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Catnip for your Inner Otaku 

Thursday, May 26 2005
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Pop culture is all about specifics and subsets these days (subsets of subsets and blogs devoted to blogs about subsets): You’re not just a fan of comics, you’re a die-hard collector of shojo manga, unbearably cute Japanese comics for teenage girls. You don’t just listen to hip-hop, you live for as-yet-unrecorded underground East Coast hip-hop music. You don’t collect toys, dammit – they’re vintage, limited-edition action figures from Europe, like the German GI Joe astronaut “with lifelike hair” who says “sound off” when you pull his string. If you have a bit of the otaku in you (i.e., a superobsessive fanatic in some superspecific pop-cultural category), especially when it comes to books and shoes, then beat it to Reserve.

Directly across from Canter’s Deli on Fairfax, Reserve is a new boutique that sells books and shoes – an oddly compatible pairing that, given its owners, makes sense. Audrey Montgaillard and Naama Givoni risked opening a business together based solely on their individual, seemingly incongruous passions. Montgaillard has a shoe fetish – her parents owned shoe stores when she was growing up in the South of France, and her home closet is now bloated with over 150 pairs. Givoni is a fervid bibliophile. Each woman has staked out her territory: The left side of the store is dotted with rare vintage sneakers and imported designer flats. On the right, obscure magazines from Germany and Japan; a smattering of vinyl toys; and books on mass media, pop culture, art and design.

At first glance, Reserve looks like one of those completely uninspired, unremarkable Melrose Avenue shops – a spare rectangular space with concrete flooring, hip-hop soundtrack playing in the background, a modest amount of midpriced merchandise carefully arranged on slender shelves and end tables. There’s not a tremendously large selection of either books or shoes, but the store does have depth. Beyond the surface (and the supply of Surface mags), there’s a wealth of what can only be described as insider, subcultural stuff. Montgaillard stockpiles unworn, limited-edition, vintage dead-stock sneakers imported from Europe: 1980s Diadora and Le Coq Sportif as well as old Spring Court styles. “Sneakerheads know all these lines,” Givoni says. “They get all geeked out on the Le Coq Sportif stuff.” And Montgaillard mixes up the footwear with higher-end shoes she brings back from Milan and Paris – those creamy leather Repetto ballet slippers that Brigitte Bardot loved, poppy-colored Italian flats with kitty heels from Ash, and canvas slip-ons from Ras, a Spanish line. “They’re young and funny – there’s a story on every shoe,” says Montgaillard.

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Which brings us back to books. Reserve carries the more obvious D.A.P. titles like Beautiful Losers and a book on Barry McGee, but Givoni also hunts down obscure works — like Deanne Cheuk’s psychedelic Mushroom Girls Virus, and Dos Logos, a showcase of icons, logos and typography from graphic-design teams around the world. “A lot of our books are graffiti artists turned graphic designers turned fashion designers turned toy designers,” Givoni says. “Like WK Interact, Giant or Futura 2000.”

The schizophrenic nature of Reserve works, in part, because its owners agree on one thing: committing, in an otaku kind of way, to the things that they love. Like local Japanese artist Michiko Yao; the back wall of their store features one of Yao’s enormous signed paint-by-numbers murals. Eventually, however, Montgaillard and Givoni will turn it over to another artist. They plan for that wall to be ever changing and evolving, always giving way to “new cool stuff” – like pop culture itself.

Reserve, 420 N. Fairfax Avenue, (323) 651-0131.

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