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Charles & Marie

Not Your Run-of-the-Mill Style Guide

With the burgeoning proliferation of the blogging and online social networking worlds, self-proclaimed “lifestyle navigator” Charles & Marie successfully marries technology and style trends with a unique shopping experience you can access from the comfort of your own home. The locally-based web site is an aggregator of sorts, bringing together thoughtfully-curated items from all over the world that can be purchased directly from the site, city guides and product and travel blogs, all intended to point visitors at what the site contributors consider to be the must-have and must-visit places.

Charles & Marie has a commendable goal: to provide a haven for shoppers that have “become tired of the global sameness that greets you in practically every urban destination.” Says the site in its FAQ section: “Those unique stores full of surprises that you used to be able to find in your favorite cities have almost disappeared -- replaced by the uber brands that spend millions in advertising to catch your attention. This kind of mass marketing has turned local shopping areas into boring, predictable clones of each other.” Fortunately for us, San Francisco is still home to an impressive array of charming non-chain, non-big-brand stores when you escape mall territory and Union Square. Nonetheless, Charles & Marie is bookmark-worthy for style/design-conscious globetrotters or those aspiring to be.

From the homepage, there are several ways to navigate to navigate from the site. Scroll down to the “Navigator Blogs” for the roll-over preview: moving your cursor over the thumbnails expands each image to show the top blog entries, a convenient and eye-pleasing way to drive. Entries are categorized into several blogs corresponding with shopping sections: the straightforward “Epicurean Delights” and “Modern Living”, “Marie’s Closet” – a blog filled with entries for the discerning woman, and “Tragically Hip”. I am generally wary of anything blatantly labeled “hip” and while the blog explanation is a little scary -- “This blog speaks to our younger audience (or young-at-heart)… features all the ‘trendy’ things people want.” -- there are definitely some entries that the “Huf” or Asics-wearing sets will find appealing.

“Grantourisimo” names the travel blog kept by contributors Lara and Terry from the road. While entries are written about exotic places, the bloggers make no qualms about the places they visit being of the “luxury” variety, which might be out of budget for the non-money-bags readers, but the blog is inspiring nonetheless. Most interesting and unique is the “Soupe du Jour” section: each day a different product is featured and only available to purchase for 24 hours. Signing yourself up for the newsletter gets product alerts to your inbox before they go on the sale if you want to scope out the goods and get prepared to purchase.

Some of the more interesting items featured this month have included “Pet Pillows” from designer Aaron Stewart’s Pillow Pillow Pillow line -- cushions shaped like canine and feline friends with clean childlike line drawings and Konstantin Slawinski’s Noooodle: a measuring device with four holes (hence the four O’s) of varying diameters to determine how much pasta is needed for 2, 3, 4 or more people, that doubles as a trivet for the pasta pot. Most appealing was a sleek ebony-hued vibrator by English designer Michael Young.

A little research revealed the vibe on sale at Young’s own eshop for 65€ vs 80€ on Charles & Marie, though the sparse description on Young’s shop – “special offer for latest black sex toy” leaves a little to be desired. Which brings us to the point that Charles & Marie is not the place for bargain hunters.

Marie’s Closet section of the web store features some gorgeous sex toys: the “ergonomically designed” Lily “erotic art” piece in several alluring colors ($125). This is not your standard embarrassingly phallic dildo-looking monster but a discrete object more closely resembling a perfectly smooth kidney bean with a smooth satin finish. Moving up the pricing chain is the FU*K LIMITED: only 500 of these silent, steel waterproof babies have been produced and with the classy “Fuck Design” script this makes a great addition to the toy chest if you have $275 to spare. On the more affordable end of the spectrum are the Kamasutra Condoms by Atypyk. Each black wrapper comes with one sex position diagram and every order ($25) comes with 10 random designs out of the 64 collection.

But Marie’s Closet doesn’t just include sex toys; here you’ll also find distinctive yoga mats, toiletry bags, candles and jewelry. The Sartorial Warfare store houses some items of interest again not aimed towards the more frugal shopper. At $455, the Koffski is super stylish though not super affordable. A much sexier alternative to the “man-purse”, this Italian leather piece can be worn several different ways with different attachments -- my favorite being the shoulder holster ($130) allowing one to wear the wallet like a gun in a holster. The Koffski itself can accommodate a wallet, cell phone, keys, passport and more.

In the Tragically Hip store you’ll find items like the Tube Belt ($45) handmade out of inner tubes from bike tires and black toilet paper from Portugal that comes in a gift tin housing three rolls ($15). If you find black too morbid or emo, it’s also available in red, orange or green for those “special” occasions.

Though the product selection at Charles & Marie is not huge, it’s the whole site and all its facets that make it an interesting browse. There’s plenty here to inspire and room to grow. The “Hot Spots” city guides currently include suggestions on hot spots to visit in San Francisco, New York and London and other features are still only placeholders for what’s to come. A forthcoming “Design Bazaar” promises to provide a direct avenue for designers discovered in global travel to reach a global consumer base. If you dislike purchasing ubiquitous products sported by every other John and Jane and enjoy a stylish/lavish lifestyle or just keeping tabs on how the luxurious live, make sure to keep an eye on Charles & Marie.

Charles & Marie