is different about L.A. stores is the same as what is different about the city itself. They sprawl, and unlike in our urban metropolis, where a prominent store might anchor a colony of 20 or 30 shopping establishments densely clustered together, in L.A, iconic retailers can sit alone, monolithically with only a parking lot in front and two or three related shops nearby. Everybody drives, and everything is its own destination.
That is not to say that there aren't a few areas with a well developed sidewalk culture. Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills is the obvious example, but The Shophound limited our attention there to a quick drive through, since all we found was versions of the same designer boutiques we have on Madison and Fifth Avenues. Another area where we found a more dense shopping strip was Venice's ABBOT-KINNEY Boulevard. It has developed a lot since we last visited about two and a half years ago, and felt a little bit like Bleecker Street did about 10 years ago. Does that mean that the bigger chains will start moving in soon? Zoning might have something to say about it, and L.A.'s more abundant real estate keeps rents in most areas from skyrocketing and strangling pioneering, independent stores as severely they can in New York. All the same, Jack Spade has moved in already, and, of course, there's a Steven Alan, but most stores feel home grown, like GUILD (1335 ½ Abbot Kinney at right), which holds up the high fashion end of the neighborhood. The unassuming shop offers an international mix of labels for men and women from Belgium, France, Japan and beyond as well as hometown favorites like Rick Owens all blended to create the kind of luxe casual looks that L.A. can call its own. When we stopped in, we discovered two generations of a family shopping away enthusiastically —and spending freely. Guild is not cheap, but it is where Angelenos will buy harder to find labels like Nicolas Andrea Taralis, Haider Ackerman and Miharayasuhiro alongside stalwarts like Ann Demuelemeester.
A few steps away, we found BAZAR (1108 Abbot Kinney at left), a store that typifies the way L.A. seems almost more obsessed with vintage than New York. Here you will vintage furniture, denim, accessories, boots and whatever other curiosities catch the store's owner's 1930's inspired eye. For those who like their clothes a little bit fresher, the store also carries a selection of vintage reproduction apparel from the local brand Mister Freedom that New Yorkers might recognize from seeing it in J.Crew's curated men's stores.
Sometimes the line between kitsch and vintage in L.A. can get very blurry as we found when we entered under the Hardware Store sign to find ourselves in BOUNTIFUL (1335 Abbot Kinney at right), which is either a wonderland or the result of one highly discerning hoarder. With its counters piled literally to the ceiling with vintage style cake stands most prominently among the other glass and ceramic table and kitchenware, it seems more more like an installation than a workable retail environment, and the prices suggest that some items may not have as much charm when taken home and separated from their fanciful environment. Still, it's a sight to be seen, especially if you like cake stands.
Finally, for a look at the kind of store that would be nearly impossible to replicate in New York, there's the beach bungalow that houses the ALTERNATIVE Flagship Store (1337 Abbot Kinney above top and at left). Inside are the kind of weathered jerseys and knits that make up a huge part of L.A.'s fashion industry, but with sections open to the street, and it's particular architectural setting, it would be a challenge to squeeze the ambiance into a shoebox sized space on, say Bleecker Street.