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Offbeat suits them

Creativity is always on display at South Pasadena's Koi, which also emphasizes personal service

August 26, 2012|Shannon Cosgrove
  • Window shopping is an imaginative experience at Koi boutique in South Pasadena.
Window shopping is an imaginative experience at Koi boutique in South Pasadena. (Shannon Cosgrove )

Window-shopping is an imaginative and immersive experience at Koi boutique in South Pasadena. Mannequins dressed in fantastical costumes made of ordinary objects like tea bags, Slinkys and surgical gloves pop up every August and January to dazzle the eyes of passersby and draw attention to the shop's twice-a-year sales. The items Koi sells inside are just as distinctive.

"People plan their vacations around our sales," in-house jewelry designer Brenda Henriques maintains.

For the last eight years, Koi has been transforming its 1926 building with colorful presentations -- tassels become slippers, planters become sleeves, plastic forks become feathers in a dress and hanging fish swim through an air-conditioned current.

"We want the displays to be fanciful but something that someone can almost imagine wearing," Henriques says.

In just over three weeks, she and the Koi staff create circus-like displays from materials found in the street and the back room. Henriques is inspired by Elsa Schiaparelli's shocking pink motifs and Madame Gres' 1920s column dresses, as well as by Frida Kahlo's body cast and Salvador Dali's surreal world. The current display is scheduled to be up through Aug. 31.

"Koi is more of a community experience than just buying a dress at Macy's," loyal customer Sally Trim says. "It's always been a zany place to stop by in South Pasadena." Trim recalls that when she was going through chemotherapy, Koi's owner Linda Davis gave her a sweater as a gift. The variety of headgear the shop carried at the time also helped Trim during this period.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, August 28, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Koi boutique: In the Aug. 26 Image section, photographs that accompanied an article about Koi boutique in South Pasadena were credited to Brenda Henriques. The photographer was Shannon Cosgrove.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, September 09, 2012 Home Edition Image Part P Page 2 Features Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Koi boutique: Photographs that accompanied an Aug. 28 article about Koi boutique were credited to Brenda Henriques. The photographer was Shannon Cosgrove.

Koi is known for that kind of personal attention, sending customers postcard reminders about sales, taking special requests, offering free gift-wrapping and having Henriques on hand to tell the stories behind her jewelry.

"We're like hairdressers; [customers] talk to us about everything. We've been with people through health and marriage issues," says Davis, who is known for wearing vintage pajamas and her hair twisted into two buns fastened with a chopstick.

"Because we're a little goofy, people can try on anything and feel comfortable," Davis says. "The ones that get out of their box are the ones that come back and say, 'Everybody loved it!' "

With vintage furniture and more than 100 lines of clothing, shoes, jewelry and accessories, the shop -- run by and for women -- offers something for all shapes and ages, from $8 socks to $800 coats.

"We've been called the grown-ups' Anthropologie," Henriques says.

Koi carries local designers including Corina Haywood Modern Millinery and the aptly named Comfy clothing line. Having worked with designers since she was a teenager, sole buyer Davis has an eye for distinctive yet cohesive styles.

"Because I've seen the originals, I know how to approach the new stuff," Davis says. "And I buy with my customers in mind."

This personal touch -- and perhaps the good luck symbology in its name -- has brought growth to Koi, which has a second location in Toluca Lake. Davis and Henriques are even thinking about creating a designer line -- all they need is a name.

Koi, 1007 Fair Oaks Ave., South Pasadena. (626) 441-3254. Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Also at 4004 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake. (818) 846-0702. Open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday; closed Sunday.


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