Photos by Kevin ScanlonI discovered Last Chance Boutique in Culver City like so many of us discover so many things here in L.A. — in the car. I saw it fleetingly at first, out of the corner of my eye on the driver’s side while I was cruising at about 40, on the way to Trader Joe’s or to a movie that was starting too soon for me to pull over and take a better look. The place appeared homey from the outside, an arched brick storefront situated next to a small market and an auto-repair place; it was on the east end of Culver City near La Cienega, a genuinely small-town stretch of Washington Boulevard that was a beat or two removed from the sparkly renovations of Culver City’s downtown. I finally stopped at Last Chance one Saturday, figuring to find a sweet, matronly owner with some nice clothes that I might buy my mother for her birthday. Instead I found Hollywood, or at least more of it in one spot than I’d ever seen in Culver City before. In a plain whitewashed space off the beaten fashion path is a collection of utterly chic duds from an array of labels that make fashionistas of all ages salivate: Chloe, Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino Cheap & Chic, Robert Clergerie, Roberto Cavalli — and all for 50 to 80 percent off. There is overstock from the It stores further north, like Tracey Ross, Madison, Blond and Laura Urbanati as well as wonderful shoes I’ve seen in Barney’s and other shoes I’ve never seen at all, including a pair of tall black leather boots with the sexiest, tiniest kitten heel for $244 that once went for $650. Last Chance has everything, too — clothes, shoes, bags, lingerie, sunglasses and handmade jewelry such as link chains threaded with stones and charms, custom-made for the store by Conversation Pieces — all artfully arranged, whites and colors hanging separately, jeans piled neatly. I even found an entire section of mauve. And then there’s the $15 sale rack near the register.

Owner Samira Arkel, 34, has been wowing unsuspecting customers like me since 2000. An L.A. native and former sales rep for Katyona Adeli, Arkel says she wanted to make overstock and private sample sales a daily business instead of an occasional event. The good relationships she’s cultivated with manufacturers and other store owners have paid off; Last Chance is always full of up-to-the-minute merchandise that can’t be found at higher-end outlets like Loehmann’s, with more boxes coming in through the back door every week. “I can do this because I’m in Culver City — I’m not in Beverly Hills or Hollywood, and I’m out of the manufacturer’s way,” she says. Her clients range from industry stylists to everyday fashion-conscious women who simply love a bargain. She points out that people in Rolls Royces are now seen pulling up to 99-cent stores. “What they save at the 99-cent store,” says Arkel matter-of-factly, “they can spend here.”Last Chance Boutique, 8712 Washington Blvd., Culver City; (310) 287-2333.

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