Hollow but Deep

Porcelain . . . I get a faint whiff of lavender whenever I hear the word. Porcelain is delicate, girly, vulnerable. Porcelain belongs on doilies, in glass cabinets, on top of your grandmother’s toilet (never mind that porcelain is what most toilets are made of). At Lladro Boutique in Beverly Hills, lovers of such daintiness pay fairy-tale prices to indulge their figurine fetish. The objects of their desire? Fancy ladies twirling parasols. Puppies sleeping in flower baskets. Toucans. Mermaids resting on rocks, frozen and fragile, the sea foaming beneath them. There are several hundred pieces in the lavish store, which, with its elegant winding staircase, reminds me of the Carrington estate in Dynasty. (Krystle Carrington would have owned a lot of Lladro, I imagine. Alexis Colby, probably not, or only to throw at Krystle’s head.) My mom would love it here. She collects little china kittens, all cute and curled up, looking like they tumbled straight off a Mother’s Day card. I spot one she would die for. Price tag: $200. Some of the larger pieces, like one of Cinderella on her way to the ball, complete with horse-drawn carriage and bugle-toting page boys, sell for up to $29,000. “What people love about Lladro is that it evokes the imagination,” says Juan Vicente Lladro, grandson of the porcelain empire’s founders and its current president. “People will stare at a piece for hours as a form of escapism.” A mother, he says, may demonstrate her love for her daughter by buying a piece depicting a mother and child. People often buy Lladro pieces, he says, to commemorate landmark events, like having a baby, getting married or graduating from college. “So in that sense, buying a Lladro figurine is a bit like getting a tattoo,” I say. “Yes,” nods Vicente. “Exactly.” Later I spot a little girl admiring a piece showing two geisha girls frolicking on a bridge. She’s 9, and her name is Yuki. I ask her why she’s into this kind of stuff. “It makes me feel happy to look at them,” she says. A woman called Alice blusters in late for an appointment, clutching one of those red Cartier bags (“I had to stop and pick something up,” she says, apologizing for her tardiness). All thick mascara, ruby lipstick and coal-black bouffant hair, Alice is classic Beverly Hills, and she adores Lladro. Her husband bought her a piece, a Southern belle, for her last birthday. “He says it reminds him of what I used to look like,” explains Alice, who was a swimwear model in the 1960s. Linda Briskman, presiding mayor of Beverly Hills, is also a fan. It became family tradition for her mother to buy a Lladro piece to mark the birth of all her daughters and granddaughters. When she was born, her mother bought an angel. “She got that one wrong!” giggles Briskman. I start talking to a stylish 40-something woman (Lladro consumers, it seems, are almost exclusively female). Despite her Alexis Colby potential, she gushes about how much she loves the “adorable little puppies and kitties,” shipped to Beverly Hills from Lladro’s production facility in Valencia, Spain. It can take up to a year to design and handcraft a piece, which explains the cost. Even so, I have to admit I still don’t quite get it. I wonder if, like so many things in Beverly Hills, this is yet another case of the emperor’s new clothes. My eye, admittedly untrained, has seen almost identical copies of what’s on the shelves here at other stores, for a fraction of the price. The perennially aproned and kerchiefed woman who lives in the apartment next door to me has lots of Lladro-esque stuff on top of her TV, but I can’t imagine she visited Rodeo Drive to build her collection. Then I realize I’ve missed the point — when it comes to porcelain, it’s not what it looks like that really counts, or even what it cost. It’s what it means. Like overpriced rose stems bought at the theater, a rock star’s sweaty T-shirt caught by a fan or a crumpled piece of paper bearing the doodles of a long-dead author — porcelain kitty cats and Cinderellas also hold special meaning. Their emotional value outweighs all else. Porcelain may be hollow — but it carries something powerful inside. Lladro Porcelain, 408 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, 90210, (866) 724-8704.


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