Me Dress Pretty One Day

There are girls who do, and girls who don’t. Julia Roberts does. Paris doesn’t. I’m talking about clothes shopping with a boyfriend, a husband, the opposite sex, and odds are you fall on one side or the other of those camps. Last weekend I found myself clothes shopping with my boyfriend. This is something I don’t normally do. A record shop? Sure. Hardware store? You betcha. Clothes? Not so much. When my boyfriend opened the dressing room where I was changing to take a peek, I screamed. Behind the curtain is my time, and, like the great and powerful Oz, I don’t want to ruin the illusion. But there are those chicks who parade around the store, often barefoot or wearing the wrong shoes, seeking the approval of their often-bored partner, who will say anything to expedite the process: “Looks great, hon” or “Yeah, blue is good.”

Laura Abeyta decided to create a shop to suit both sides of the debate. Just under two years ago, she opened (h)armonie in Venice with her husband, Peter Ochs; the store has a women’s side and a men’s side. She describes the shop as a “lifestyle store” — it even carries gift items and stuff for the house. “Julia Roberts comes in and shops with her husband, Danny Moder,” confides Abeyta. “She also picks up gifts.” And word on the street is Roberts is a big gift giver. Abeyta makes it easy for the girls who drag their men with them on retail odysseys: “I want shopping to be like going into your closet with your man,” she says. “It’s all there, you don’t have to drag him around to this store for a skirt, this store for shoes, this store for a bra. It’s one-stop shopping here.”

What does she look for when stocking the store? “I like pretty,” Abeyta says, pointing to little glass-domed cake stands that look like fairy cases. Everything in the store can be purchased — from the lighting fixtures to dressing-room mirrors. “And I love dresses, freaky, funky, beautiful dresses,” she gushes, scanning all the Tracy Reese, Voom, Mara Hoffman and other designer frocks lining the shop’s walls. And when she goes to the market to look for new designers to introduce in her store, she sees “jeans, jeans, jeans, and then get to the dresses and yell ‘Oh my god!’ And shoes! I love shoes. I’d love to have a shoe store and sell nothing but shoes.” See, it’s moments like this, when your inner Imelda Marcos shines through, that are meant for sharing with your girlfriends, because your man will just never understand. Abeyta’s store sells shoes, and she is getting her wish this fall, making room for a mini shoe store within her store by slightly scaling back the men’s side. Men who have girlfriends who move in are well acquainted with giving up space for shoes in the closet.

But there is still plenty for men too: Robert Graham button-up shirts, all named after rock bands, like “The Led Zeppelin”; Tattooed Steel cuffs; Triple Five Soul jackets and much more. “Men don’t care how it looks,” says Abeyta, “it has to feel good. And they’re into stories; they want to know what designers mean by things, what the stories behind the clothes are. I was surprised.” Of course, they also like tough graphics. Countyline, a brand Abeyta stocks, features rough-cut thermals with antler graphics. “I’m done with skulls,” she says, rolling her eyes. “If I see another skull, I’m going to shoot myself.”

With the guys checking out the duds, those women who really would prefer to shop alone are left in more competent hands anyway. Abeyta’s staff are all stylists. So instead of “Yeah, blue is good,” sales manager Donna Elizabeth will ask what you’re dressing for and what’s your objective, then start pulling together the perfect outfit. Going to a wedding and want to impress an old boyfriend? Donna’s your girl. She’ll also crack open a Tecate or uncork a bottle of wine. “Everybody should be having a good time,” says Abeyta, “the salesgirl, you, your man.”

But it’s not all frivolity and capitalism. A decade ago Abeyta first vacationed in Bali, and the place moved her so much she returned every year since, spending months at a stretch. Recently, she and her husband decided to build a foundation to fund a school for kids in Bali where tuition is free and it’s open to all. From every purchase made at (h)armonie, a percentage goes to the Bali school fund. “I wanted to give something back to Bali,” says Abeyta. “I do love fashion and clothes, but for me, the foundation gives it all a bigger context.” In fact, Bali is the context and the reason for the store in the first place. See, two years ago Abeyta and her husband toured Bali by motorcycle, purchasing enough merchandise to fill two cargo containers. They didn’t even have a store; they had to rush home to L.A. to find a place before the shipment came. “For us there was no choice — it had to be Venice,” says Abeyta fondly. “There’s no other place filled with such self expression, artists and individuals.”

And the romantic in her loves the weekends in Venice most of all. “It’s fun, ?it’s when all the couples come out together,” she says with a sigh. Clearly, she’s a girl ?who does.

(h)armonie, 2800 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 306-5059.

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