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FASHION : Objects of Desire : From antiques to tagua-nuts, buttons are popping up all over. They delight collectors and spark a tired wardrobe.


Susan Forte, a Los Angeles free-lance publicist, uses military buttons from around the world to make bracelets, earrings, cuff links, hair ornaments, brooches, belts and button covers. Sold under the S. Garland Designs label, they are available at Cleavage in Santa Monica and Brava in Redondo Beach. Prices range from $15 to $35.

Originally, Forte made pearl or gold animal covers for blouse buttons. But now her line includes bigger ones for women's blazers and antiqued-gold covers for men's shirt buttons that give the illusion of cuff links.

Men generally are less button-happy than women. But there are exceptions. George Small, owner of Chameleon, a button store in Los Angeles, tells of one repeat customer who brings in new suits by Matsuda and Hugo Boss. He buys antiques at an average cost of three for $100. And, if necessary, he has his tailor change the size of the buttonholes.

For creative purists, such as Elaine Cossman, a Los Angeles free-lance copywriter who makes button bracelets, removing shanks is against the rules. To turn buttons into brooches, Cossman and other collectors put a safety pin through the eye of the shank.

Another no-no, says Cossman, is storing "old plastic buttons with metal ones. Everything will be ruined because of the chemical reaction between the plastic and the metal."

To make her $260 bangles--sold at Joan Vass and at Sentimental Journey in the Fred Segal, Santa Monica store--Cossman crochets bands and attaches 75 antiques of identical content, such as wood, crystal or Bakelite.

Buttons are so important to Todd Oldham's blouse collection that three years ago he began designing his own in collaboration with his brother Brad, who oversees their production in Dallas. Materials range from wire to stained glass and hand-painted ceramics. So far, 1,000 styles have been produced. And in January, 25 of them were made available to the public in stores, such as F & S Fabrics in West Los Angeles.

For true button fanatics, there is nothing like a hunt in flea markets, thrift stores, garage sales, button clubs or an untapped attic. Shelli Segal, designer of romantic sportswear for L. A.-based Laundry, likes to use European imports, which might cost $1 each, for her work. But for personal use, she visits flea markets where, she says: "Some people have bags of assorted buttons you can buy for $1 or $2."

Last year, Segal bought 10 thrift store men's jackets, decorated the lapels with vintage buttons and gave them to friends at Christmas. "The ones who appreciate antique clothing, loved it," says Segal. "The others didn't get it. But I had a good time."

Not only that. Total cost of each designer creation was a mere $35.

Where to Button Up

What follows is a list of selected stores that sell buttons in Southern California.


* F & S Fabrics, 10629 Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles; (310) 475-1637.

* International Silks & Woolens, 8347 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 653-6453.

* The Left Bank Fabric Co., 8354 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles (other stores in Tarzana and Newport Beach); (213) 655-7289.


* Chameleon, formerly at 8422 1/2 W. 3rd St., reopens Aug. 15 within All Notions Galore, 8455 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 658-5473.

* Bruce Cole Antiques, 500 El Camino Real, Tustin; (714) 730-5502. Will provide information on local clubs.


* National Button Bulletin, National Button Society, Lois Pool, Secretary, 2733 Juno Place, Akron, Ohio 44333-4137

* California State Button Society, Alice Eubank, 2920 Yorba St., San Francisco, Calif. 94116

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