Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Cultures around the world each have their own distinctive version of the public market. The Middle East has the souq, in Asia it's the night market, and in Mexico it's the Mercado. Established almost 50 years ago in Boyle Heights, El Mercado de Los Angeles is arguably the most authentic example of this sprawling Mexican market to be found north of the border. Despite its nickname, "El Mercadito," or little market, there's nothing little about it, with three floors packed full of vendors hawking all kinds of Mexican wares. Food stalls offer elote, aguas frescas, raspados, churros and more, while clothing and craft shops have cowboy boots, traditional dresses, pottery and piñatas for sale. In the produce section, you can take home a wide selection of moles, meats and spices, as well as hard-to-find Mexican fruit, cheese and confections. Once you get tired of wandering the aisles, head upstairs for a sit-down meal at one of several restaurants, including El Mercadito Mariachi, which features performances from dueling mariachi bands. Outside in the parking lot, a large shrine dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, watches over it all.
This sartorial throwback on parking-challenged Third Street is a comforting refuge for even those guys who hate shopping for clothes. An emporium without mannequins, fancy window dressings or extensive racks, Douglas Fir is a minimalist delight, precisely because it offers customers so little to choose from. Proprietors John Noble and Tino Abarca personally select stylish and classic inventory from designers in Italy, Japan and beyond, and have done so with such care and taste that you can't help but come away with at least one George Esquivel button-down or a pair of Italian suede oxfords. Looking for a necktie? You'll have only a precious handful to consider — all courtesy of General Knot & Co. Never has "less is more" been so meaningful and helpful. A tailor comes in once a week to make sure everything's a perfect fit. If only parking were as easy.
The term "streetwear" has, in many ways, come to mean the literal opposite. These days it's flashy and even trashy, with a blingy, sporty vibe that's as caustic as it is comfortable. It's basically club-kid chic. And no L.A.-based brand has tapped into what this should look like better than Joyrich. Founded by Angeleno Tom Hirota with help from creative director David Melgar in 2007, the brand started off reinterpreting retro style with a modern flair, and along the way it evolved into a defining brand all its own, popular with ravers, rappers and rockers alike. From luxury designer logo tweaks to big-time hip-hop star collabs, Joyrich's hoodies, dresses, jackets and more demand notice, emblazoned with everything from Nagel art and Fiorucci angels to Mickey Mouse and the Playboy Bunny itself (all licensed, natch). Joyrich is an L.A. style smoothie that never ceases to lose flavor, and its funky, floral-printed flagship store on Melrose is where everyone can get a taste of the latest trends.
Being your best bud's best man means getting a sweet suit that doesn't break the bank. Nestled among the myriad stores of downtown's Fashion District, Al Weiss Men's Clothing offers top-quality custom suits for not a lot of bucks. From name-brand designers like Ralph Lauren to anonymous labels, its menswear runs the gamut of colors and cuts, and the numerous, slightly sweaty sales associates in sharp suits are ready to attend to any need. For just over $100, guys can slip into a sharp new getup. Need the suit tailored? No problem. Their pal has a shop around the corner, where a team is poised to snip and stitch your suit in record time, at rock-bottom prices. Al Weiss has been outfitting dudes for decades, providing custom suits that will make you a total winner at every wedding.
How rad is thepalatinesshoes.com? The elegant, minimalist, fashion-forward footwear, designed by local lady Jessica Taft Langdon, is super reasonably priced, considering the old-school craftsmanship (they're handmade in L.A.) and the quality of the soft, yummy leathers from which they're made. Sold in a handful of thoughtful, well-curated boutiques throughout the city, these are the shoes you slip on when you want to look effortlessly chic, vaguely European, and possibly like an Olsen twin. Whether it's a sculptural wedge, a lace-up slide sandal or a simple yet thoroughly lust-worthy mule in the world's most perfect shade of camel, the Palatines is the urban sophisticate's favorite footwear. Treat yourself to many a pair, immediately.
Based in Compton, this new casual-fashion label showcases a post-punkalyptic style suitable for those who prefer rock & roll yoga or listen to metal while meditating. Sure, the health-goth aesthetic was so 2014, but Drifter's steez skews more to the athleisure-wear side, sporting a swagger that works whether you're at a Yeezy runway show or playing an extra in Mad Max: Fury Road. For women, Drifter's amorphous apparel often obliterates the silhouette, wrapping the body in flowing fabric, or turning a patchworked pastiche of materials into an almost assemblage-art fashion piece. The menswear includes deconstructed hoodies turned inside-out, minimalist T-shirts and sweats that celebrate artfully distressed tears that resemble hand-me-downs from Edward Scissorhands. Drifter recently opened a flagship store in Costa Mesa, but its collections can be found at major clothing stores around L.A. After all, the best days in Los Angeles are entirely unpredictable; you can bounce from the art studio to a backyard chillout to a high-end haunt all within the same day, but Drifter keeps you outfitted in versatile attire that looks cool wherever you go.
