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Where the Look Means More Than the Label

August 20, 1993|MARY ROURKE

Mention Southern California to fashion pros the world over and they're likely to bring up two names: American Rag Cie and Fred Segal. The stores have reputations as the most innovative in Southern California.

They have a few basic features in common. Subtle updates of California shopping malls, each consists of a string of boutiques. Each began with recycled clothes as a staple, and each continues to feature cutting-edge fashion.

At American Rag, recycled wear for men, women and children (mixed with new items) is the dominant theme. Positioned throughout a growing chain of smaller storefronts along South La Brea Avenue, the complex is an education in individual style.

Fred Segal--in Los Angeles and Santa Monica--began with a stash of used jeans at its core and has grown to primarily feature new items. Individuality is achieved here, in part because each boutique is separately owned.

Urban Outfitters is the newest name to crop up in fashion circles. Started as a mom-and-pop hippie shop in 1960s Philadelphia, it has grown into a national chain, with Santa Monica among its latest additions. The store is similar to Fred Segal and American Rag in some key ways. Here, recycled wear is still a basic. The store's open, informal atmosphere encourages lingering. And a sense of individuality even affects the furnishings, most of which come from thrift shops.

Betty Goldie, owner of Fred Segal in Santa Monica, says Southern Californians have an unusual way of shopping. Here, whole families spend the day at it, as a form of entertainment, so the atmosphere needs to be sprawling and relaxed. When it comes to making purchases, people seem less worried about wearing the right label than about creating a look.

Of course, the clothes--and the way the stores display them to create a distinct personal style--are the main appeal.

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