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Whimiscal Holiday Items
by Nirmala Nataraj on Dec 19, 2008
Modern legends often conjure a time when holiday gifting actually meant something. Back when families and communities gathered ‘round the Yule log, making merry and celebrating the fruits of the season, meaningless consumption and obligatory but grudgingly given gifts were unheard of. Which means generic gift certificates for the hard-to-shop-for, as well as mass-manufactured Walmart fare, was refreshingly absent from all the festivities.
While fruit cake and a cask of brandy might have been enough to show our forebears they were loved, those days are just a distant echo -- and even those of us disenchanted with the season’s shopping frenzy appreciate wads of tissue to rummage through, or gads of wrapping paper to rip apart. Of course, keep in mind that thoughtless splurging and cookie-cutter bestowals are so yesterday. Splurging is officially de classe, and conscientious consumption is in.
So what’s better than supporting your local, non-generic boutiques that specialize in whimsical items to bring a smile to your loved one’s face instead of a curt nod and forced politeness (“another vomit-colored sweater from XYZ department store? Thanks, Aunt Edna”). And if you’re a fan of choices rather than the bane of sameness that the season heralds, take note that variety also applies to your pocketbook: you can penny-pinch and still pick up something cute and original, or you can shop till you drop and be sure to leave your mark on unsuspecting friends and family.
Sasha Wingate recently set up shop in the Mission, and, despite her former work as an art director for large retailers like the Gap, her irresistible boutique, Bell Jar, is a self-described peddler of “gorgeous little things” for those in need of serious apartment therapy. The sunny little storefront space is chockfull of winsome items ranging from charmingly quirky home wares, like ceramics from local artist Whitney Smith and vintage pillows by designer Dolin O’Shea, to eclectic tops and dresses from Jovovich-Hawk and airy Tolani scarves. The secret garden-inspired bodega oozes magic. Animal heads are propped up against old-fashioned botanical wallpapered walls, and a claw-foot tub filled with French milled soaps is replete with hanging moss and flowers, lending a woodsy feel. The enchanting pastel color scheme, plush velvet couches, and chic back gallery space make it a relaxing reprieve from holiday foot traffic.
It’s possible you might smell Currents before you’ve actually set foot inside. And, if you’re just window-shopping, don’t be fooled by the cutesy organic baby clothes and kids’ bath products that tend to congregate around the front of the store; this isn’t simply a stop for the tots. It’s the kind of place that deals in pure hedonism, in the form of all-natural bath teas, bath bombs, candles, and aromatherapy products meant to lull harried minds. Pillar candles from TarongaWest festoon the teeny store in eight scents, including Hawaiian Pikaki and Vanilla Nutmeg, while Mad Gabs Elephant Lube lip salves (loaded with shea butter and essential oils) make a nice treat if you’re not in the mood to splurge. The shelves are also stocked with handy home products like novelty hot water bottles and microwaveable aromatherapy shoulder pillows. For those whose tastes tend more towards the bohemian than the earthy, a selection of eclectic greeting cards, UglyDolls, chic Italian recycled leather bags, and Emily the Strange notebooks adds some balance to the dizzyingly pretty stuff. And, if you want to emulate the smell that wafts through the space, check out Currents’ special potpourri mixes.
The next time you find yourself untempted by Pottery Barn wares, consider going a different route with your home needs. If you’re looking for a store that’s both utilitarian and unique, check out Dandelion. This gorgeous little shop is stocked with shelves and shelves of goodies; sometimes the variety is a little dizzying, especially given the complimentary gift wrap and the fact that most of the merchandise is not only tasteful and original -- it’s also great for all budgets. While the upstairs area is packed with a vast array of gorgeous coffee table books and random city souvenirs from around the world (e.g., Grand Canyon plates, mini-Liberty Bells, Golden Gate Bridge snow globes, and other kitschy travel ephemera), the downstairs area includes everything from candy to antiques. Mariage Freres teas (one of the finest teas in the world, in fact), Limoges figurines, Venetian glassware, and Voluspa candles and incense ensure that good hostesses and sophisticates can also get their money’s worth here.
