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Turn-of-the-Century Charm Lingers in Lahaina

August 20, 1989|JENNIFER MERIN | Merin is a New York City free-lance writer

LAHAINA, Maui — Before Hawaii's capital was moved to Honolulu in 1843 it was at lovely Lahaina on beautiful Maui Island. This port town was the center of Hawaiian culture and industry.

Today, adored by natives and tourists alike, Lahaina retains its charming turn-of-the-century architecture and ambience. It has been given landmark status and historic buildings are gradually being restored and refurbished. Without losing one bit of charm, Lahaina is becoming one of Hawaii's most popular tourist destinations.

It is also one of the Hawaiian Islands' best shopping stops. Best buys include casual and sports clothing with tropical styling, chic personal accessories and fabulous local art, jewelry and other handcrafts.

Lahaina's biggest concentration of shops is near the waterfront along Front Street (less formally known as the strip) in a stretch of about eight blocks between Hotel Street (near the famous Pioneer Inn and Lahaina Small Boat Harbor) and Papalaua Street.

Browse the Strip

Begin browsing the strip on Hotel Street, where shops include the incomparable Defense D'Afficher (No. 5). This French shop is a must for T-shirt enthusiasts. Instead of typical Hawaiian souvenir slogans and such, Defense D'Afficher decorates its T-shirts ($31 and up) with lovely drawings based on a 1920s theme.

There are darling flappers and dashing racing cars. Sweat shirts ($65 and up) are similarly decorated and slacks and other casual clothing are designed to coordinate well with the theme.

On Front Street, Wholesale Eelskin (No. 505) sells fashions and accessories made of exotic leather at reasonable prices. Available are womens' low- or high-heeled pumps in snake or eel skin for $59 and men's shoes for $90.

Handsome womens' bomber jackets made of natural or dyed snakeskin are about $400. Roomy eelskin carry-ons cost $165, wallets are from $25 and coin purses from $8.

Abalone Boxes

Golden Reef (No. 695) has wonderful jewelry and gift items, including extraordinary abalone shell music boxes ($35) and earrings (from $10).

Additional exotic earrings include enameled fish ($28) and dragonflies ($20). Enamel-on-silver pins from Chile are about $45. There are coral bracelets (from $20) and necklaces (from $45), plus beautiful necklaces designed with silver fish (from $50) and polished crystal balls ($25) that you can easily see in your future.

Wyland Galleries Hawaii's two locations (Nos. 697 and 711) are good sources for Hawaiian ocean theme art, including artist/owner Robert Wyland's undersea pictures of whales and dolphins. Also sold there are Maui artist Andrew Annenberg's underwater surrealist paintings (about $70,000), which are best viewed under black light for their full effect of neon colors and creatures more easily missed with regular light.

Dale Joseph Evers' bronze sculptures and fountain pieces are of playful porpoises, whales and other sea animals. A monumental wooden hanging sculpture of a whale costs $12,500; gold porpoise and whale pendants on chains are $143.

Exclusive Collection

Sgt. Leisure Resort Patrol (No. 701) presents its exclusive collection of trendy casual clothing and accessories for adults and kids.

Designed by John McCotter, the clothes are in neon colors and feature Sgt. Leisure's military-like logo. Included are T-shirts ($15 and up for adults, $14 and up for kids), shorts ($24 and up for adults, $20 and up for kids), carry bags ($25) and dishwasher-safe plastic drinking glasses ($6), plus an amusing if gimmicky "moo-moo" ($28) or long night shirt with cows stenciled across the front.

High as a Kite (No. 703) offers even unskilled flyers the opportunity to decorate the skies with kite frogs ($10), parrots ($15), sunsets and Disney characters ($24).

Madaline Michaels Collectibles (No. 708) has beautiful jewelry, some of it one of a kind. An exquisite necklace of assorted pieces of coral and shell strung on a blue silk strand costs $45. Variously styled abalone earrings are $12 to $25; carved shell bracelets from $20 to $45. Take time to admire the immense hunk of Brazilian amethyst crystal ($8,500) displayed near the front door.

Chic in Neon

Lahaina Divers (No. 710) organizes expeditions for experienced and novice divers (about $65 and up), sells or rents the latest diving equipment and outfits chic divers with neon wetskins ($75), wet suits ($160 and up), diving fins ($37) and Maui souvenir diver's pins ($4).

Alexia (No. 712) sells designer George Georgiou's attractive raw silk fashions, including dresses ($90 and up), skirt and blouse ensembles ($160 and up) and coats ($200 and up) in pretty pastels.

Mari's of Hawaii (No. 754) has sea and island theme jewelry, including silver or gold double dolphin pendants ($140), marlin ($180) and modernistic manta ray ($190) pins, plus a fabulous whale pendant featuring a black baroque pearl for the eye ($980). Shiny pineapple charms made of diamond-cut, 14-carat gold cost $118 to $515.

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