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High-Tech Presents but an Old-Fashioned Tree : Gift shops: Victorian and rustic ornaments are common this year, reflecting values of hearth and home.

December 02, 1990|FRANN BART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES, Bart is a Los Angeles writer

The Christmas tree is a visible and enduring symbol of a time to indulge in comfortable family traditions. Tree trimming is one of those traditions, and the activity also pays off for holiday merchants as well.

Valley stores are gearing up for the annual consumer pilgrimage to select decorations that reflect each tree owner's personality. A look at the local retail scene indicates that high-tech presents are generally left underneath the Christmas tree, not on it. Even shops specializing in offbeat items have toned down their holiday displays in favor of the familiar.

Valley retailers said several traditional themes dominate this season, best reflected in a myriad of Victorian-styled ornaments. Customers will also find Vermont in the Valley, with lots of back to the woods rustic items. As for Christmas colors, the perennial favorites--red, green and white--are joined this year by rich blues, purples and yellows that duplicate the glitter of precious stones.

Where can holiday shoppers find these tree treasures? A host of cozy, privately owned gift boutiques offer unique, generally affordable items. In fact, the proliferation of these shops over the last decade or so has been providing fierce competition to the larger department stores because many showcase their Yuletide trinkets as early as September or October instead of waiting until after Thanksgiving.

"Christmas is a collection of memories for most of us," said Paper Goose co-owner Chuck Walker. "We can be as weird and funky as we want all year, but this season represents traditional values, warmth and security."

Generally, home, hearth and the holidays are one and the same at Paper Goose, which opened five years ago in three locations--Studio City, Woodland Hills and Glendale. The stores feature several fully decorated trees from which ornaments can be selected. The opulence of the Victorian era is reflected in tree decorations such as a small porcelain girl dressed in a rose-colored velvet gown and a European glass ball covered with rich gold satin.

"Romance is in," said Walker, who criticized the recent Southwest home decorating trend with its peach, mint and terra cotta colors and styles that spilled over into Christmas. "Cold and clinical. And who really wanted to decorate a fake cactus anyway?" he asked.

This year, Paper Goose offers trimmings made of braid, medallions, mirrors, tapestry and crests. The country look is strong there, in the form of miniature log cabins, bears in rocking chairs, autumn fruit and dried flowers. Most ornaments cost from 50 cents to $20.

At Christmas International in Woodland Hills, there's little difference between July and December. This wonderland is dedicated exclusively to Yuletide decorations from July to January. With 25 theme trees, customers are almost blinded as they enter the store's 4,000 square feet of winking, blinking and twinkling decorations, complete with piped-in holiday music and chilly air conditioning.

"People are increasingly adding animation in the form of moving characters, and they also like the musical and speaking ornaments," said owner Jeani Wade, noting the continuing popularity of the Disney, Sesame Street and Muppet characters. And it's no surprise that Bart Simpson has made the leap from television to tree ornament, she said.

In the "Crystal Forest" section, with a tableau of artificial snow and hundreds of tiny lights stretched around silver and white trees, there are ornaments made of sterling silver, icelike crystals and snow pearls arranged in animated scenes. In other areas of the store, there are decorations shaped and colored like sapphires, emeralds, rubies, jade, ivory and coral.

For sports fans, Christmas International has ornaments shaped like sailboats, running shoes and baseball bats. Pet lovers aren't left out either, with dogs, pigs, cows, lambs and cats depicted. Victorian keepsake decorations have hearts pierced with arrows, tiny ornate lace hats, harlequins, velvet purses, swans and doves, all in pinks and deep burgundys. "Baby's First Christmas" is another popular line, with porcelain, wood and glass booties, cradles, farm animals and bunnies.

Bargains can be found for less than a dollar. But Wade also designs custom trees and decoration themes for her more affluent customers, with prices to $4,000.

Both Love and Kisses in Sherman Oaks and Nordstrom in Canoga Park report a huge demand for personalized ornaments this year.

At both locations, whimsical as well as traditional ornaments are made of bread dough that can be personalized for free by an on-site artist. Among the mostly red, green and white decorations, Nordstrom's Gift Gallery is featuring hand-carved items and a silver pewter drum ornament that opens up as a gift box. Ornaments are less than $50.

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