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Shopping the Neighborhood / LARCHMONT VILLAGE

The Big-City Antidote


We all get tired of the mall. Thankfully, there's a place for car-bound Angelenos who crave the old-fashioned charm of an upscale East Coast town: Larchmont Village. Although it's located just minutes from downtown, in Hancock Park, the only clue that this peaceful enclave is a part of the sprawling metropolis is the clear view of the Hollywood sign to the north. This quaint mom-and-pop shopping district is surrounded by tree-lined streets and homes with history and character not often found in a city obsessed with newness.

Rambunctious pre-adolescent boys with tousled hair ride scooters past designer-dressed diners, and ponytailed girls in uniforms from the nearby Marlborough school park their shiny new cars in front of Jamba Juice to dart inside for an afternoon snack.

The idyllic stretch has not escaped the chain store invasion of Starbucks, Blockbuster Video, Rite Aid and others. But it retains a handful of one-of-a-kind boutiques and specialty clothing and home furnishings stores you won't find at the Beverly Center or Fashion Square.

The area is also becoming a destination for fashion-conscious shoppers in search of boutique brands such as Earl Jeans. The L.A.-based company, known for slim-fitting pants with the perfect flare, opened its first store on Larchmont earlier this year. "It's an old-fashioned village with a very hip clientele. It's undercover cool," said Suzanne Freiwald. She owns Earl Jeans with husband Ben Freiwald, who added: "We are an understated brand so it suited our sensibility to open our first store on Larchmont, rather than Rodeo Drive next to Gucci."

Although much of the merchandise in stores here is expensive, there are good buys. Designer Lisa Yoonchalard, who has sold her fashion and home accessories to Fred Segal in the past, felt the retailer's markups were hurting her sales. She decided to open a boutique on Larchmont where she could reach the same customers as Fred Segal and offer her accessories at lower prices. "I try to price things fairly," said Yoonchalard, who offers very reasonably priced items, such as coin purses and straw slippers, for less than $10.

Meghan Misaki, who co-owns the recently opened Noni, which carries clothes by new designers, described Larchmont as "old school. . . . It has a San Francisco feel, rather than a Melrose Avenue feel." And Melrose, she added, "is just so L.A."

The Route: Start at the west corner of Larchmont Boulevard and 1st Street. Head north on Larchmont, crossing to the east side of the street at Beverly Boulevard. Walk south on the east side of Larchmont to complete the loop.

Pickett Fences, 111 N. Larchmont Blvd., (323) 467-2140. With weathered wood beams and floors, this place may look rustic, but the clothes are city chic. For women, the store stocks Juicy Couture and Michael Stars T-shirts ($25 and up), Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses ($250 and up) and a selection of velvet slides for $28 a pair. For men, there are Diesel Jeans and Lucky Jeans ($115 and up), as well as jaunty Reyn Spooner Hawaiian shirts, which start at $68. Whimsical gift items include scented candles and plastic hula girls.

Petticoats, 115 N. Larchmont Blvd., (323) 467-1730. Also run by Pickett Fences owner Joane Henneberger, this shop offers flirty lingerie and pajamas in "I Love Lucy," leopard or lip prints by P.J. Salvage and Nick & Nora ($54 and up). The store has plenty of choices for those in need of baby gifts: T-shirts and diaper covers in 1950s-esque cowboy prints by Baby Sacks of Beverly Hills starting at $20, and stuffed animals made from recycled vintage linens by K.C.'s Closet and Grandma Nancy ($24 to $64).

Philippe David, 141 N. Larchmont Blvd. (323) 461-1437. Women visit this rare independent shoe store for its well-edited collection of trendy faux python slides, techno sneakers and Prada-like mules with heart-shaped cutouts. Although there are isolated pairs from expensive designers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Anne Klein, most of the footwear here, from brands like Impo, Seychelles and Ann Marino, costs less than $100.

Earl Jeans, 141 1/2 N. Larchmont Blvd., (323) 463-1556. Leather pants in different colors (about $560), jeans in different washes ($110 to $140), denim jackets and corduroy pants.

Lifestylz, 143 N. Larchmont Blvd., (323) 871-8963. Pink marabou-covered telephones ($70), whimsical wedding albums and Smashing Grandpa glam T-shirts for the princess in your life. On the more serious side, Lifestylz stocks Portuguese pottery, including platters painted with pineapples, gravy boats with vine patterns and plates in the shape of asparagus stems, from $38 to $75.

Confetti, 161 N. Larchmont Blvd., (323) 466-7727. This small boutique carries easy-fitting women's wear, including flax linen drawstring pants and matching blouses in earthy tones by Jeanne Engelhart ($52 to $75), L.A.-based designer Rose Nichols' evening wear separates ($200 to $500) and updated ball skirts with bows running down the sides by Din ($150 to $250).

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