Hideo Wakamatsu USA
Cutting-edge designer Hideo Wakamatsu may be based in Tokyo, but his San Francisco boutique is a popular mainstay for locals and tourists alike. That’s because Wakamatsu’s experimental flair, influenced by Japanese and French couture, means that his signature handbags, suitcases, and attachés aren’t simply generic models rolling off the production line or baggage claim conveyor belt -- they’re pieces influenced by origami and Zen aesthetics. Wakamatsu’s highly vaunted, highly conceptual pieces range from the quirky and romantic to the unique and high-tech -- like the Skeleton line of suitcases and attachés. These pieces are made to look like glass houses. Clear panels made of PETG (the clear material you can find on arcade game displays) are framed in anodized aluminum, creating a sleek and gorgeous container for all your creature comforts. Wakamatsu’s suitcases are generally the bomb, since their silent moving wheels and hard cases protect your loot from “everything from bellhops to bedbugs.” Although the boutique is teeny, the track lighting that festoons the narrow shop highlights shelves full of goods -- from wallets to purses to backpacks to computer bags in materials like hemp and stain-resistant nylon. And of course, the collection of hard-shelled luggage always scores points among giftees with lots to tote when they travel; the pieces come in kooky colors and prints, like sky, cowhide, zebra, and Asian blossoms.
If the more expensive boutiques of the hip, trendy 16th and Valencia Street corridor don’t quite suit your style or your budget, Multikulti might be a more pleasant stopover, especially if you’re more interested in pretty ephemera than a bank-breaking new frock. This variety shop deals in girly tchotchkes and knick-knacks. Packed to the brim with odds and ends, Multikulti also offers highly giftable items like hand-painted Moroccan tea sets, Turkish ceramics, beautiful embroidered scarves to vie with any Pashmina, and handmade bags that don’t look like they just rolled off the mass-manufactured conveyer belt. If you want to get away with a few trinkets under $10, check out the shop’s collection of rings, necklaces, belly dance paraphernalia, flashy hair pins, and glamorous Jackie O. sunglasses. While the kitsch factor at Multikulti is high (i.e., costume ball lingerie and kooky toys abound), the selection is enough to put a smile on your face -- and you’ll almost always find something to love here.
Whether it’s animal, mineral, or vegetable, Paxton Gate is likely to carry it in some way, shape, or form. This charming store, which seems as much museum as shop, was founded in 1992 by a pair of landscape designers fixated with nature. Accordingly, Paxton Gate offers a blend of practical and unique gardening tchotchkes and wacky curios that run the gamut from taxidermy and insects to jewelry by local designers. Giftees of the masculine variety will likely be fascinated by the hand-crafted Japanese garden tools and bizarre plants that resemble sea monsters. The rustic shop, which includes an outdoor garden and wall-to-wall shelves stocked with quirky ephemera, doesn’t come equipped with a definite method to its madness, but that’s part of the magic. Here, you can peruse furniture, tea supplies, vintage jewelry, and books that are all in keeping with PG’s mission of carrying “treasures and oddities inspired by the garden and the natural sciences.” The sheer range of inventory means you’ll find fossils, skulls, and bones alongside gorgeous handmade glass perfume bottles and whimsical wishbone pendants by jewelry designer Laurie Brown. PG’s extensive book collection includes intriguing full-color illustrated tomes like Taschen’s Alchemy & Mysticism and the ever-delightful Anatomy of Insects & Spiders. (If you’re interested in the latter, check out PG’s exclusive insect-mounting class.) It’s a great place to splurge on the hard-to-shop-for; and at the very least, it’s a fun stopover to indulge the 12-year-old gawker in all of us.
by Nirmala Nataraj on Dec 19, 2008