Best Of :: Shopping & Services
For mysterious reasons, the landlocked San Fernando Valley is home to the best surf shop in Los Angeles. Val Surf has been around since 1962, serving the Valley's demand for surfboards, skateboards and snowboards. Pretty much anyone can afford the first two, making them a perfect fit for America's suburb, and both lines of business are still going strong. Snowboarding — a more expensive hobby — has taken a hit the last few winters due to the lack of snow on the mountains. Val Surf also carries a lot of apparel. According to the store's president, Mark Richards, the margins on clothing are what keep the store in business. The store offers surf shoes, flip-flops, board shorts, sun hats and more. The company prides itself on its credibility within the surfing, snowboarding and skateboarding communities. It boasts that there is always an expert in each of those pursuits on the floor to help customers make the right decision.
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.
If you were worried you'd have to capture sugarplum fairies to fulfill your dream of swimming through tulle, you'll be relieved to learn of Danny's Warehouse, where, turning a corner, you find yourself face-to-face with a pile of tutus taller than you are. Danny's also sells anything dance-related, and everything is less than $10: leotards, tights, sports bras, dance pants, dance shorts, skorts, skirts, costumes, wraps and shoes — ballet, jazz, tap, ballroom and zumba! Feeling spirited? Danny's even has you covered for cheer and praise dancing. Since it deals in overstocks and samples, the selection here is always changing. When we visited, it even had triathlon suits. It is a warehouse, so be prepared to do some digging. That said, the staff is incredibly friendly. And if you've got some time and optimism, enter the $1 room and leave with a tutu bargain that makes you feel like you're dancing on air.
As the great Billy Crystal character Fernando said, "It is better to look good than to feel good." You would think that such a maxim would rule our world in a town obsessed with celebrities. Not so. Angelenos, especially the men, dress like slobs. Lizon Tailors in Palms can set you straight with a nip-tuck of that oversized suit, those saggy pants and that drooping dress shirt. Well-tailored clothing is in, even if your body is not prepared for it. Al Ozer, Lizon's owner, got his start making suits from scratch in 1966, so he knows his cuts. He started working "to support myself" when he was an orphan, he says. Lizon's prices are moderate — from $10 for a pant-leg hem to $70 to take in the sides of a double-vented suit — but they do the job fast, with quality construction. The small shop has received accolades from such publications as Details and Esquire. "When it comes to quality," Ozer says confidently, "I'm better than anybody."
A stroll through Montrose Shopping Park feels like a time-machine trip to a nonspecific decade. In fact, there's a watch store called Time Machine. A few miles from shopping behemoths such as the Americana at Brand and Glendale Galleria, this Main Street–esque stretch of Glendale looks painstakingly vintage. Aside from a few corporate exceptions such as Trader Joe's, Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, the 40-plus shops and businesses are of the independent, mom-and-pop variety, selling everything from toys and quilts to vacuum cleaners and sewing machines. There's a small retro bowling alley, a Christian Science Reading Room and Faye's, a two-story lingerie shop for elderly women. Though it can get crowded during holidays and community events — arts and crafts festival, film festival, car show — the pace is refreshingly slow, which gives you plenty of time to choose from one of the many restaurants and eateries, whether it's The T Room tea house or Danish ice-cream parlor Paradis.Along Honolulu Ave. between Verdugo Road and Rosemont Avenue, Glendale, 91020. shopmontrose.com.
Once a locals-only secret hidden in the basement of an oak-shaded city library in Agoura Hills, the Book Cellar has become a go-to used bookstore set in gorgeous countryside at the end of a perfect morning drive. Snap up trade literary novels, hardback biographies, cool old how-tos and niche cookbooks, priced at 50 cents for paperbacks and $1 for hardcovers (some specialty books might be $2). Run by volunteers who keep up a friendly banter, this cozy shop has sold 1.9 million volumes in two decades, with all proceeds going to the library and a prisoner reading program. Manager Diane Haupt and her top assistant, husband Eric, collect books from donors who "are extremely well-read," Eric notes. If you don't buy it when you see it, chances are it'll be gone by the next Saturday — and that's the only day they're open. With Goodwill killing small used-book sellers, this one deserves to survive — and not just because of the free cookies.
Because it refuses to follow the same path that lesser used bookstores took to their graves, this North Hollywood gem still slings pages in quantity. By adapting to the idea that graphic novels and comic books can be both high art and high literature, the Iliad Bookshop keeps itself relevant to the hordes of bibliophiles who are just finding out the same thing. Its customers also have discovered that pre-owned illustrated literature is usually kept in impeccable condition regardless of value and can be bought at a near pittance. Where once was a disorganized corner now sits a collection of roughly 100 fully organized shelves. And a diverse one at that — an intrepid buyer can scoop up collected editions of Warren Ellis' cult-favorite Transmetropolitan just as easily as Superman omnibuses. Even better, as the shop buys more books daily — Kindle be dammed — it's expanding that section further.
Even in these digital times, it still seems an increasing number of life events require a gift and a card, and if you're lucky the 19th-century Chandler & Price letterpress will be in full flow when you enter Jonathan Wright & Co. Carefully crafting a regularly updated selection of simple but spot-on cards for congratulations, commiserations, weddings and birthdays, this small boutique is a reassuring haven for the days when a thoughtful gesture means everything. They can get a calligrapher for you if required, or merely desired. And while browsing you can enjoy the quiet and linger over the fragrant soaps, chunky journals, party favors, notepaper and envelopes. Anything you buy from among the thoughtful gifts is sure to be well-received, and here they even take the time to gift-wrap — for free.