Best Of :: Shopping & Services
It's nice to know a trustworthy mechanic, but sometimes your car needs more than a quick fix. The next time your Civic's engine explodes on the 110, make your way to Soken Trade Corporation. Tucked away in a warehouse/garage space in North Hollywood, this shop sells used motors and transmissions for various Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Acura models. The products are all made in Japan, and the engines are moderately used and reasonably priced, with 40,000 to 50,000 miles on them. The sales staff are all business, but they offer warranties, free deliveries and the phone number of a dependable neighborhood mechanic who can do the installation. Best of all, you're free to peruse hundreds of these hulking mechanical contraptions sitting on the showroom floor and hand-pick the one most to your liking.
Tucked inside this small storefront on South La Brea with a ruby red carpet lies the absolute mecca for vintage rock & roll T-shirts. Clothing designer Kelly Cole, an ex–club kid/DJ/restaurant owner, has become one of the foremost experts in tracking down ultra-rare, original tees. Be warned: They don't come cheap. An original Cramps shirt might set you back $350, a Nirvana In Utero shirt $250. Other ridiculously rare gems include a shirt for Plato's Retreat, a 1970s swingers club ($350); a shirt for Andy Warhol's film Bad ($700); and the pièce de résistance, a sweater from Vivienne Westwood's label, Seditionaries ($1,200!). You'll also find, for the comparatively low price of $65, vintage T-shirts adorned with everything from Magic Johnson to "Impeach Richard Nixon," as well as Cole-designed jeans, belts and T-shirts. You might even see such celebrities as Chris Pine, Ryan Adams, Travis Barker and Kid Cudi, all of them customers.
One of L.A.'s great eccentric clothiers, Clockwork Couture is where serious steampunks source their parasols, gloves, frilly hats, goggles, gowns, long coats, leather "harness," corsets, boots, walking canes, medals of uncertain origin and, of course, timepieces. Reveling in the reimagined world of Victorian romance, steam travel, dirigibles and buccaneers, the shop can dress you in some of the most striking examples of sartorial whimsy you can hope to find. Even if you don't necessarily identify with the steampunk aesthetic, a dramatic dress or vintage accessory can be the unique and envied centerpiece of your wardrobe. In recent months Clockwork Couture has moved its inventory to an upstairs room and established its Geeky Teas shop and game room in the downstairs space; those seeking off-the-rack and custom orders can make appointments on weekends, noon to 8 p.m. (Of special note: Most of the shop's profits are earmarked for its own cat rescue, Clockwork Cature.)
There's this crazy little dress shop on Sherman Way in Canoga Park, its walls festooned with hot numbers like a stretchy ruched purple cocktail mini-dress and a pink satin off-shoulder club-dancing gown. Off to one side, bent over her work, sits Olga, with her power sewing machine and her handmade book thick with photos of Latina women and the pictures they've brought her, cut from magazines, of their dream dresses. From these, Olga will re-create any fantasy gown in any color and any fabric you provide, and add any twist, all for less than the price of something off the rack (around $100). She peruses your idea, sketches it up, measures you. Her English is broken but the plan is agreed upon. She creates a paper pattern, then cuts and sews the chosen material. You return for the final fitting. "Custom-made!" Olga boasts. And yes, the tiny, blond Olga is a sweetheart.
Reformation might seem like one of the least likely L.A. boutiques to scale up. Yet the fashion line that made its name handcrafting chic, feminine pieces out of fabric salvaged from vintage threads has opened two shops in New York, raised $12 million in financing in 2015 and is positioned to triple its revenue over last year. After Reformation co-founder Yael Aflalo became appalled by the environmental toll of Chinese manufacturing, which she witnessed firsthand during the production of her earlier clothing line, Ya-Ya, she set out to make clothes with the lowest possible carbon footprint — pieces that were as responsible as they were beautiful. Of course, Reformation’s initial concept — to source most of its material from meticulously disassembled used garments — wouldn’t cut it if the company was to hit $25 million in sales in 2014 (which it did) and keep costs somewhat reasonable (which it has). So Aflalo added to the mix environmentally friendly fabric, which means Reformation’s downtown L.A. factory now can produce about 200 of each of the 15 pieces (in three colors) it launches weekly. Speaking of 200, that’s the number of gallons of water a mass-market clothing line uses to produce a single shirt, Aflalo told Forbes earlier this year; a shirt of hers, by comparison, uses six.
If you love the look of vintage but don’t love the idea of slipping your foot into shoes once worn by a stranger, you can circumvent your squeamishness at Re-Mix. The shop used to source vintage kicks for theater, film and television — but when the supply of quality vintage grew low, Re-Mix began working with manufacturers to create replicas. Re-Mix stocks dozens of reproductions of men’s and women’s shoes from the first half of the 20th century, and most styles are priced under $200. One particularly swoon-worthy pair of pumps, the Eva, channels the late 1940s with its d’Orsay cut, peep toe and button detail near the outer ankle. The best part: Because these shoes are timeless, they’ll never go out of style. It turns out they do make them like they used to.