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A Sigh of Relief at the Register

June 22, 1991|PATRICK MOTT

Getting married can be a pretty slick racket if you work it right. If you're a man, the trick is not necessarily to marry a rich woman, but to marry one who doesn't mind telling hundreds of her friends that she's registered at a Swiss bank.

That way, instead of getting six place settings of china, you get gold ingots.

Yes, the bridal registration business can be a rather neat bit of extortion. If you manage it properly, it's possible to shame the person who was on the verge of buying you a set of metric socket wrenches at Pep Boys into coughing up for a Lalique vase at Tiffany.

The word goes out from the bride-to-be to her bridesmaids, and from there to the bridesmaids' husbands or boyfriends, and from there, in the form of bitter complaints, to other friends of the soon-to-be-wealthy bride. And the word is that she's registered at Van Cleef and Arpels and her china pattern is made from pulverized moon rocks.

It takes no little courage on the part of a wedding guest, after having to face that rising tide of gift-giving one-upmanship, to just say to hell with it and get the happy couple a Pyrex nut bowl from Sears. The other guests, having heard that Muffin has her heart set on absolutely every piece of crockery ever made in the Beaucoup des Francs pattern, grit their teeth, put off buying that cabin at Big Bear for another year, and get her the milk pitcher and sugar bowl combo.

And the milk pitcher and the sugar bowl will go in a huge display cabinet and will sit there approximately forever. They will never be brought out for any reason short of a visit by the Gorbachevs, and maybe not even then. Dinner guests will file by the shrine and smile wanly at them and, after hearing how Muffin picked them out on a visit to the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, secretly long to sling them over the balcony rail.

But if "I'm registered at Waterford--the one in Ireland" makes you want to hide under the bed, there's a bit of local good news: In Orange County these days, you're much more likely to hear, "I'm registered at Crate & Barrel."

This, I believe, is good news not only for wedding guests on a budget, but for anyone who has ever gotten nervous at the idea of drinking out of a hock glass that cost as much as his last car.

Crate & Barrel in South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa sells dinnerware, flatware, glasses, cooking utensils, linens and, in general, things that have to do with eating. The store is made to look stylishly basic, comfortable and utilitarian because that is exactly the kind of stuff that's sold there.

The store sells useful items such as white ceramic porcelain chili bowls, white-on-white dinnerware for around $30 a place setting, little wooden wine racks, big au gratin dishes, pepper mills (and a big variety of peppercorns to go with them), a wall full of kitchen gadgets, and just about every size and shape of drinking vessel that can be made from glass. Think of a larger, cut-rate Williams-Sonoma without the pricey electronic hardware and the high-ticket olive oil.

For the most part, you wouldn't put this stuff in a display case because it would look silly there. These things beg to be handled, even manhandled. Nevertheless, Beth Kligerman, the gift registry coordinator for Crate & Barrel, says that's just the thing more and more brides-to-be are looking for.

"Less people are shopping for the fine bone china," she said. "They're being more realistic and going for dinnerware that can be used every day. They're finding that their peers, their friends and their colleagues just can't afford the really expensive things. The things we sell are made to be used and they're made to last. Nothing terribly trendy."

Crate & Barrel began in Chicago 28 years ago, but has been in California for only the last six years, said Kligerman. For the last five of those years, however, the store's gift registry "has truly evolved," she added. It now offers, like many other stores, an extensive wish list for the bride to fill out, which is then entered into a computer to avoid duplication of gifts. An in-store bridal consultant is also available, said Kligerman.

And, said Noni Inman, a salesperson at the South Coast Plaza store, the bridal customers are not necessarily on a budget. Many, she said, are the same women who might routinely shop at Louis Vuitton, Saks or Cartier. Of course, the fact that Crate & Barrel is in the same high-rent end of the mall as those stores doesn't hurt. Women who may have broken the bank just down the hall wander by Crate & Barrel, become intrigued and come away with an affordable wish list of their own, said Inman.

Still, many brides are never going to give up on the traditional idea of wringing top-of-the-line Wedgwood, Waterford and a boxful of sterling out of somebody, said Kligerman. Today, however, that somebody is likely to be rich Uncle Ames or Grandmama Bootsie who owns Long Island, rather than Al the florist, she said.

Me, I'm still waiting for someone to pioneer the concept of a gift registry for grooms-to-be. I've got some great ideas if anybody at Ferrari or Anheuser Busch is interested.

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