Once the city’s ultimate cutting-edge shopping mecca, Melrose Avenue has become more akin to downtown L.A.’s Santee Alley and Hollywood Boulevard over the past several years, a hodgepodge of hoochie wear, bongs, bellybutton rings and gaudy Ed Hardy gear. Higher-end designers like Marc Jacobs, Miss Sixty and Diesel may have chic’d up the street west of Fairfax, but walking east from there to La Brea is another story. Cheap heaps and bored shop workers standing on the sidewalks abound (exceptions: the buzzing Floyd’s Barber Shop and outside restaurants like Johnny Rockets and Govind Armstrong’s 8 Oz. Burger Bar. Here, a few more who break the Melrose monotony …
Best Shopping Beyond the Grave: Necromance
Like dead things? Necromance, the ultimate destination for dark (and departed) goods, has jewelry made from real bones, teeth and claws; sterling silver rings and things with animalistic inspiration; specimens in jars; real skulls; gothic Victorian-style home décor; horns and taxidermy; bugs in Lucite; X-rays; vintage medical supplies; and so much more. If you’ve never been there, it might sound creepy, but the 17-year-old shop’s aesthetic is more scientific than scary. And while those with a taste for the macabre are obviously the main market, this little natural-history curio shop has a wide range of fans, and is doing well enough to have opened a second outlet a couple of spaces down.
7220 and 7208 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 934-8684.
Best Hard Heads: Headline Records
Headline Records deserves props for both its tenacity (staying alive while every other indie record store has died) and its consistently killer selection of punk, ska, rock imports and independent releases. There’s also spiked and studded stuff for punk stalwarts, many of whom still hang outside the place and spare-change ya, just like the bad ‘ol days. Headline may not be a hub for hardcore live shows anymore (that stopped in ’02), but raw rebelliousness lives on via the posters, buttons, stickers and, of course, music — the noisier the better.
7706 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 655-2125 or www.headlinerecords.com.
Best Quickie Baubles: So Good
Go to So Good for the biggest and best selection of sparkly, cutesy and cheap costume jewelry. Yes, you can find a lot of this stuff priced even lower elsewhere, but when you need a quickie piece to add pow to an outfit (look for rhinestone hoops, enamel fruit pendants, giant bangles, crystal studs), this is your timesaving, one-stop shop.
7565 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 852-4748.
Best Exotic Baubles: Maya
For a more exotic selection of baubles, as massive in scope as So Good, plus an amazing array of carved Asian and African masks, Maya is still a must. Its cases of silver charms, chains and hoops are always chock-stocked.
7452 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 655-2708.
Best Club Dressing: Joy Rich
Fashion-wise, there’s not a lot in the area that transcends the club-clone look (flimsy Lycra dresses and sequined halters), but Joy Rich’s colorful garb is a happy exception. Pieces from Brian Lichtenberg, Grey Ant, Unif, Arti Nero, Blank and the store’s bold ’n’ busy eponymous line (love the lip prints!) epitomize the ’80s flava loved by electro and rock-lovin’ hip kids.
7700 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 944-0631.
Best Living the Lifestyle: De La Barracuda
Being hip, of course, isn’t just about what you wear, it’s about lifestyle. And no store in L.A. encompasses the culture like De La Barracuda. The 5,000-square-foot space offers unique street wear and T-shirts (its L.A.-logo shirts have become staples for skaters and ravers alike). But it’s Barracuda’s raging parties that put the shop — and Melrose itself — back on the map. Barbecues, DJ sets, beauty bashes (there’s a full salon in back), group bike rides, art events (check out its façade, the big wall across from Fairfax High, for displays by local artists) make for nonstop expression and excitement. The sporty cool clothes sold here don’t hurt, either.
7769 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 852-7179 or www.barracudashop.com.
Best Low-End Label Whoring: Wasteland
The easiest way to have your own unique style is to go vintage, and despite its sometimes bizarre — and bitchy — buying habits (ya gotta be really thick-skinned to sell your old clothes here these days), Wasteland still offers a good selection of used apparel, especially high-end labels. The new lines aren’t much to get excited about, and the real vintage is sparse, unless you count bad ’80s frocks. But if you’re looking for designer duds (Gucci, Chanel, Miu Miu, etc.) at a fraction of the cost, you’re likely to find a gem in the packed racks here. Ironically, this recycled-clothing emporium is one of the few stores on the street that isn’t a waste of space.
7428 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 653-3028.