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Fashion 87 : 3 Retail Stores With a Personal Flair : Shops Go Their Own Ways With Upbeat Designs

December 04, 1987|DIANE REISCHEL | Times Staff Writer

On the West Hollywood end of Robertson Boulevard--where diners cluster around Ivy Restaurant--a white, expansive French fashion boutique opened last month. Agnes B. is the latest of more than a dozen stores in the Paris-based chain started by designer Agnes de Fleurieu, a 40-ish grandmother who, in photographs, has the blond hair and unworried face of a woman barely 30.

French photos and movie posters set a continental tone in this spare selling space, where sportswear with a utilitarian air frequently is priced in the hundreds of dollars.

The fashion sensibility is meant to evoke Paris streets, and assistant manager Beatrice Basnight sets the droll tone with unruly curls and Catholic-schoolgirl outfits.

The 5,000 square feet are given over to Agnes B.'s men's, women's and children's collections and everything from funky T-shirts to dance wear, work suits to tuxedos.

Improve With Age

Basnight explains that these pieces improve with age, and they're supposed to mix whimsically with what the customer already owns. "She doesn't dictate outfits," Basnight said of De Fleurieu in her absence. "And she's not so trendy that the clothes ever look dated."

In fact, there's a classic strain running through the store, seen in trench coats, khaki pants and basic pullover sweaters. But don't miss the "Broken Noses" T-shirt, $29, based on a Bruce Weber film about boxer Andy Minsker. Every year, Agnes B. carries a Weber T-shirt, Basnight said.

It all adds up to a sort of simple, in-crowd dressing--for a price. And casual as it all can seem, there's a Brazilian valet out back--clad in French stripe crew-neck top, white jeans and cap--to remind that you're nowhere near the suburban mall.

Agnes B., 100 N. Robertson Drive, West Hollywood.

Cattlebone owner Elizabeth Letendre still had her heart in Aspen when she opened a Pasadena boutique three years ago, pushing the kind of heavy sweaters and coats that customers warmed to when she worked in Colorado.

Pasadena didn't bite.

Since then, the retailer has come up with a different fashion formula--one that borrows from the Southwest, New York, L.A.--and her own sense of visual humor.

Helping customers recently in her 1,400-square-foot shop, Letendre wore a big red sweater with the image of a toilet knitted into the back. Her store is full of jewelry and clothes that force a grin, from a vest beaded with Barbie-size silver shoes to a bracelet of toy cars circling the wrist on a race track.

The bold, humorous one-of-a-kind pieces are intended for strong personalities, she said. Her customers, mostly women from Pasadena and San Marino, are "powerful people," she said. "They have to be to pull this off."

Lately her windows are filled with the paint-splattered designs of Venice artist Martin Bernstein. "I try to find things that are unusual, made well and look good. I don't want anything that I've seen," she said. "The stuff here is wild, but conservative."

Conservative, perhaps, because Letendre avoids tight or skimpy fashions, opting for loose crinkle-silk holiday dresses, sarongs and simple black dresses by L.A.'s Harriet Selwyn, New York's Judith Van Amringe and others. Clothes range from about $100 for a painted cotton shirt to $3,200 for a "fun fur."

Though she keeps a cowhide couch and a cattle skull in the store--she's lived in Texas, Utah and Colorado--she's not about to sell Western wear. The misleading name Cattlebone resulted only after long debate in which Letendre first rejected her own last name because it's French, "and I didn't want to sound affected," she said. She kept returning to thoughts of the Cattlebone Ridge Ranch--a piece of land she owns in Utah. The ranch got her vote.

Cattlebone, 95 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena.

The new ID store on Sunset Boulevard looks like a primer on what's hot in California casual wear. The gridwork racks of this 1,700-square-foot shop are laden with acid-washed denims, mattress-ticking stripes and prints inspired by the diner craze and the American Southwest.

It's the first store in the United States for this L.A.-based casual sportswear line, founded three years ago by Roland Kosser, who had previously run his own shirt company. Already, ID, which began as a unisex, one-size-fits-all fashion company, has men's, women's and children's divisions, grossing $40 million a year, according to a company spokesman.

Kosser says his goal with this domestically produced line was to make clothes that won't look dated next season, that "aren't too loud or extreme" and "that don't look incorrect if they're wrinkled."

ID sells widely in department and specialty stores, but this boutique was started--along the heavily traveled Sunset Plaza--as a merchandising showcase for the line.

With its terra-cotta tile floors, white walls, bleached wood furnishings and a few touches of metal, the decor, says Kosser, is a combination of Mediterranean, Caribbean, American Southwest and high-tech influences.

Though ID would seem geared to the youth market, on a recent day people in their 40s were browsing and buying the pastel and khaki cottons--proving that these "easy care and easy wear" garments, as Kosser calls them, don't suffer a generation gap.

ID, 8605 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood.

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