Shopping in paradise

by Karen Alberg Grossman

I had only one short shopping afternoon in L.A. last week (after attending a beautiful wedding weekend in Topanga and Malibu) but with a little help from well-connected West Coast rep Sid Stumacher, I got to see several truly terrific stores in record time.

We started out at Avedon in Beverly Hills, where Reza Shekarchian, Yasmine Farmanara, and Stuart Newmark are running what is now the only remaining independent menswear store in Beverly Hills. And what a terrific store it is, 3000 square feet with a well-balanced mix of men’s stylish clothing, sportswear (and a collection of Buddhas for good luck!). Top brands–from Baldessari, Gran Sasso, and Corneliani to LBM, Patrick Assaraf and Paige to Masons, Strenstroms and Manto are merchandised with distinctive L.A. flair.

Reza has owned the business for 35 years, 12 in this location; Yasmin is his beautiful business partner. Stuart worked many years at neighboring Carroll & Co. and is now bringing in new customers based on his strong following. Particularly hot right now: knits from Patrick Assaroff (700 units a season), Gran Sasso, Autumn Cashmere, and Bel Seta, shirts from Emanuel Berg, Calder and Geneva, Gimos outerwear, loungewear from Derek Rose, great items and polos from Peter Millar and anything from Stone Island. “Casual elegance has largely replaced suits but often includes a beautiful LBM or Baldessari sportcoat or a fabulous Millar suede/knit vest,” says Reza, whose custom clothing features Samuelsohn, Oxxford, Castangia, and Mauro Blasi out of Naples.

Discussing a vegan restaurant in the neighborhood that recently closed, Reza confides that many Beverly Hills customers are older and set in their ways. “They’re not into vegan, but the upscale Mexican restaurant that’s replacing it should do just fine!”

We then hit Carroll Custom. Formerly known as Carroll & Co., the store was once the epicenter of L.A. menswear (founder Richard Carroll was himself a movie-star handsome Beverly Hills celebrity) and now a 550 square-foot custom clothing shop located in the courtyard on N. Canon Drive. John Carroll, son of the founder, couldn’t be prouder of his storied heritage. “After 43 successful years on Rodeo Drive (we bought the building in 1996 because my father understood that the money comes from real estate, not retail; we then expanded to 8,000 square-feet next door), we recently decided as a family that the time might be right to sell. I have four siblings who are not in the business and Brooks Brothers was interested in the space (they’re opening soon!) so it made sense. Plus, custom has always been my passion! We work mostly by appointment; I do the measuring and fitting but not the sewing; I have a tailor here two to three days a week.” His makers include Ravazollo, Oxxford, Belvest; opening price made-to-measure is $895 with Trans. He does shirts with Hamilton and Individualized and some custom coats and blazers with Aston Leather.

Though they don’t do the volume they once did (the store showcased 900 sleeves and did more custom than off-the-rack), it’s a healthy business with soul (and John has a healthy well-balanced life).

We loved the JayWolf store in West Hollywood, a 3,500 square-foot industrial-design floor plan with well-curated assortments of men’s and women’s fashion. Husband-wife team Jay and Jackie have been running the business in this space for 30 years, and have cultivated loyal customers who appreciate “simple classic looks with a modern edge”. “We started with just men’s but added women’s in 1992,” Jay explains, saying they now contribute equally to store volume. Key menswear brands include Z Zegna, Paul Smith, Boglioli, Stone Island, Hartford, J Brand, Autumn Cashmere, Masons, Frame, JW Brine and private label, presented as lifestyle stories rather than by brand.

Both Jay and Jackie started their L.A. retail careers at other stores. “My vision early on was to find 100 people who spend $10,000 a year on clothing and create a warm and friendly place for them to shop. People need their egos stroked: walk-in customers are great but it’s the loyal core that counts most.”

Another winning strategy here: minimal markdowns. “We’re very careful,” Jay confides. “We’re on sale only twice year: after July 4th and after New Year’s, 30 percent off everything for 10 days (by invitation). Actually, most of the independent stores in L.A. follow a similar schedule. We’re a community and the more of us that survive, the better we’ll all do. It’s just the mono-brand stores that follow department stores’ non-stop promotions.”

At Ron Herman on Melrose, general manager James Quirk showed us around this fabulous emporium featuring the latest in men’s and women’s California-cool fashion, specializing in luxury lifestyle with a touch of streetwear. It’s a fun store, easy to shop, with endless impact presentations and numerous items you won’t find in department stores. I loved the gender-fluid nature of so many of their styles (a trendy women’s outfit shown here is modeled by star seller Armondo!) According to Quirk, the store just signed a new lease and all 46 employees are totally energized by all the great new fashion coming into the store and a remodel that will include design elements from their store in Japan which should take place this May.

At Proconsul on South La Brea, Anna Clare Hicks and A.J. Coles showed us Southern California’s largest selection of gorgeous Alden footwear (retails $550-$800). Particular hot were the sturdy shell cordovan leathers, a big hit with Japanese shoppers. Also selling well: a great selection of leather bags, hand-made in France, all signed and numbered. We loved the denim offerings (many selvedge styles, $215-$400 retails), most made in L.A. using Italian and Japanese fabrics. Selling especially well: their own soft stretch twill pants @$215.

Deliciously fragrant incense and exotic music sets the mood at Trading Post by Dr. Collectors, one of the coolest stores I’ve visited in ages. Bryan Santamaria showed us around this eclectic South LaBrea shop, filled with fabulous men’s and women’s fashion, much of influenced by French workwear or Japanese streetwear (I loved all the kimono looks!) Decorated (but not overly decorated) denim looked terrific, and the floor-to-ceiling presentations could not be more intriguing. Founded in 2014 and in this location for three years, kudos to designers/owners Beatrice and Olivier Grasset for creating fashion that’s truly original and of the moment.

A perfect Hollywood ending: dinner at the fabulous Craig’s and off to my NYC-bound red-eye for some California dreaming (through my mask…)