Breaking shoppers of their mall habit is the current bane of a number of savvy indie L.A. retailers who have begun to mingle art with fashion-forward clothes, objects d'art and house wares.
Artsy storefronts like Shop Chuey, in an ornate Chinatown pedestrian plaza; Echo Park's Show Pony; Silver Lake's Clover; Beverly Boulevard's hip men's store KBond; and Los Feliz's Local combine a gallery-like experience and art openings with shopping.
"Our concept is an alternative to what's in the mall," says KBond's James Bond (yes, that's his real name). The minimalist store integrates art, fashion and music -- Bond was an art director and stylist for musicvideos and commercials and his wife and business partner is installation artist Karen Kimmel. Consequently, visual stimuli -- one wall of the concrete-, glass- and steel-built space is a display for art and murals, which are also for sale -- pervade the store.
Serving a "post-Internet fringe" clientele, KBond has everything for the postmodern male, from stationery to high-end toiletries to menswear lines like Paul Smith, Evisu and Rogan. Art openings are oftentimes raucous gatherings; a show last fall of Jim Jocoy's original prints chronicling the 1978-1980 punk scene brought L.A. punk fans out in full force. X lead singer Exene Cervenka was on hand for the opening night/book signing.
"We're thinking of potential customers more as an audience that needs to be entertained," says David Keeps, owner of Shop Chuey. "We can't give them a roller coaster or 50 cinemas but we can give them something a little tilted and twisted."
Keeps describes Shop Chuey as the "alternative to the alternative." The store launched with an exhibition of work by pop revisionist bad girl Niagara. More recently, the Viva L.A. Punk photo show attracted punks and nostalgic scenesters; christening the exhibit was a neo-punk concert during the Silver Lake Film Festival.
Inside the store, original art, such as SXE's "Fred & Ginger" series -- Polaroid images of the graves of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers -- is displayed next to postcards, T-shirts and hipster tchotchkes. During the holidays, Shop Chuey will vend artist-made ornaments and host a "carol-oke" party. A theater fest is in the planning stages for next year.
Show Pony owner Kime Buzzelli likes to display themed installations of drawings, journal entries and photos along one wall of her store; often she coordinates her merchandise with the theme. During a show titled "Everything Leads to the Bedroom," she sold pillows and bedroom-related decorative items. The installations keep the store's look fresh and the merchandise ever-changing.
"Think fledgling rather than perfect," says Buzzelli of the women's clothes, such as handpainted leather skirts, on display and for sale. Most of the clothes are one-of-a-kind, made by nascent designers or stylists. She describes her customers as women who have the guts to wear kooky stuff. Musicvideo stylists frequent the store, which occupies a vintage storefront on a strip of Echo Park Avenue, next to galleries like Fototeka and Ojala Fine Arts & Crafts, all of which have appeared seemingly overnight in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.
'We're an outlet for creative people, a starting ground for the new and interesting," says Chandra Auget Dewall, proprietress of Local, which opened in June in Los Feliz. A commercial stylist by trade, Dewall and her husband transformed a neighborhood beauty salon into an atelier of edgy clothes, handcrafted jewelry, accessories and art. Even the handbags have a design cache: Kim White's vibrant totes are sewn from vintage car upholstery.
The store fills the downstairs of a 1920s bungalow and artwork hangs in the foyer and the woodfloored former living room, as it would be displayed in a house or apartment.
Dewall envisions Local as the ultimate neighborhood store for area artists and up-and-coming designers, a steppingstone to the boutiques of the world. Foot traffic comes from the nearby landmark Vista Theater and the hipster denizens of Rudy's barbershop across the street. Dewall likes to present two artists' work simultaneously; recently, animator Gary Smith's 3-D paper sculptures set inside television sets shared space with minimalist oils by painter Jill Simonsen.
Clover owner Drea Kadilak points out that the strip of Rowena Avenue in Silver Lake, where her ultramod general store is located, is populated more by auto body shops than retailers. Keeping a small gallery space inside the store enlarges her customer base, bringing newcomers to her destination shopping spot.
"The bottom line in retail is you have to try to make people feel good about spending their money," says the vet store owner and hat designer. A gallery space also increases word of mouth.
As with most small businesses, Clover's ad budget is limited, so postcards announcing openings are a creative form of direct-mail outreach. Shows change bimonthly. Beginning this week, Danette Riddle's handcrafted postmodern quilts will be on display.
In addition to well-priced designer duds for men and women, Clover features inexpensive toys, custom-made furniture and art books. It's a light-filled minidepartment store whether one is searching for shoes or the latest tome on architect Rudolph Schindler.
Retail spaces that are art-interested and promote individual style have a palpable provocative feel. As Shop Chuey's Keeps explains: "We wanted to see what creative waters we could stir up in Los Angeles."
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Clover, 2756 Rowena Ave., (323) 661-4142
KBond, 7257 Beverly Blvd., (323) 939-8666, www.kbondla.com
Local, 4431 Sunset Blvd., (323) 668-2085, www.localla.com
Shop Chuey, 437 Gin Ling Way, Chinatown, (213) 625-3789, www.shopchuey.com
Show Pony, 1543 Echo Park Ave., (213) 482-7676