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THE STYLE FILES: THE PRICES : The 10 Essentials

March 17, 1994

Smart women stock their closets and beauty arsenals with certain basics. Those with a fairy godmother and a bottomless bank account can go into any luxury store in town and find indispensables that last a lifetime. But those with bank accounts teetering on tilt need durable basics that are dirt-cheap, but don't look it. Here are the cheapest basics we'd be caught dead in--and their upscale counterparts. Take your pick. A classic is a classic, after all. The final tally, not including taxes or manicurist tips: $10,340 for the high end, $193.70 for the low.

CLASSIC BLACK PUMPS

Charles Jourdan is world-famous for high-heeled pumps. Each pump is made by 30 craftsmen at the French workshop in which Jourdan started his business in 1921. The supple Nappa leather from Mediterranean lambs is finished with bees wax to preserve the shine. The cost: $195 a pair.

When you need a plain little black pump, Standard Shoes does very nicely. Its $29.90 pump has a leather upper and the shape is retro classic. The downfall of cheap shoes (and some expensive ones) is the plastic heel tip. Replace it with a rubber one.

A BASIC MANICURE

A West Hollywood manicure joint with a New York public relations consultant? Jessica's Nail Salon is more like the ultimate beauty salon for the hands. Just ask customers Nancy Reagan, Jamie Lee Curtis and Delta Burke. For $22 you get an individualized hour of mitts, balms, soaking, pampering and polishing. Founder Jessica Vartoughian pioneered the concept of a nails-only salon in 1969 and has personally trained all of her manicurists, or "cultivists" as they are called here.

Kathy's Nails on Melrose in West Hollywood is a 12-year-old family business headed by Kathy Bui, her four daughters and assorted cousins who came from Vietnam in 1975. This basic, friendly salon charges $7 for a half-hour manicure, and has a loyal following of models, women sent over by the couturier next door, and celebs--including Anita Baker, Lisa Bonet, Winona Ryder and Katie Wagner. Years ago, Demi Moore even gave a manicures-for-everyone bachelorette party here.

LEATHER HANDBAG

Hermes christened its Kelly bag when Grace Kelly bought these classic saddle bags in every color for her trousseau. She loved the black, shown here in a medium size for $3,295. Each bag is entirely handmade by just one well-paid Parisian craftsman from the finest calf leather and non-tarnishing, gold-plated fittings. Ask to see one, and salespeople put on white gloves to avoid (horrors!) a fingerprint on the leather.

Discount handbags are the true leftovers of the fashion world, featuring awful colors, scary patchwork designs and strange shapes you wouldn't carry in a dark alley. It makes sense to go to a department store during a sale and get some of the regular stock marked down. The Robinson's-May monthly "15-hour" sale is worth the wait because the purse department is not shy about slashing prices. This buy, a black leather clutch with shoulder strap, on sale for $22.50, was typical.

PEARL EARRINGS

Holly Golightly would tell you the ultimate classic pearl earrings come in a little turquoise box. Tiffany's 9.5-millimeter pearl stud earrings are a hefty $3,700 largely because it takes as long as seven years to culture pearls this big and they're in enormous demand. (Natural pearls? Forget it. The price jumps 10 times higher.) Pearls are judged by six points: color, luster, nacre thickness, match, shape and surface smoothness. This pair is perfect on all counts, and the color is the most sought after--cream with pink overtones.

From a distance, who can tell? Well, maybe from quite a distance. For $2.99, the price of a Big Mac and fries, you can get simulated pearl stud earrings at Marshall's. They're made out of God only knows what--plastic?--but they have a nice warm, pearly beige color with a bit of a sheen that makes them appear a lot more like real pearls than something found in a 5-year-old's dress-up box.

TRENCH COAT

Burberry's trench coat is the only trench you'll need this lifetime. Its styling is timeless, yet new fabric technology makes it more comfortable than a conventional wool twill coat. This one's made of an advanced polyester and nylon blend that looks traditional, but is incredibly light and with suede-like softness to the touch. Zip out the warm liner to reveal that signature plaid fabric lining. At $700, it should be perfection. I. Magnin stocks them.

Luck and a swing through a discounter can net you a name brand trench. This one, $69.99 at Marshall's, has a department store label, and is an ivory cotton and polyester blend that will hold up respectably. It has a few pretty details, like ivory and brass-look buttons, a partial lining, capelet detail and a fold-down lapel in khaki-colored fabric.

NAVY BLAZER

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