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One that says it all

This year, presents that impress are being replaced by ones that express. It's so 'you.'

November 30, 2008|Melissa Magsaysay | Magsaysay is a Times staff writer.

The energy of the holidays is different this year -- less "How much can we buy how frantically?" and more "How can we streamline?" Frankly, it's a relief to have an excuse to simplify, to focus on celebrating (stylishly, of course) in a way that puts the emphasis on people, not stuff.

One approach that has a lot of appeal among my friends this holiday season involves finding a creative signature gift that can be given to most everyone. Something memorable and meaningful, or just a small moment of delight. I think of it as "The One." It's not some generic one-size-fits-all, but rather a choice that will make the recipient smile, think of me and feel appreciated.

That rules out crude art projects and MacGyvered gift baskets packed with random objects. But there are plenty of interesting and inexpensive presents that can be bought in multiples and given to friends, family or co-workers.

When the Image section staff traveled several neighborhoods for the gift guide in this issue, we found some appealing candidates: a colorful box of French macaroons for $20, a charming cache of retro notebooks for $8 each and much more.

If you're crafty -- or a baker, say -- The One might be something you make yourself, preferably something with a story. I plan to give my friends bracelets and necklaces I'm stringing from beads I purchased at The beads, made by women living in poverty in Uganda, are vibrant-colored oblongs shaped from old magazine and newspaper pages. They're beautiful -- and the purchase price helps the craftswomen support themselves.

I was feeling ambitious and bought a $12 bag of loose beads that I hope to fashion into some gorgeous and colorful bracelets (my goal is to make, oh, 100) that will look great stacked high on the arm. Bead for Life also sells necklaces, bracelets and earrings that make beautiful gifts. I purchased a pale triple-strand necklace to give as well. It was just $20.

Along with a few bracelets in a box, I'll include a note that says where the beads came from and how important they are to the lives of the women who made them. As I focus on this simple jewelry, gift giving doesn't seem so daunting -- it's exciting and, above all, rewarding. This version of The One is already connecting my friends and me, and even those Ugandan bead-makers.

There are lots of reasons for finding your own take on The One -- it makes planning for the holidays simple, and becomes something all the members of your "tribe" share (even look forward to as part of your tradition).

Best of all, it helps drain stress from a pressured time and leaves space for giving people in your circle what they genuinely want more of: you.





We asked a variety of tastemakers to tell us about their versions of 'The One,' the go-to gift they'll turn to this season.

Jenni Kayne, fashion designer

L'Artisan Parfumeur amber balls, $75 for the small size,

"They are earthy and beautiful and they smell amazing. They are all different because they are handmade, which I love. They look great in everyone's houses, and everyone loves them."

Brooke Hodge, curator of architecture and design at MOCA

Calendars of Henry Evans' botanical prints, $14.95 at

"When I was growing up, my parents had a signed Evans botanical print (linocut) that they had bought in Berkeley, Calif., when my father was a grad student (in the late 1950s). Evans started making botanical prints in 1958, so at that time it was definitely affordable art for young people living on a student's budget. A few years before I moved to L.A., I made a trip to Napa Valley and discovered Evans' printmaking studio in a storefront in St. Helena and immediately made the connection with my parents' print!"

Magda Berliner, fashion designer

Signed books

"I collect books throughout the year and give them to people. Especially signed books. I'll go to a book reading/signing and buy a copy and give it as a gift."

Simon Doonan, creative director, Barneys New York

Jonathan Adler Hashish candles, $68,

"Yes, he's my boyfriend [husband actually], but I still went to the store and bought them in case anyone thinks, 'Oh, he just gave them to Simon for free.' "

"I love the Hashish candle because it has this slightly louche association, but it is completely wholesome."

Tatiana Sorokko, former model and contributing editor to Harper's Bazaar

Homemade pickles

Using her Russian grandmother's recipe, she hand-cans jars of dill pickles for her best friends. She's been adding to the list each year and the tally now stands at 70 jars, which requires an entire August weekend to make -- and now touches off dinner party speculation about who has or hasn't made the cut. The recipe has been such a hit, it even landed her an appearance on "The Martha Stewart Show" last month. "So this year I'm sending along a DVD of the program so everybody can make the pickles themselves."

Isaac Joseph, publicist

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