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Fashion 87 : 3 Shops Where Service Is Paramount : MCM, Vittadini, Sculpture to Wear Are People Oriented

December 11, 1987|DIANE REISCHEL | Times Staff Writer

Never mind that Beverly Hills already has a Louis Vuitton; that both Mark Cross and Alfred Dunhill opened here this fall, and that most every designer within strolling distance of Rodeo Drive carries a line of prestige accessories.

Now there's MCM. Lest you forget where you are while in the sumptuous, marble-laden Rodeo Drive boutique, the luggage and assorted bags will inform you repeatedly with their crisp MCM insignias.

Opened 11 Shops

Even the token china set bears the MCM letters, which refer to the year 1900 in Roman numerals and allude to the name of Michael Cromer, who founded the company in Munich 12 years ago. In the last two years, the company has opened 11 shops in the United States, including, recently, shops in San Francisco and South Coast Plaza in Orange County.

One morning this week, a tanned man in a white jogging suit mulled over a $950 black MCM suitcase with salesperson Marion Montgomery.

"He just bought a black BMW and he needs black luggage," Montgomery explained.

Soon, two young women in pastel jogging suits burst into the store to inquire about a leather doggy tote bag--in which they planned to carry a cat. Price tag: $990.

Though manager Beatrice Cederstrom-Chano assures that the 2,000-square-foot store attracts "average people who are tired of carrying Louis Vuitton," she keeps a small photo cache of celebrities--somehow all caught in the act of carrying an MCM suitcase or two. There's Diana Ross, Sammy Davis Jr., Michael Douglas and even a shot of Stevie Wonder wearing an MCM-lettered belt, evidently while he was singing on a stage.

Familiar to Jet Setters

Yet if MCM is familiar to jet setters--there are, after all, 80 stores in Europe--there remain a few people not yet in the know.

"Some people come in and say MGM--like the studio," Montgomery said with raised brow.

A novice to all this might start with the MCM credit card case, $29, working up to the T-shirt, $55, and eventually a rolling trunk, $5,000. But another hint is in order: You aren't necessarily paying for leather. Most luggage pieces--albeit handmade--consist of coated canvas with leather trim.

But as Chano observed: "Leather you can get anywhere."

MCM, 442 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills.

The new Adrienne Vittadini store on Rodeo Drive is both grand and unpretentious--definitely the product of a designer who tends to mask her fashion clout with a quiet voice and understatement.

The founder of a $100-million clothes empire may be 3,000 miles away--Vittadini is based in New York City--but her first West Coast boutique strives to mirror the kind of Vittadini warmth that makes the designer memorable long after last season's clothes.

"There is no attitude in this store," manager Judith Porter said. She interviewed 90 people to arrive at a sales force of five "nice" people. "They're all very fresh and sweet," she said. "You don't often get that in expensive areas."

But sweet and nice could go far on Rodeo--the most intimidating shopping drag in California. Unlike Bijan, just down the street, you don't need an appointment to shop at Vittadini.

The store, which opened Nov. 16, carries Vittadini's signature knits, dresses, sportswear, evening wear, scarfs, legwear and swimsuits, priced from about $13.50 for tights to several hundred for cocktail dresses.

Gae Aulente, the contemporary Italian architect who designed the Musee D'Orsee in Paris, created a look of importance for this rosy-hued, 2,000-square-foot shop through chrome fixtures, boxy blond furniture and an arched "tunnel" ceiling that emphasizes the store's narrow shape.

What makes the store more approachable are the homey, sliding-door closets and dresser drawers that house the clothes. Aulente's own woodworkers came from Italy to install the cabinetry, said Porter, noting that the craftsman frequented Il Fornaio cafe and a certain rib place during their two-week stay in Beverly Hills.

Porter claims a varied clientele, from "the older woman tourist to the young woman who's going to a disco and wants something skintight."

But, then, Vittadini has long bridged consumer categories with a kind of breezy, non-alienating fashion the industry calls "understandable."

As Porter said in a confidential whisper: "It's so easy to sell."

Adrienne Vittadini, 319 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills.

Jan Ehrenworth may be the first retailer to notice a pensive side to L.A. shoppers. She finds they stare repeatedly at her jewelry before they decide to buy.

"They have to begin to relate," said Eastern-bred Ehrenworth, who colors most pronouncements with a bright, Bette Midler smile.

But then Ehrenworth, owner of a jewelry gallery called Sculpture to Wear, has yet to peg the market. A longtime gallery director in Boston, she moved to California just two years ago, working first in Palo Alto for a year but then settling on Southern California as the right spot for her contemporary jewelry gallery. "Northern California's a little more conservative," she concluded.

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