Travellers have designs on L.A. shops

Rodeo Drive shoppingCity offers lots of Funky, fun fashion
Designer or faux, L.A. has them all

LOS ANGELES – My driver Garner wondered: “I’ll be driving you to the Beverly Wilshire hotel to begin your shopping on Rodeo Drive. Does that suit you?”

A day earlier I was trekking through the downtown fashion district in jeans and tennis shoes bargaining for knockoff handbags and glitzy rhinestone hair ornaments. Slumming it, you might think? But slumming I was not. I was shopping – L.A. style.

The city has long been noted as one of contrasts – from the Hollywood Hills to Malibu’s beaches and from sleek and sophisticated to funky and fun. Its shopping opportunities reflect this wide spectrum of choices.

The best part is that L.A.’s shopping scene appeals to any fashionista, regardless of the pocketbook (designer or faux) she may carry. Armed with this information and my fake Chanel, I visited to test the claim.

First stop: Downtown fashion district (Santee St. and Maple Ave.). Though crowded and jam-packed with junk, it’s also a mecca for good-value merchandise if you know where to look.

Shopping Santee Alley (between Santee St. and Maple Ave. bordered by Olympic and 11th St.) is like bartering in the bazaar of a third-world country. “Five da-lar, five da-lar,” repeats a vendor amid blaring salsa music. Although it’s a challenge, purchases can include knockoff Louis Vuitton bags ($55 – all figures U.S.), Bebe rhinestone tees ($16), even Bed Head shampoo (1/2 price). This is where Westside boutique owners find items they resale at three times the price.

While brands like Von Touch (not Von Dutch) and Blue Navy (unlike Old Navy) dominate Santee Alley, the merchandise quality improves (as does the environment) when shoppers venture beyond.

Champs Elysees (277 E. Olympic Blvd.) sells perfumes at 1/3 to 1/2 off retail. Its best deals are testers (perfumes sold at a fraction of retail). Von Dutch patent leather bags ($25) can be found at Fashion Roads (939 S. Santee St.). A sign reading, “Unlike others, we do have fitting rooms,” distinguishes this store from most. Just You & Me (1028 S. Santee St) features Italian and Spanish shoes. And discounted St. John knits are sold at Morries (934 S. Maple Ave.).

The last time I was on Melrose Avenue it was for dinner. From my window table I spotted Jerry Seinfeld strolling the trendy street. This time there were no star sightings, but I left with several shopping bags.

Melrose Avenue (between La Brea and Spaulding) is renowned for its funky buys. Becky Handbags ($100), made from used skateboard decks (there’s a discount for using your own), and men’s vintage blazers ($145) are features of Gallery nineteen eighty eight (7020 Melrose Ave.).

Designer Michele Garcia greeted me at Unique Boutique by Bogdenoff (7264 Melrose Ave.). “We call it ‘edge’ clothing,” she said of the garments that have appealed to clients Cher and Cyndi Lauper.” A specialty item, scantz, is a denim skirt/garter/legging combo.

For a Hollywood-esque purchase, head to Dynamite Boutique (7614 Melrose Ave.) for a Pamela Anderson t-shirt ($45). “This is one of our hottest items,” shared the sales clerk.

And take time to people watch, as I did from a patio table at Vienna Café (7356 Melrose Ave.). My observations were of tattoo-covered men and uncovered women, dudes with long locks and babes with shaved heads. It’s from that table that I discovered where L.A. got its “la-la land” reputation.

In contrast, Rodeo Drive shopping (Rodeo Dr. and Beverly Dr.) features palm-lined thoroughfares, patrons driving Bentleys and Astons and countless flagship stores (those offering the entire collection).

Rodeo is a street where Harry Winston (famed for adorning celebrities on Oscar night) is across from Cartier and where purchases can include a hot-pink lace coat ($3500) from Dolce & Gabbana, an evening gown ($10,000) from Versace or a cup of cappuccino ($2.50) from a coffee vendor.

Though not on Rodeo the finale might be at The Beverly Hills Hotel (9641 Sunset Blvd.) for the little one – the landmark’s signature pink Frette child’s robe ($110) and a matching one for Barbie ($49).

Here are some shopping tips when in L.A.

DOWNTOWN:

MELROSE:

RODEO DRIVE:

Final Tips:

LA Fashion Center