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By Design | FASHION / Sense of Style

With Each Approach, a Shopping Adventure

May 30, 1996|MIMI AVINS | TIMES FASHION EDITOR

South Coast Plaza is so vast that shopping there demands a strategy. Some women from Los Angeles make biannual weekend pilgrimages to Costa Mesa, bunking at the Westin hotel and cruising the stores from morning till nightfall. They know that a day, even a long one, isn't sufficient for covering the Big Momma of Southern California shopping centers and its more than 2 million square feet of selling space.

The mega-mall will turn 30 next year, and despite a difficult and changing retail climate, it keeps rejuvenating itself. Shopping centers have traditionally lived or died by their department stores, or anchors, but the array of specialty stores at South Coast is so varied that it defies the rule. I. Magnin closed and reopened as Bullock's Men's store. By the time it morphed into Macy's for Men, half a dozen new boutiques had sprouted in its shadow.

There have always been reasons to make the trip on the predictably congested 405. Once, if you wanted to scout at Nordstrom, Barneys, Emporio Armani, J. Crew, Rizzoli or F.A.O. Schwarz without getting on an airplane, you'd head south. Those stores now have other local outposts, but Calvin Klein, Tourneau Watches, TSE Cashmere, Esprit, the Polo Country Store and spanking new separate Banana Republics for men and women are still among South Coast Plaza's exclusives.

To manage the glut of choices, my method was to focus only on those stores that didn't exist elsewhere. But other organizational schemes could work:

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The Italian Plan: The newest arrivals are Ferragamo, Prada, Southern California's only Max Mara Boutique, which offers the signature collection plus selections from the Sportmax and Weekend lines, and a co-ed Gianni Versace store that carries the Versace jeans but not the less expensive Istante and Versus lines. After lunch at the Armani Cafe, the tour continues with stops at Ermenegildo Zegna, Bulgari, Bottega Veneta, Gucci, Bruno Magli, Fendi and Armani AX.

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The California Plan: Home-grown businesses with their own stores at the Plaza include Mossimo, Karen Kane, a.b.s., Warner Bros. Studio, Disney, Guess, Jessica McClintock, the Laguna Art Museum, and the Trojan logo heaven of the USC Collection. The obvious lunch spot would be the Wolfgang Puck Cafe, and the Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop is snack headquarters.

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South Coast on $3,000 an Hour: Places to drop big bucks have always been plentiful here. The Chanel, St. John and Escada boutiques are as well-stocked as their Beverly Hills counterparts. Alfred Dunhill caters to the well-heeled man, Cartier, Tiffany and Fred Joaillier are Bauble Central, and the Wolford boutique covers women's legs with hosiery as luxurious as their designer clothes.

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The Make-Over Day: As if the department store cosmetics counters weren't enough, there are more than a dozen beauty and fragrance boutiques at South Coast, including Origins, Aveda Esthetique and H2O Plus. Let it be noted in the annals of seduction that lingerie seems to be taking a backseat to makeup and scents. Victoria's Secret stands alone; the boldly named Tight Assets actually features workout wear.

* Sense of Style appears on Thursdays in Life & Style.

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