There's a subtlety to the creations of L.A.-based designer Brendan Ravenhill, whose lighting fixtures and furniture populate some of the city's hippest restaurants and shops, from Osteria La Buca and L&E Oyster Bar to the Springs spa in DTLA. You might even miss them on a first visit; they almost blend into their surroundings. But the more you look at them, the more their genius literally shines through. Then you can't stop staring at his minimal, paper-thin hood sconces and geometric chandeliers celebrating sleek, industrial simplicity. His Grain pendant sports a flying saucer–like hood, whose golden-fleck interior lights up like the Medieval illuminated manuscripts of the Getty's permanent collection. Then there's his signature bulb, with glass surrounding the socket, too, emitting a warm glow from both ends. His fixtures even cast light inside the South L.A. church designed by esteemed architect Rudolph Schindler, whose functionality-forward design aesthetic inspired Ravenhill. Best of all, he manufactures his pieces in Los Angeles, creating partnerships with the city's best fabricators to make his design dreams come true. Once you recognize Ravenhill's works, you start seeing them everywhere, and with good reason: He's bringing a new light to local design.
Amid all the trendy eateries that have sprung up in Sawtelle Japantown, there is a thriving gift shop, Black Market, that is one of the city's best choices for hip outfitters. Owner Jisook Lee has succeeded in curating a quirky and diverse inventory that ranges from dime-store novelty items — selected Fred-branded offerings, for example, include a pushpin set mimicking sea-urchin-roe sushi — to trendy accessories including Penfield wallets, Tsovet watches, Naked & Famous shirts and Fjallraven Kanken backpacks. In an age where online shopping is the default option, this hipster haven is an exception, inviting exploration and enabling a lyrical and whimsical voyage of palpable discovery.
Los Feliz's Soap Plant Wacko is an extraordinary emporium of odds and ends (mostly odds). Its stock is so fascinating and diverse, it can be perused for hours or burst into like a bat out of hell when you're desperate to find the perfect last-minute gift. Between its selection of unicorn statuettes, taxidermy beetles and rare art books — and that's barely scratching the surface — there really is something for everyone. Owner Billy Shire has personally managed the merchandising since he took over the family business in the early 1980s. What originally began in 1971 as a handmade soap shop in Los Feliz eventually moved to Melrose Avenue when Shire took the reins, then found its current home on Hollywood Boulevard in 1995. Since then, Soap Plant Wacko has become an L.A. landmark with its vibrant murals, which can be spotted blocks away. Aside from offering an unparalleled assortment of prized collectibles and curious baubles, Soap Plant Wacko's La Luz de Jesus art gallery has been displaying the works of underground artists for the past 30 years, showcasing California's so-called lowbrow art movement.
The Last Bookstore may be the most gorgeous bookstore in L.A., but the city's best bookstore is actually the first. It's also in Pasadena. Founded in 1894, Vroman's is Southern California's oldest and largest independent bookstore. This is not a bookstore for Instagramming; it is a bookstore for people who love books, love to read them and buy them and talk about them. It's no mistake that its onetime neighbors, Borders and Barnes & Noble, have gone out of business, while Vroman's is thriving like never before. The selection is enormous, but the real selling point is its sales staff. "We don't try to compete with Amazon," says Vroman's president-CEO, Allison K. Hill. "We can't compete on price. Customers come here for the community. You can talk to booksellers who love books as much as you do. As much as we all live online, it's nice to have a space in the physical world where you can connect with people."
In a city where a majority of millennials spent their summer hunting Pokemon, it's safe to say L.A.'s geek culture has evolved into a mainstream zeitgeist. Angelenos seeking to slake their nerd thirst need look no further than Melrose's Mega City One. This longtime comic book purveyor edges out its competition for a number of factors. First, it gives 20 percent off new issues all week long. Additionally, MC1 encourages patrons to hang around. The narrow store offers tables for customers to sit and combat each other via Magic: The Gathering and other card games. But its biggest strength is its diverse selection of comics. Fans of the genre can attest that, ever since Disney bought out Marvel, its emphasis has been on spoozing out blockbuster films at the expense of the integrity of its comic series. MC1 knows fanboys have been taking solace in the more intelligent and artistically credible independent comics, so it carries titles that others don't, such as Saga, Sex Criminals, Paper Girls and anthology magazine The Island. Oh, and the shop is located within the center of a heavy Pokemon Go radius, so you can let your geek flag fly!
If Jane Austen's heroines ever became entrepreneurial and opened a bookshop, the Ripped Bodice would be it. Owned by sisters Bea and Leah Koch, the store has become a haven for romance lovers and bookish women with its pink and white confection of an interior. The Ripped Bodice offers friendly, personal customer service — the sisters know so much about the romance genre that they can easily recommend a book to seasoned and new readers alike. The sisters' eye for detail expands beyond the shelves to their monthly themed window displays and thematically curated book-club menus, which have featured elderflower punch for a Regency-era novel. What really sets the store apart is its events schedule, which includes standard bookshop fare such as author signings, a community book club and monthly reading salons. They also host monthly stand-up romantic comedy nights and special one-off evenings, such as a "Welcome Summer" party. At this cheery, feminist business, happily-ever-afters abound, in both the books on the shelves and the opportunity for customers to gather in an unapologetically female space that's all about celebrating sex, love and romance.