Porcelain . . . I get a faint whiff of
lavender whenever I hear the word. Porcelain is delicate, girly, vulnerable.
Porcelain belongs on doilies, in glass cabinets, on top of your grandmother’s
toilet (never mind that porcelain is what most toilets are made of). At Lladro
Boutique in Beverly Hills, lovers of such daintiness pay fairy-tale prices to
indulge their figurine fetish. The objects of their desire? Fancy ladies twirling
parasols. Puppies sleeping in flower baskets. Toucans. Mermaids resting on rocks,
frozen and fragile, the sea foaming beneath them. There are several hundred
pieces in the lavish store, which, with its elegant winding staircase, reminds
me of the Carrington estate in Dynasty. (Krystle Carrington would have owned
a lot of Lladro, I imagine. Alexis Colby, probably not, or only to throw at
Krystle’s head.)
My mom would love it here. She collects little china kittens, all cute and curled
up, looking like they tumbled straight off a Mother’s Day card. I spot
one she would die for. Price tag: $200. Some of the larger pieces, like one
of Cinderella on her way to the ball, complete with horse-drawn carriage and
bugle-toting page boys, sell for up to $29,000.
“What people love about Lladro is that it evokes the imagination,”
says Juan Vicente Lladro, grandson of the porcelain empire’s founders
and its current president. “People will stare at a piece for hours as
a form of escapism.” A mother, he says, may demonstrate her love for her
daughter by buying a piece depicting a mother and child. People often buy Lladro
pieces, he says, to commemorate landmark events, like having a baby, getting
married or graduating from college. “So in that sense, buying a Lladro
figurine is a bit like getting a tattoo,” I say. “Yes,” nods
Vicente. “Exactly.”
Later I spot a little girl admiring a piece showing two geisha girls frolicking
on a bridge. She’s 9, and her name is Yuki. I ask her why she’s
into this kind of stuff. “It makes me feel happy to look at them,”
she says. A woman called Alice blusters in late for an appointment, clutching
one of those red Cartier bags (“I had to stop and pick something up,”
she says, apologizing for her tardiness). All thick mascara, ruby lipstick and
coal-black bouffant hair, Alice is classic Beverly Hills, and she adores Lladro.
Her husband bought her a piece, a Southern belle, for her last birthday. “He
says it reminds him of what I used to look like,” explains Alice, who
was a swimwear model in the 1960s.
Linda Briskman, presiding mayor of Beverly Hills, is also a fan. It became family
tradition for her mother to buy a Lladro piece to mark the birth of all her
daughters and granddaughters. When she was born, her mother bought an angel.
“She got that one wrong!” giggles Briskman.
I start talking to a stylish 40-something woman (Lladro consumers, it seems,
are almost exclusively female). Despite her Alexis Colby potential, she gushes
about how much she loves the “adorable little puppies and kitties,”
shipped to Beverly Hills from Lladro’s production facility in Valencia,
It can take up to a year to design and handcraft a piece, which explains the
cost. Even so, I have to admit I still don’t quite get it. I wonder if,
like so many things in Beverly Hills, this is yet another case of the emperor’s
new clothes. My eye, admittedly untrained, has seen almost identical copies
of what’s on the shelves here at other stores, for a fraction of the price.
The perennially aproned and kerchiefed woman who lives in the apartment next
door to me has lots of Lladro-esque stuff on top of her TV, but I can’t
imagine she visited Rodeo Drive to build her collection.
Then I realize I’ve missed the point — when it comes to porcelain,
it’s not what it looks like that really counts, or even what it cost.
It’s what it means. Like overpriced rose stems bought at the theater,
a rock star’s sweaty T-shirt caught by a fan or a crumpled piece of paper
bearing the doodles of a long-dead author — porcelain kitty cats and Cinderellas
also hold special meaning. Their emotional value outweighs all else. Porcelain
may be hollow — but it carries something powerful inside.

Lladro Porcelain, 408 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, 90210, (866) 724-8704.

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