In a city where the fashion scene shifts faster than brush fire, two unlikely streets are flaring up.
As hot spots go, you couldn't ask for less obvious prospects. Heliotrope Drive is a street born without a soul, shaded by a freeway overpass. And the best that can be said for 6th Street near La Brea Avenue is that traffic is lighter than on Wilshire Boulevard, one block south.
But ugly doesn't overrule magnetic. And these two areas are starting to draw a fashion-conscious crowd that is putting the bloom on what used to be a pair of urban wallflowers.
The look in these parts is from another era. Young women wear Pucci-print shifts covered with pink squiggles or A-line minidresses with crystal-bead collars. It's as if they found the castoffs from some '60s socialite's closet.
Men tend toward long, chaotic hair, psychedelic shirts, love beads and peace-symbol brooches.
The two streets are several miles apart and different as day and night. But the fashion crowd is drawn to both because a new batch of shops makes it worthwhile to get dressed up and go look around.
The highlights on Heliotrope and nearby Melrose Avenue include a store called Pre-Stone Designs, where everything appears to be made of moon rocks or parts of Egyptian pyramids. Down the street is Modern Objects, a gallery space for the young and the restless--and often the undiscovered.
Near 6th Street on La Brea, the star stores include American Rags, a used-clothing shop, and Harry's, for super-hip furniture, where some of the tables have leopard-print tops.
But it takes more than a few good stores to attract the followers of fashion. What set the spin on their style dial was something else. In a word: Coffee.
Coffee--a different exotic brew featured daily--is served with breakfast or lunch at Cafe Mambo, a new hangout on Heliotrope that closes at 3 p.m. And banana-flavor cappuccino is just one of the perks for after-hours regulars at the Pikme-Up espresso bar, open all night on 6th Street.
Mambo regulars really put themselves together. Not just because Don Johnson or Bette Midler might show up any minute, as they have been known to do. But also because Mario Tamayo, who owns the place, is an ex-fashion student who sets a stylish tone. His pals get very dressed.
Julie Vogel is one. Her recent lunchtime outfit included a pair of upholstery-fabric shorts and a matching pillbox hat. It's from a shop she and Gigi Underwood own in Pasadena. They make the clothes they sell at Out of Italy, so named because Italy was Underwood's last address. Their bright, peppy style goes with the restaurant, a small, sunlit room with a pastel fireplace in one corner and flowers from Tamayo's mother's garden on the mantel.
Judy Kameon, another regular, runs the Livestock boutique across from Mambo. It is filled with miniskirts and tiny crop tops. But Kameon wears vintage clothes, bright red lipstick and not much else in the way of makeup. It's a '30s movie-star look her crowd picked up from the streets of Paris last winter.
Low-key Jeff Huereque, in his brunchtime red stripe T-shirt, is a custom designer of men's clothes whose rock-star client list includes David Bowie and Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac.
The Pikme-Up has a whole other style, and the difference shows from the street. Some nights there is a lounge-area sign above kitchen chairs lined up on the sidewalk.
Inside, the unusual decor features mannequin heads and torsos, as well as a large crucifix. For a recent art exhibit of constructions by Bob Otto, cafe owners Tawny Featherston and Jerry McKenna served mai tais in Pic N Save pink plastic buckets instead of punch bowls.
A guest at the opening said her bright silk jacket was made for a munchkin. After the movie "The Wiz" was released, Gloria Vassy explained, she bought most of the munchkin costumes. Now she wears them everywhere.
That same night, Featherston, whose hair is pink, had a tattoo on her right arm. It was a full-length portrait of Natasha Fataly, the secret agent from the '60s cartoon show "Rocky and His Friends." Featherston wasn't the only tattooed lady. Another had a cast of cartoon characters dancing around her ankle.
Can Heliotrope bloom eternal? Can 6th ever rate a 10? Nobody knows for sure, but Tamayo has high hopes. He's already calling his Heliotrope Drive neighborhood "the Upper East Side."